Whether you face an internal battle or external, always remember why you are where you are. Remember for whom and for what you are fighting for. Let them be your strength and courage. Never underestimate the reasons behind your actions. Let your love and passion for your friends, family, acquaintances and life in general to fuel your goals and to drive your dreams.
Goku’s victories would not have been possible if it weren’t for the love of his family and friends. The strong bonds between the Z fighters drove them to give everything that they had in order to save each other and their loved ones. Their friendship is truly inspirational. There is no stronger friendship than willing to do anything and everything in one’s power to protect the other. And that is what DBZ has taught me. You can give nothing more than everything you have to protect your friends and family. In return, their strength becomes your own and the impossible becomes a reality.
At the beginning of your story, and even throughout, you’re making promises to the reader on a subconscious level. You’re setting up the reader’s expectations for what kind of story this will be and what’s going to happen. Chekhov gave this example, if you have a scene with a gun in it, you’re setting the expectations that it’s going to go off by the end of the story. When it does in the last scene, you’ve delivered on your promise. When we don’t keep our promises, the readers are disappointed. When we meet expectations, they’re satisfied.
But there’s a third option. You exceed the expectations you’ve set up. And nothing is more fulfilling than that.
Dragon Ball Z not only delivers on its promises, it exceeds them.
Let’s see this in action. In the Android Saga, we meet Trunks, a 17-year-old from the future who has come back in time to warn Goku that soon two androids will appear and kill all of the heroes and wreck havoc on the whole planet.
Promise to the audience: two androids are coming to take over the world.
In Trunks’s time, most of humanity has already been wiped out and all of the survivors have to live underground to survive.
So, future Trunks leaves, and the heroes train and prepare for these two androids, 17 and 18. Years go by and eventually two androids do show up. And the heroes are faring well against them. They soon find out, however, there aren’t just two androids, there are six! As an audience, we’re just as shocked as the heroes–we were only expecting two. So It exceeds our expectations.
Throughout the series, Dragon Ball Z sets up expectations and exceeds them, either going beyond what is promised, like the Android example, or by fulfilling that promise in a surprising way.
In an earlier saga, when heores Goku, Gohan, and Krillin are pitted against villain Frieza, there is some foreshadowing about someone becoming a “Super Saiyan.”
Promise: by the end of this saga, a Saiyan, is going to become a Super Saiyan.
Frieza and Vegeta are under the impression that to become a Super Saiyan, a Saiyan has to transform into a giant, powerful Ape-like creature. Sort of like how a werewolf goes from human to wolf. None of the character have actually seen a Super Saiyan; they’re an old legend.
So we’re expecting something like this:
However, when Goku finally transforms into a Super Saiyan, we get this:
Physically, all Goku gets is blond hair, blue eyes, and a whole lot of power.
It’s not what viewers expected, yet the story still delivered on its promise, in a surprising way.
If you deviate from a promise, it’s tricky to pull off for the audience. A problem that arises is that you might not meet their expectations. So, if you do deviate from your promise, like Goku as a Super Saiyan did, you have to find a way to make the deviation more fulfilling than what the audience expected. Otherwise they’ll feel cheated after all that build up.
Even though Goku’s Super Saiyan form wasn’t what we expected, once he starts fighting Frieza, it doesn’t take long for viewers to realize his Super Saiyan form is even better than we could have imagined.
Writing Lessons from DBZ: Formulas with Variety and Appealing to your Audience
Plotting Technique #6
If you want to get formulaic with me, you could say, “Hey, all these Dragon Ball Z Sagas follow the same story structure.” You’d be right if you stripped the series to its bare bones. It would look something like this.
Bad Guy Appears Protagonists fight bad guy. Protagonist may or may not be stronger than the bad guy. Badder Bad Guy Appears Protagonists can’t beat bad guy Protagonists have to train like crazy to get stronger. Protagonists beat bad guy
(Repeat three times and you have the whole t.v. show down.)
