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    Beyond The Book: Choosing a Masterwork (Part 3)

    Beyond The Book: Choosing a Masterwork (Part 3)

    In my last post, I talked about selecting a Batman movie, The Dark Knight, as the masterwork for my novel. In this post, I will share a few ways that I incorporated this movie and the character of Batman into my story.

    First off, it’s important to note that selecting a masterwork does not mean you can copy scenes, themes, or bits of dialogue from one story and apply it to another. Instead, you must use a masterwork to inform and guide your writing. This is similar to what Bob Kane did when he drew from popular films, The Mark of Zorro (1920) and The Bat Whispers (1930), to create the iconography for Batman.

    For my book, I would take scenes from Batman movies, like this one from Batman Begins, where Bruce Wayne and his childhood friend talk about the differences between justice and revenge and try to work out what the equivalent might be in my story. I would ask myself a series of questions such as, which character fulfills the role of a childhood friend? Do I already have one, or do I need to create a new one? Instead of a conversation about justice, what are my characters going to talk about?

    Quick aside, a scene similar to the one described above eventually made into the manuscript! But instead of having a conversation about justice vs. revenge, the characters talk about opportunity and fairness.

    The Batman archetype was also crucial to solving one of the most significant issues that afflicted earlier drafts of my book, how to deal with the social-economic differences between my biological family and me. While my family in Central America was in the middle class, they did not have the same opportunities, mobility, and safety net that I had. For example, if I lost a job, my parents could help me out while I got back on my feet, whereas if one of my relatives lost a job, their kids might not eat.

    Initially, I tried to resolve this disparity by framing the stakes around career success, but early feedback made it clear that this approach was not working. The Batman archetype allowed me to reframe the stakes around family. Batman, like Iron Man another superhero that I drew inspiration from, has all the money in the world, but that does not make him happy, as this exchange from Marvel’s 2008 film demonstrates:

    Tony Stark: You got a family?

    Yinsen: Yes, and I will see them when I leave here. And you, Stark?

    Tony Stark: [quietly] No.
    
Yinsen: So you're a man who has everything... and nothing.

    While using The Dark Knight as a masterwork solved several narrative problems, it also raised some new challenges. How does the multitude of villains Batman has to fight fit into a story about a family reunion? If Batman is Bruce Wayne’s alter ego, does that make “Roberto” Nelson’s alter ego? Does the alter ego dynamic even hold up in my story? Finding answers to these questions took a lot longer than I expected and is one reason why my “Batman Rewrite” has taken over a year and a half to complete.

    I may write about some of the other ways Batman influenced my story in future installments, the bottom line is that finding a masterwork not only brought shape to my narrative but also provided me with nearly a century’s worth of material to draw from. It’s my hope that integrating elements of this beloved character into my personal story will allow it to resonate with a much wider audience.

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    Nelson🇺🇸/Roberto🇸🇻

    Separated from my family during El Salvador's civil war, by death and adoption, I am a writer, photographer, and storyteller.

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