(Note: Image used for the cover does not belong to us, it belongs to Marvel and therefore Disney, and the use of it comes under fair use in copyright law.)
I went to see Infinity War with my family last weekend. With Madison Grace’s tips for never running out of inspiration in mind, I sat in the cinema… and took notes.
(Huge shoutout to you, Madi! Without you, it’s likely this post would never have happened.)
If you have not seen the movie, I recommend going to see it first, since this post will contain spoilers, as mentioned above.
So what can we learn from Infinity War?
1. Balance Your Action Scenes With Calm Scenes
The action/calm scene balance was not done very well in Infinity War. After a while, I had enough of characters being thrown into walls, floors, each other. The action just would not stop. I kept wondering when the next relatively calm scene would be.
This is incredibly important in fiction. Do not fill up your novel with nonstop action. Action – if at all used, depending on the genre – should only be used in a small amount of scenes. Too much action, and the reader becomes immune to it, almost. This character throws other character into a wall. This character shoots other character. Other character retaliates by stabbing their opponent. The reader doesn’t care anymore about all the fighting that’s going on – in fact, they are likely to be sick and tired of it.
There is no magical number for the amount of action scenes you are allowed to have. The best way to check if you have too much is to run it through a reader.
2. Recurring Theme / Idea
This was done relatively well in Infinity War. It’s easy to see what one of the main themes is in the film – sacrifice, or to be more specific, sacrifice for the greater good. I can immediately come up with four scenes where this theme is shown.
- Scene 1: Gamora and Quill
Gamora makes Quill, her love interest, promise to kill her if Thanos gets her, since she knows the whereabouts of the soul stone. Inevitably, she is captured by Thanos several scenes later and begs Quill to shoot her. Although Quill doesn’t manage to kill Gamora, he does pull the trigger, which is really what counts.
- Scene 2: Thanos and Gamora
In order to obtain the soul stone, Thanos has to sacrifice someone that he loves. Gamora happens to be conveniently next to him, and even though it hurts him, the idea of creating a paradise is more important to him. So he throws her off the cliff where the soul stone is located, sacrificing the one daughter he loves for his goal of making the universe a better place.
- Scene 3: Wanda and Vision
This is pretty much the same as Scene 1. The Avengers agree that destroying the mind stone in Vision’s forehead – therefore destroying Vision – is the last resort, if they don’t manage to extract it before Thanos comes for him. And the only person who can do that is Wanda with her powers. Wanda, Vision’s love interest. I cannot stress enough how this scene is a dolled-up clone of Scene 1.
So, Thanos arrives. Wanda, clearly in agony, pushes herself to destroy the mind stone and kills Vision in an attempt to save the universe. Again, sacrifice for the greater good.
- Scene 4: Gamora and Nebula
This was one that was slightly different and was rather clever. When Thanos tortures Nebula to get the location of the soul stone out of Gamora, Gamora gives in and tells him in order to save her sister. Gamora could not bring herself to sacrifice her sister for the greater good – stopping Thanos.
Sometimes, to show a recurring theme or idea in a story, it’s better to show all sides of it.
Take the example of the theme of love. Love can be shown through a huge variety of ways: family love, romantic love, love for a pet, place, or thing, or the opposite of love – lust and hate.
Themes make a story stronger. Don’t force a theme – admittedly, the idea of sacrifice in Infinity War felt a little forced due to its very similar scenes – instead, depict it in many different ways. This could be through a character’s actions, as seen in Infinity War, or symbols, as well as any other ways you can think of.
3. Relatable Villain
Thanos wasn’t badly written in Infinity War. I was pleased to find out he had a soft side – for Gamora, even though he kills her – and actually had a goal he believed in.
Do not write your villains as mindless people who are evil for the sake of being evil. And no, “but I like being evil” is not a valid motivation.
Relatable villains with goals we can understand help us to sympathize with the villain, and maybe even understand why they’ve become so messed up. The villain shows us what we can become if we make the wrong decisions.
Villains with soft sides also show us that they’re really just people, not impenetrable shields. One of the worst things you could do when writing villains is make them completely invincible, completely evil, and just plain unrealistic.
If you’d like to read a bit more on this topic, I go a little more in-depth on writing villains in one of my earlier posts, How to Write Villains.
4. Never Completely Extinguish Hope
Infinity War managed to slip this in. It wasn’t completely well done, but I understand why it wasn’t so. Due to Thanos’ inevitable victory, this would be a difficult thing to write in the script. I can recall two instances where this has been done:
- Giving the heroes small victories
There are many scenes in which this happens – the defeat of all four members of the Black Order are four major examples.