Dragon Ball Z targets audiences that love anything that battles and levels up. With their story formula, the creators of Dragon Ball Z are capable of keeping these fundamentals throughout the series. As the villains become stronger, the heroes must too, battling and leveling up, literally as they transform or “evolve” (if you’re into pokemon terms).
But here’s what Dragon Ball Z did right. They may have a bare-bone story formula, one that appeals to its target audience, but it has loads of variations to keep it fresh. And it still has quality.
As writers and fans, we often get uncomfortable with the term “story formula,” but really, a story formula is another word for a “story structure.” Unless you are writing literary fiction, you’re following this “formula” with all your stories.
Story “formulas” are only a problem if they are too stiff, and the writer adheres to them like scripture.
Alright, back to Dragon Ball Z. With their story formula, they’re able to continue appealing to their audience while still keeping it fresh with variations. Despite having the same story structure, each saga is insanely different!
Frieza Saga includes:
Armies of villains
Frieza, the villain as a conqueror of planets
A story line heavily focused on strategy and outsmarting others
Takes place on a completely different planet
The heroes are stuck between two evil forces
First super saiyan transformation
Villains that can absorb the heroes’ energy and never run out of energy
Cell, the villain, has no army and is a composite of every hero and villain in the series, and his goal is to reach his perfect form
There’s a time travel story line
Cell holds a martial arts tournament with the heroes
Takes place on Earth
Gohan, not Goku, defeats the main antagonist Cell
Leveling up to a form beyond super saiyan
has Mind control
A villain who is more like an animal than a person in behavior. He eats people and takes on their characteristics. He’s illogical because he’s lacking the smarts. He’s more like fighting a rampaging shark than like fighting Voldemort.
Level up through fusion
Earth and everyone on it is destroyed
So the battle extends into the universe and even heaven and hell.
Unlike all the other villains and heroes, Buu’s strongest form is his pure, original form.
See how, although they all have the same story structure (so they can appeal to their audience), they are so different their audience doesn’t get bored and the story line doesn’t get stilted? It’s amazing!
So as a writer, it might be worth your time to look at what fundamentals are appealing to your audience, keep those fundamentals, but give them plenty of variations.
Hey Hot stuff I remember you saying in that livestream the other day that Dragonball Z gave you 10 things you will always remember and follow haha what were they OvO
haha sure thing Taogurl the 10 lessons I took away from DBZ were
#1 – You only grow stronger after you recover:
This was always highlighted by the Saiyans since they became stronger after recovering from every battle. When you train your muscles get micro tears from the stress you inflicted on it. After you let your body recover with proper rest & nutrition your muscles get stronger in order to withstand this stress the next time you train. So you too like Vegeta grow strong after recovering from your training session, since growth occurs during your recovery process. So make sure that if your training hard, that you also rest enough to recover!
#2 – When you learn to connect your body & mind your ultimate power unleashes
This is touched on several times in the saga is when Goku is learning new attacks. He is told by his masters that he must learn to connect mind & body as one in order to unleash his new powers. (although those might not the the exacts words they use, they imply do imply this to some degree)
While we may not have the ability to get Goku’s powers, when we do learn to use our mind when working out we become a lot more powerful. It’s kinda like a hidden power that we have since training is a lot more mental than physical.
You can clearly see this when you are doing something new or pushing your limits to new heights. For example I had to tap into more than just my physical strength the first time I did handstand pushups
not only was it a new exercise for me so my body was not used to it but I struggled to even get one rep. I was tired after 5 or so reps, but I was determined to get at last get one rep…and at this point it was more of a mental battle than anything else. It is hard to describe exactly what happened but my refusal to give up along my will to make it happen, made the tiredness disappear. This is not something that you can just think and realize, but if you have pushed yourself to the limits before then you know what I am talking about…It is a zone where you not only strengthen your body by pushing it harder, but strengthen the mind by overcoming the resistance and thus making you mentally stronger.
#3– EAT BIG TO GET BIG
Although the importance of a good nutrition is not always highlighted in the show, you can clearly see that healthy food was emphasized as being good fuel for the body since is mostly shown trough the show (meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, noodles, beans, rice, etc)The characters never had an exact eating plan, you kinda just see them eating A LOT of after hard training & battles. So the big take away is that if you are training hard you will need to eat a lot of healthy food in order to get stronger.
