I sometimes think if there’s a secret society running widely known storytelling ventures, like major book publishers and movie studios. I’ll call them the “Secret Society Of First Time Story Generators.” They’re the people who decide, “You know what? This story needs a betrayal from the best friend at the film’s climax. Or, you know what else? This book needs a villain related the hero’s tragic backstory of being born an orphan. Perfect! Oh, this television show should feature a dramatic love triangle between the protagonist and their two paramours! Great! Call it a day.”
I saw a Tweet a few weeks ago (I don’t remember who said it so I won’t even bother trying to look it up because that’s how long ago I’ve been sitting on this) talking about how they feel sorry for someone in the year 2021 for seeing the frog & scorpion analogy for the first time on television. Implying it’s a curse if a character uses that old parable to get across the point you shouldn’t trust someone who’s proven untrustworthy in the past and anyone who sees it has suffered some great wrongdoing.
And, like, okay, I get it, but also, isn’t every story someone’s first and that might be their first time hearing that analogy?
There’s an old Stan Lee quote about how every comic book is someone’s first, so every comic should be written like it’s someone’s first. While I don’t always agree with that, as some comic stories are the results of years and years of build up, I generally agree with that. Don’t assume your audience knows everything while not talking down to them is a tough, yet necessary, line to walk
Every story is someone’s first, and we have to remember that not everyone devours stories as voraciously as we (the [what I’m calling] Internet Collection of Snobby Critics) so we should be more understanding of these types of stories. I think those of us “superfans” can get lost in the details. It’s definitely not a curse if a story trope makes it into something popular and mainstream.
I like to tell the story of when I went to see Avengers: Infinity War. SPOILERS, Thanos wins and snaps his fingers, erasing half the universe. While I, the “intellectual” comic reader, knew what was going to happen, the entire audience was quieter than a nun’s funeral. Instead of the usual hype you felt after a Marvel movie, there was total silence.
“Oh my god not everyone has read The Infinity Gauntlet!” I realized. They really think this is all permanent!
Sometimes clichés are okay.
Do your best to think around it, sure, but don’t feel bad for including a story beat that’s been done before.
Thanks for reading,