Writing small victories for the heroes, even if they lose in the end, is incredibly important if you want your readers to read on. Any and every victory, no matter how small, keeps the reader hoping your heroes / protagonist will win despite all odds. If the reader is rooting for the protagonist to win, the reader reads on.
As an extra side note, writing your story so your heroes never win anything is likely to depress your reader to the point where they’ll shut your book and never pick it up again, since they don’t see any way the villain can be defeated.
- Doctor Strange looking into the future
If I recall correctly, when Stephen Strange looks into the future using the time stone, he sees fourteen million six hundred and five possible outcomes. Out of all of them, there is only one possible future in which they win.
How is this significant? One future is honestly the best number the writers can put. If there were more than one futures in which the Avengers win, the stakes wouldn’t be as high. But if there are no futures in which they win, that’s the end of the story (pardon the pun). Thanos can never lose.
This is why the audience still has hope that the Avengers can win. One future out of fourteen million six hundred and five is enough to raise their hopes.
5. Switch Points of View (POVs) Carefully
Infinity War was in danger of switching POVs far too quickly and far too many times. The switches between characters and places was frequent, and were really several different plot lines woven into one.
Yes, you can definitely do this in your writing.
But you have to be careful. Switching POVs effectively while juggling as many characters as Infinity War did is difficult, and possibly even harder in writing because it’s more easy to fall into the dangers of head-hopping.
So, this is what we can take away from Infinity War on switching POV:
- Don’t do it too frequently
Stay in the same scene and same POV for as long as possible. If the reader is continuously switching POVs, they’re likely to be jerked out of the story since they are always hopping into different characters’ heads. You want your readers to invest in your characters and take the time to get to know and invest in them.
- Do it so that the story flows
This may sound obvious, but don’t stop a scene for the sake of a good cliffhanger, or because you feel as if you need to move on. Stay in the scene and the POV for as long as it needs to be. Yes, you need to keep in mind what’s happening with the other characters when the character you’re currently writing is dealing with important issues, but here is where an outline or even some overlapped timelines can come in handy.
You need to make sure that your story makes sense and flows despite the switches in POV. Again, this is where a reader may help a lot.
- Only show necessary scenes
This also sounds obvious, but it does happen in TV shows and a handful of movies. Only write the scenes that are important to your story. Unnecessary scenes should be cut. If there’s a certain POV that you like but does not contribute to the plot, I’m sorry, but you should either cut the POV or edit it so that specific character is more active and cannot be taken away without damaging your plot.
6. Don’t Give Heroes Only One Thing To Rely On
Infinity War did this pretty well, and I was surprised by it. The most obvious character they did this to was Bruce Banner, or the Hulk.
In previous Marvel movies, that was what made the Hulk, the Hulk. Bruce Banner himself was pretty much useless without his green counterpart, since the only other thing that made him, him, was intelligence. And Shuri beats him in that area, too.
Which is why the Hulk’s refusal to cooperate with Bruce was a clever move on the film writers’ part.
Because he can’t rely on the Hulk to make an appearance, Bruce is forced to be a little more creative in how he does things, including going out into battle Iron Man style.
Make sure your heroes have space to be creative, and make sure they don’t get to rely on one thing to save themselves.
7. Balance Emotion and Story Well
Infinity War managed to maintain the balance between emotion and plot without overlooking what the characters feel nor dragging the plot by staying in one emotion for too long.
Because of the main theme of sacrifice, grief is a huge part of Infinity War.
Here’s a short list of some of the scenes where grief is shown:
- Thor bent over Loki’s body
- Thanos crying before killing Gamora
- Quill taking out his anger on Thanos after hearing of Gamora’s death
- Wanda grieving over Vision’s body
- Tony staring into space after Peter dies in his arms
But here’s a question: how long does the audience get to focus on these very emotional scenes?
The answer: not much time.
This allows the film to show the consequences of the actions the characters make, making them feel more realistic. Not glossing over emotion creates a more powerful story.
However, emotion still has to be balanced with plot. Yes, characters feel things. Yes, it does take a long time to recover from a loved one’s death. But the film is only a hundred and fifty minutes long and they cannot afford to spend too many precious seconds diving deep into the emotion. Chances are, if you don’t handle writing emotion well, you could risk dragging the plot if you go too much into detail.
Here are three words to aim for when writing emotion: short*, effective, and powerful.
* In some cases, writers prefer to realistically portray grief and other emotions like it and give the character a long period of time to recover. I support this because this portrays what real life is like. If this is what you are wanting to write, by all means, go for it.
8. Keep the Reader On Their Toes
Infinity War was okay at this. But it did manage to do it.