#4 – Use your environment to train
When Goku was young he didn’t train at a gym or anything like that instead he trained outdoors using his environments: Pushing & throwing rocks, swimming along sharks, climbing trees to get fruits, fighting dinosaurs, etc. Even when Goku & Krillin started training with Master Roshi he made them, sprint, deliver milk all around the city, running up mountains, swim with sharks & work in the field in order for them to gain endurance, strength & discipline. We can always use our environment to train, as all we need is our bodyweight & something heavy to supply resistance. So if you think you need a gym in order to train, then think again.
#5 – There will always be something/one stronger than you out there, so keep training!
This was part of the reason why Goku always wanted to get stronger, so he could fight & against stronger enemies. In your own training this might also be part of the reason why you seek more strength. And although you won’t be fighting against monsters you will face sport challenges where you gotta be stronger than your competition in order to win.
Your life is not just physical battles but emotional & spiritual ones as well, so training to be physically strong is not only helpful in athletics but also dealing with challenges in your life, whether it be: a race or competition, financial trouble, breaking a bone, bad relationship, etc.. you gotta learn to fight trough the hardship and conquer it (you don’t just train to get stronger physically but mentally as well)
#6 – A BADASS BODY shows from Constant Training, proper nutrition and rest
Throughout the whole show training & fighting always occurred, so the characters always naturally developed a strong, muscular and powerful look. But while it is a fictional show this is true in real life: If you’re training hard, eat right & get proper rest you will develop a strong & aesthetically pleasing body – it’s just the look you get from being an athlete. Use movements that will require your whole body to work as a unit as well as lots of calisthenics in order to get stronger & build a body that doesn’t just look strong but is also strong.
#7 – Always be a student & learn from your mentors
Goku was alway eager & humble to learn from his stronger & wiser masters & mentors. Sometimes he didn’t fully understand what they were teaching him but he remained humble and open minded so he could receive their teachings.
You gotta be the same in your life & training. You gotta put your ego aside & know that there is always so much more to learn from others, always keep investing in your education & seek personal growth + it’s always good to see somebody else’s perspective on training & life.
8 and 9: Calisthenics are your friends and you should do them often
Unlike training with dumbbells and barbels as you are moving an outside force…with BW the extra weight becomes part of you and every part of your body needs to work in order to move it, so you strengthen your whole body as a unit: static strength, endurance, tension, explosiveness, etc all is being worked in 1 motion. This is always demonstrated throughout all the characters training besides polishing their fighting skills. But its not just because BW is effective but because practicing calisthenics will make you move better & more efficiently which transfer to everything from having better form when lifting heavy weights to having more energy in your body since you have better range of motion and less muscle imbalances. In the end movement is life, and if you can’t move properly then this is taking away your energy & life force. So doing bodyweight training is not just to remain athletic but to increase your vitality as well. Not too mention that you can do these exercises anywhere so you have no excuses to not do them!
#10 – Keep a positive attitude, have fun & stay optimistic
This was always Goku’s way of looking at things: he never saw anything as impossible & neither should you.
In your training you always gotta know that you can do whatever you set yourself out to do, it might require weeks or months of practice but it will happen if you stay committed. At the same time you must keep the mindset of a child who sees everything as an adventure & no limits onto what is possible. You gotta learn to enjoy the pain you will endure and the obstacles you will face, because if you are dedicating that much time to training, then what’s the point of doing it if you won’t enjoy it?
Writing Lessons from DBZ: Having to Put Your Faith in Someone Unstable
Plotting Technique #2
Several times in Dragon Ball Z, characters have to put their faith in someone they can’t trust or someone who is unstable. In the Frieza saga, our heroes Krillin, Gohan, and Bulma, have to put their trust in villain Vegeta, who, only a few episodes ago, tried to kill them. Another villain, Frieza, is even stronger than Vegeta, and unless Krillin, Gohan, and Bulma help Vegeta, the whole planet and everyone on it will be destroyed. For a while, the story line looks like this:
Good Guys < Bad Guy vs. Badder Bad Guy > All his minions.
