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Character Focus: Guardians of the Galaxy


by Heather Harris Brady

As someone who’s spent a lot more time in the classics than the comics, I was so surprised by this movie! I’ve now watched it twice in the last two weeks. It offers writers a lot of lessons, in my opinion, so it’s well worth your time. (There are spoilers below, so run and watch it if that bothers you!)

Here are a few of the things I think it does particularly well:

High Emotional Stakes

This movie is littered with characters who have high emotional stakes tied to the outcome, from Nova guards all the way up to the main cast. This is food for thought when you look at your own manuscript – how can you amp up the stakes and make sure they’re tied to the resolution? There are some other interesting twists as well within each character.

There is one thing they all share as loners: as they come to care more and more for each other any future danger is going to cost them that much more in exchange, ramping up the stakes as they go.

Starlord/Peter Quinn: Although he appears to have less at stake than most (his primary motivation is selfish – money, glory and whatever girls he can pick up along the way) as he grows into a leader we learn his father is an unknown entity. So as the story develops he might end up having the highest stakes of all and we just don’t know it yet.

Gamora: She’s trying to escape the violent life laid out for her and her father’s clear preference has turned her sister into her greatest threat. Despite that, she’s willing to put aside her own needs (selling the infinity stone could give her freedom) in order to save people she doesn’t even know. She also tries to get her sister to change her ways, to no avail (at least for now). Another nice angle: despite his attempts she’s not going to just fall at Peter’s feet like the other “starry eyed waifs”. Her love is a prize that will need to be won and even she may not know what that will take.

Drax: His primary motivation is to avenge his wife and daughter’s murder, whatever it takes. This could have been a flat character but the writers added some intellectual twists in that Drax is very literal. As the story develops we watch him grow, hinting that there may be limits in his quest for revenge if it endangers the other guardians. He works to understand his companions and their friendship, even trying to get a handle on metaphors. He progresses from nearly slitting Gamora’s throat to reaching out to comfort Rocket at the finale.

Rocket: Small, mighty and brainy it is so fun to watch Rocket try and control his aggression as the group creates problems all around him. I especially loved the “I didn’t ask to get made” scene, where again we see a deep emotional pool under the ripples on the surface. Always the wisecracking, callous adventurer with the chip on his shoulder, the finale breaks him and we see how much he cares underneath.

Groot: I saved Groot for last because he’s so fascinating. An ambulatory tree, Groot is the only one who might be said to have superpowers. There are little vignettes where we get glimpses of these hidden talents – he makes a flower for a little girl around the midpoint, these also move toward the forefront over the last third. Although limited to “I am Groot”, Rocket can parse different meanings intuitively. In the end, when Groot says one different thing “We are Groot”, and sacrifices himself to save the rest of the group, his silent strength is both a balm and a tearjerker.

Other highlights:

  • All the characters have lots of room to grow further (even Groot, literally)
  • The story revolves around the infinity stone but the characters don’t rely on magic or superpowers – they have what we all have for the most part
  • Watch for the emotional commitment from characters with lesser screen time: Nova guards/citizens, Nebula, the ravagers – it’s there!

There are a few nitpicky pop-culture things that bugged me a little bit, but overall this is an amazing story and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Now I wonder what else I could learn about novel writing from comics 😉

Update: I learned shortly after this post that Guardians is a surprise Writer’s Guild nomination for best adapted screenplay (writers James Gunn & Nicole Perlman), and I came across this article on Nicole Perlman

Now I love it even more!