A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #19: Writing when the Force is with you.

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Star Wars: Shadow Games is due out November 29, 2011. That’s comin’ up real fast! We’re also on the home stretch of the fourth Coruscant Nights book.

Alrighty, then! Next item is the demonic music video my composer/music producer husband, Jeff, put together for our Star Wars parody, “Midichlorian Rhapsody.”  It’s posted on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpvlTVgeivU

Please give it a listen. It took 275 recorded tracks and a small army of our closest and most talented friends to put just this one song together. That was some party! And now, about writing…

The Galaxy Far, Far Away is a beguiling place.  It’s filled with creatures, characters, and situations not found in the ho-hum world of mundane. In a word, it’s liberating. And you’d think, wouldn’t you, that writing a character in whom the Force is strong would free the writer of boundaries.

Ah, but it’s not so. There are boundaries, some of which are imposed by the creators and stewards of the GFFA, some of which are imposed by the craft of writing and some of which are imposed by … you. You, dear reader, are the “tenth man.” (Brownie points for anyone who gets that reference—it’s not science fiction related.) Readers help keep writers honest because whether George Lucas makes up a rule or we make it up ourselves, you expect us to stick to it.

If there is one unbreakable rule of writing—in any galaxy—it is that the writer should abide by the laws of the universe in which their characters live. The Force and how it operates is an essential law of the Star Wars ‘verse. We can use it to amaze and surprise, but we have to provide said amazement and surprise within the consistent boundaries of how the Force works. We can’t pull Flying Force Rabbits out of our hats, shout “ta-da!” and expect high praise.

The Force is cool. It’s so cool, it’s tempting to endow Our Jedi Hero with a level of Force abilities that no one else can match. But that creates “issues.” The first being that the Force becomes a convenient deus ex machina (literally god out of a box) that saves Our Hero in the nick of time (almost) every time or makes Our Villain unbeatable (except for when he must be beaten). Handy for the writer. Frustrating for the reader. The reader alternately finds himself thinking, “Wow. I didn’t know Darth Dilbert could do that!” and, “Sheesh. Why doesn’t the Jedi Knight just zap this giant centipede like he zapped the rogue rancor three pages ago?” When I utter such words in the course of a TV show, movie, or novel, my husband invariably says, “Because then there would be no story.”  Meaning that the writer has intentionally given characters inconsistent powers so he can have his way with the plot. This is Cheating, and the reader knows it.

darth-vader1I think this contributes to the sentiment among some readers that they prefer Jedi-free Star Wars novels. No hero is more frustrating to a reader than one whose powers are conveniently inconsistent. And no villain is less fun than one who is theoretically omnipotent and who therefore has to be defeated by a fluke. A Darth Vader with no human “chinks” in his black enviro-suit makes a towering obstacle to throw in front of Our Hero and raises the stakes to the stars, but when it’s finally time to allow Our Hero to succeed, the writer’s stuck for a logical way to make Vader beatable this time.

What’s a writer to do?

My favored solution is to sow the seeds of failure early in a story. In Patterns of Force, a flashback and Jax’s tortured memories of his relationship with Anakin Skywalker suggest a human weakness buried deep beneath Vader’s chest plate. Jax Pavan is more than just an obstacle to be eliminated. He’s one of the few people that Anakin might have called “friend.” He’s also a reminder of what Anakin Skywalker might have been if… So, it’s not a fluke failure of Darth Vader’s Force abilities that causes him to be caught by surprise in their final confrontation, but his focus on Jax and his own vanity and arrogance. This combination of human failings incline him to … well, to goof.

On the flip side of that, of course, is the Hero. If he’s too perfect, he won’t be believable. It’s his weaknesses that make him interesting—at least to me. The fact that Jax Pavan is haunted by any number of “ghosts” (his father, Anakin Skywalker, a host of dead or mostly dead Jedi) and may make decisions conditioned on that, makes him vulnerable, even though the Force is with him.

So, as tempting as it is to think of limitations as being bad things, I find they give birth to dramatic situations as characters are forced up against those limitations and must use ingenuity to succeed or survive. After all, which is more appealing: a character who need only snap his fingers to have everything turn out just as he planned, or one who has to work around his weaknesses or faults and who may even carry the seeds of his own undoing?

One of my favorite scenes in the Star Wars films is one in The Empire Strikes Back in which Luke goes into the mysterious grotto on Degoba. “What’s in there?” he asks Yoda. To which the Master replies, “Only what you take with you.”

Indeed.

Next time: Dark and Light—the Great Debate.

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A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #19: Writing when the Force is with you. — 2 Comments

  1. Shouldn’t this be Padawan’s Journal entry # 19 instead of #18? Journal entry #18 was posted on July 8th, and it was called: “Force Sensitives Great and Small”.

    • JT, you are absolutely right. I didn’t update the title # in the blog template I used.

      I have fixed it and thank you for alerting me to my faux pas. Numbers, I hate ’em,