So as viewers, we’re stuck in this pinch. We don’t want Frieza or Vegeta to succeed–they’re both evil. So, we hope Gohan and Krillin can undermine them somehow, though it looks unlikely. At the same time, we’re worried because although they’ve teamed up with Vegeta, we can’t trust Vegeta; he could turn on them whenever they outlive their use.
Vegeta ends up back-stabbing pretty much every party in that season, including the heroes.
But do you see how being forced to put your faith in someone you disagree with ramps up tension? How being forced to trust someone you can’t count on increases suspense? It makes the plot and character relationships so much more complex and engaging!
Then, there are moments in the series where characters have to put their faith in someone who is psychologically unstable. What do you do when the one person who can save the world refuses to at the last moment? It’s like that pivotal moment in Lord of the Rings when Frodo finally makes it to the Crack of Doom, and then refuses to throw the Ring in! This same plot method happens several times in Dragon Ball Z, with great variations so it doesn’t feel formulaic. I need to explain some of the psychology of some of the characters before I provide examples, though.
The Psychology of a Saiyan
Alright, so, some of the main characters aren’t humans, they’re Saiyans, a species that biologically thrives off violence and bloodshed. Some Saiyans, like Vegeta, embrace this, others, like Goku feel it’s an evil lifestyle to live. Despite the fact Goku chooses the higher road, that Saiyan blood still manifests itself in him, to a small degree. But he chooses constructive outlets for it rather than destructive ones. He picks up martial arts rather than murdering and plundering the innocent. (I can hear Dumbledore in my head, “It’s our choices, Goku, not our abilities, that show who we truly are.” Also, Goku suffered minor brain damage as a child, so that also helped curb his Saiyan tendencies.)
But a few times, Goku finally gets the opportunity to defeat the antagonist and thereby save the world and other people, and he refuses! Driven by his Saiyan blood, he’d rather take his chances and witness firsthand his opponent’s fighting capabilities. From Goku’s point of view, it would be a shame to come this far and miss out on witnessing the antagonist’s full potential, and testing himself against it. In one instance, he even lets a villain go free because he can’t imagine destroying someone so talented, powerful, and capable, despite being evil.
Goku has a bit of an obsession that lurks under his good guy persona. Like Sherlock Holmes is more interested in solving the puzzle than actually saving people, Goku, despite all the lives he strives to save, is sometimes more interested in testing his and others’ strengths than the fate of the world.
So there are those Frodo moments where you want to scream at him because if he fails, the whole world will be ruined.
As viewers, we want to trust him because he’s the protagonist, the main hero of the series, but there are instances where our trust and confidence in him weakens. These “Frodo moments” happen with a few other characters as well: Vegeta lets Cell absorb Android 18, because he wants to fight Cell at his peak. Despite how wicked Cell is, SSJ2 Gohan chooses to fight him instead of simply killing him. Gotenks, the only person on Earth who has enough power to even have a chance to kill Buu, would rather look cool doing it.
So consider trying this plotting method next time you’re outlining:
Force your heroes or your audience to put their faith in someone they can’t trust or someone who is unstable. The higher the stakes of the situation, the more suspenseful.
Plotting technique #3. “Little Fish, Big Fish”–I’ll be explaining how this method made Future Trunks’s debut so killer in the series! How did the writer make it so awesome? I’ll tell you. Next time, on Writing Lessons from Dragon Ball Z.
This technique isn’t new, but I had to bring it up because of just how well Dragon Ball Z handles it.
The idea is to create your character with his strengths and weaknesses and then plop him into a situation way out of his element. This can create comedy or (you guessed it) ramp up tension.
Vegeta’s defining characteristic is pride. He’s a prince, a fighter, and he views himself as a superior person. Vegeta’s view of himself is what’s most important to him. He wouldn’t tell us that, but it’s true.
