Lessons from Push and The Last Airbender

It's a good day when you're able to take pieces from other works of art to better understand your instincts in your own art. In working on my YA fantasy, I've struggled with how far do I have my heroine go in avenging her father's death. I didn't want to forget that my heroine starts out as an overgrown child in many ways, but learns and grows through her journey. She reacts in fear, makes poor decisions, and has to learn so she can do the right thing. When I originally plotted out the story, I had her kill someone, in self-defense, but still the person died because of something she did. As she reached the climax of the book, I realized she couldn't do it and the climax switched gears toward a less violent ending (but still as full of drama, I hope). I admit, I was a little worried about this, though I knew I was being true to my character, I wasn't sure how it would read.

 I was watching Push with the commentary and was fascinated when the director noted that Cassie never fires a weapon (there's a lot of gun fire in this movie) and that he did it on purpose, because in his view Cassie is still a child and he didn't want her running around shooting people. The first time she has a gun in her hand, she throws it at the villain instead of firing it. The second time we see her with the gun, she's protecting someone else by pulling the gun, but it shakes in her hand emphasizing her discomfort with the weapon.

Avatar: The Last Airbender has a similar thread near the end. For the entire three seasons, Aang is told and prepared to battle the Fire Lord to death. As the Avatar it is his responsibility and destiny to kill the Fire Lord and restore balance to the world. But Aang (a 12 year old boy raised as a monk) battles this destiny in his head. He can't come to terms with the idea that he has to take another person's life to restore balance. I don't want to spoil the ending in case you haven't seen it yet and are watching it, but this thread through the third season touched me because it made so much sense. Everyone expected this 12 year old boy (or maybe he's thirteen by the time he faces the Fire Lord) even his own ancestors (the previous Avatars) to go against his entire life philosophy and do what must be done.

Seeing how these writers worked on these issues helped me to feel much more confident in how my own heroine handled her own violent encounters.


  1. I'm wondering about motivation of a character to do extreme things (shoot someone etc.) And I think about location. Places such as a back alley in Iraq, slum in New Orleans, meth gang on the border in Mexico. When I think of these places, I think of poverty and the desperation that comes from despair and hopelessness.

  2. Yes, a characters actions will be greatly defined by the world you have placed them in as well as their upbringing in their world.


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