This links back to my previous point on never completely extinguishing hope. Giving the heroes minor victories means that there is a near equal chance of the heroes winning, versus the villain winning. Because both the villain and the heroes have a chance at victory, the audience doesn’t know what to expect and can only find out by continuing to watch the movie / read the book.
How is this good? It means the reader reads on, the audience doesn’t change channels or fall asleep in the movie theater.
This can also be done by incorporating the element of surprise. For example, films in the horror genre like to accomplish this via jumpscares. But unless you write horror, I do not recommend using that specific device. Rather, in writing, you have the art of the plot twist.
Plot twists can be a little tricky, but as long as you take care to foreshadow them well, they should turn out fine. Infinity War did not contain any major plot twists, but not all stories need them.
Merely making sure the plot isn’t predictable can be enough to keep your readers unsure of what is going to happen next. Or *cough* throw some characters into some walls *cough*
Just be careful: an unpredictable plot does not mean a plot that makes no sense, unless you’re writing something very similar to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
9. How To Effectively Use Deus ex Machina
Now, this one. This one is interesting. Most writers warn against using deus ex machina, and for a good reason, too: we want the heroes to win by their own efforts.
But what happens if there is no way the heroes can win? What if they are about to be severely overwhelmed by the enemy and they can do nothing about it? I believe this is the case in Infinity War.
The scene I’m referring to here? The swarms of creatures that seem to be known as “outriders” invading Wakanda. The scene is fast, violent, and even slightly overwhelming for the audience when they see the number of outriders there are.
Infinity War uses Thor and Wanda as deus ex machina on this battlefield. Which is slightly amusing, as the literal translation of deus ex machina is god from a machine, and Thor is technically a god in both the MCU and Norse mythology.
The more obvious form of deus ex machina, Thor suddenly appears from the sky with his new weapon and destroys several outriders at once. If that isn’t deus ex machina, I don’t know what is.
When things start to get bad for the heroes, Wanda decides to go out onto the battlefield and take matters into her own hands. Using her powers, she lifts up several gear-like machines from the ground and uses them to wipe out many of the outriders, saving a whole lot of lives at once.
How is this deus ex machina? She could have stayed indoors with Shuri. By making her sudden appearance on the field, she can be classified as the hero that comes out of nowhere and makes things a whole lot better for the other heroes.
Deus ex machina isn’t actually such a bad thing as long as it is used in the right way. I wouldn’t recommend using it in your stories, but every once in a while, as long as it’s written well, is all right. Try not to rely on it so much, and get the heroes to fight and win their own battles.
10. The “Failure Was Actually Part of the Plan” Trope
Although this is the last point of this post, I am actually going to refer to what I like to call the “prologue scene” of Infinity War, or the part before the title comes up on screen.
I’m not entirely sure why, but this is one of my favorite tropes, and incredibly effective when writing plot twists.
In this scene, Thanos has Thor in his grasp, and Loki is offering the tesseract in exchange for him. It seems as if the heroes have already failed in the beginning. But it turns out, this is part of Loki’s plan all along – they have the Hulk on their side. Suddenly, the board is flipped and it appears that the heroes are winning.
This trope is also used in other films and books, an example being James Riley’s Story Thieves series.
If written well, it can completely surprise the reader, but also make them happy if they are already rooting for the heroes / protagonist.
But the other reason why I like Infinity War’s “prologue scene” is because the writers decided to throw the audience off with a double plot twist – Loki’s master plan completely and utterly fails.
And you can do that, too. Raise readers’ hopes, and then snatch it away from them just as quickly as you raised them.
So yes, this is a useful trope that you can use in your stories. Only be careful not to make it so cliché, your readers see right through your plot.
Summary for Skimmers
And in case you’ve been skimming this whole time, here’s a short summary of what you can take away from Avengers: Infinity War.
1. Make sure you don’t have too much action and balance it with calm scenes.
2. Write theme by showing it in a variety of ways.
3. Make your villains relatable and give them weaknesses.
4. Never completely extinguish hope for your readers by making sure the heroes have victories, no matter how small.
5. Switch points of view only when necessary and when it does not interfere with the flow of the plot.
6. Don’t give your heroes a single thing they always rely on.
7. Don’t gloss over emotional scenes, but don’t get too bogged down in the details, either.
8. Keep your readers never knowing what to expect from you by creating a plot where they can’t predict what happens next or by incorporating plot twists.
9. Use deus ex machina only when necessary – heroes should be able to solve their own problems by themselves.
10. An interesting trope to use is the one where the hero’s failure is actually part of their master plan to defeat the villain.
I hope you’ve learned something from this post,
Have you seen Infinity War?
If so, are there any other things you took away from it?