So what does the writer do? Put him in situations where his self-respect is at stake, where Vegeta has to choose between his pride and saving himself, his pride and saving the world. And there are instances where he picks his pride and instances where he sacrifices it. So sometimes, we’re not sure what’s he’ll do (which adds more tension).
It’s hard to adequately explain Vegeta’s pride if you haven’t seen the series. He’s not a prideful idiot. He’s a prideful genius. Pride and honor is what he lives for. At times it’s more important than his own life and the life of his family. Imagine that for a second.
Then the writer makes Vegeta face humiliating situations. Here’s just a handful of examples. As the series progresses, they go from bad to worse.
-A low-class saiyan, Goku, whose an idiot and supposed to have a low power level and is everything Vegeta despises, becomes more powerful than Vegeta. (creates tension)
-Then, Vegeta has to team-up and work together with Goku. (creates tension)
-With nothing but the clothes on his back, Vegeta has to live under the mercy of Bulma (though he’d never admit he was at her mercy), and therefore gets stuck wearing hideous clothing like this. (comedy)
-Vegeta’s own son becomes more powerful than him. (creates tension)
-Goku’s 11-year-old son becomes more powerful than Vegeta. (creates tension)
-Vegeta has to sacrifice himself to save the world from Fat Buu–the most embarrassing villain to lose to, because Buu is a pink tub of lard that acts like a little kid obsessed with candy, and, he’s stupid. He’s not even smart or sophisticated like the other super-villains Frieza and Cell. And this, this is the creature the Prince of all Saiyan has to succumb to?
I mean, look at him. If loosing to that guy out of all villains doesn’t hurt your pride, nothing will.
-Later in the series, the technique of fusion–two people joining to become one super-powerful being–is introduced. In order to have a fighting chance against a villain, Goku, that idiotic embarrassment of a Saiyan, needs to fuse with someone, and gets stuck with Vegeta. Vegeta is so prideful, he would never want to fuse with anyone in a million years, but the worst person to fuse with would be Goku. Their rivalry goes back years.
-On another occasion when Goku and Vegeta need to fuse, they have to do this ridiculous dance that’s “like a cross between traditional fighting stance and water ballet”. Vegeta of course resists (“You’re insane! I’m not posing like that! We’re warriors. Not ballerinas!”). It’s another stab to the heart of his identity.
-But perhaps the most painfully humiliating moment is when Vegeta has to dance and sing to calm down the God of Destruction, Bills, so he doesn’t destroy Earth. Let me tell you, as a viewer you want to laugh and look away from your t.v. screen at the same time because you vicariously feel Vegeta’s humiliation so powerfully. It’s like your own dignity is shattering while you watch.
If you need more comedy or tension, try using the plotting tool in your story.
By the way, isn’t Vegeta just an awesome character?
Writing Lessons from DBZ: (I Want this) but I Want that More
Plotting Technique #7
This plotting technique takes place toward the end of the series. Vegeta, a “bad guy,” has settled down with a family for seven years at this point. He hasn’t done anything “bad” for years, and he’s now more of an antihero than a villain. But he still has the dream of beating Goku in a fight. Despite how hard Vegeta trains, he can never catch up to how strong Goku is, which eats at him more than anything in the series because Vegeta is brimming with pride.
The main villain of the show at this point is named Babidi, and he has the ability to invade people’s minds and control them. Well, Vegeta realizes that the only way he can be powerful enough to defeat Goku is to give himself over to Babidi’s mind control. Vegeta comes to a cross roads where he must choose between his “good guy” self and his “bad guy” self. He picks the latter.
He wants to beat Goku so bad, he’s willing to sacrifice his relationship with his family, embrace his old, blood-thirsty self, and lend over, somewhat, his mind and body to a villain’s bidding–that’s really saying something for a character who never wanted to be under anyone’s control.
Although he’s hesitant to admit it, a part of Vegeta really does want to settle down with a family (I want this, but I want to beat Goku more.)
So the basic idea of this method is similar to a dilemma–make your character choose between two things he wants. What he chooses shows what he wants most. BUT what’s interesting about this in Dragon Ball Z is that Vegeta’s two choices are direct opposites of one another. Good vs. evil essentially. And what’s more interesting is that, as one of the protagonists, he chooses the evil one.
You don’t see that happen very often in stories.
And this takes the series in a whole new direction. We now have Goku once again fighting Vegeta as a villain–we’ve gone full circle–but Vegeta is someone we’ve come to know and love.
Last week I started dissecting Dragon Ball Z and noting some plotting techniques you can use to ramp up your own story. I’m picking up today with another technique the show uses extremely well that, like the other two I mentioned, I hardly ever see used in elsewhere. Also like the other two techniques, it can really kick the tension in your story up several notches. Not to mention it made Future Trunks look totally killer.
Little Fish, Big Fish
Imagine you’ve been following Harry Potter and Voldemort’s conflicts all the way from the first book to the seventh book. Harry and Voldemort are finally battling it out face-to-face. It’s a legit battle, think of the movie version. Then suddenly, someone even stronger, even more evil appears and defeats Voldemort, and we find out the seventh book isn’t the last book.
At first, readers would be shocked. We’ve been working up to this. Voldemort was supposed to be it. But this new guy, we’ve never even heard of, took care of him as easily as swatting a fly.
And now, our heroes have a whole new, even more powerful antagonist to deal with, who has even eviller plans than Voldemort had!
It’s a great twist.
But I could see how it could flop depending on delivery and how you handle the aftermath. Dragon Ball Z never flops it.
Often, we think we’ve meet the most powerful villain ever, only to find out there is another one far more powerful than him–an even bigger fish that can eat the villain up. And it’s more shocking when he actually does eat him.
For examples: We thought Radtiz was bad, but Vegeta is even worse. We thought Vegeta was the most powerful, then we learn that Frieza is way more powerful than him. In the Cell saga, we’re told the Androids are the most powerful villains, but then Cell comes along.
Sometimes the new arrival isn’t evil. When we first meet the character Trunks, he shows up and defeats Frieza and King Cold like he’s slicing warm butter. This happens after we’ve spent probably over a dozen episodes of Goku struggling to defeat Frieza alone and a whole season (if not more) where Frieza is the main villain. Then Trunks shows up and takes care of basically two Voldemorts.
And that’s how the writer made Future Trunks’s debut so awesome. We’ve had all this build up with Frieza, and now we have King Cold too, and Trunks comes in and obliterates them in a few minutes.
But this only works for Trunks as a good guy because immediately after, he tells the other heroes about two new villains that are even more powerful than Frieza, King Cold, and him. Imagine if he showed up and defeated Frieza and King Cold and that was the end of the series. It wouldn’t work. It would be unfulfilling. We just watched Goku and the others struggle so long and then a new character we’ve never met shows up and takes care of Frieza?! That, my friends, would be a flop.
But this technique, carried out with care, packs a stellar punch, ramping up suspense, shock, mystery, and tension.
Writing Lessons from DBZ: Skyscraping the Cost of Victory
Plotting Technique #11
One way to raise tension in your story is to raise the stakes–you heighten what’s at risk. But what if you raised the cost of your character’s victory so high that to win means to lose at the purpose of his goal? Okay, I know that sounds confusing, so, let’s get to the example.
In the Buu saga, the whole point of defeating the super villain Buu is to save the world and everyone on it. But what if the only way to defeat Buu is to destroy the world and everyone on it? The cost of winning is much greater now (and so is the story’s tension). The very reason to destroy Buu might be the only way to destroy him. Look at that writing technique–isn’t it crazy?!
This concept is brought up when Gotenks is trying to put an end to Buu and almost obliterates Earth in the process. Piccolo tells him to watch his power output so he doesn’t blow up the planet, and then Gotenks asks, “Well, which is it? Do you want me to kill Buu or not?”
So what is your character’s goal? What is she trying to succeed at? Can you give her goals that contradict? Can you “skyscrape” the cost of her success?
Does she have to sacrifice the very thing she’s trying to protect to defeat her antagonist? And if so, how does she cope with that?
Next time I will be doing another post that involves Vegeta. Only two techniques left to share :)