When I was little, I was the Star Wars fan. It began with a love of the funny creatures, admittedly (Jabba the Hutt, most especially) and steadily progressed into an obsession for the series overall. The noble heroics of Luke Skywalker, the dashingly cocky Han Solo, and the cool, intelligent “I am Woman!” bad-assery of Leia Organa.
Bear in mind, this was no average, healthy obsession. I was a fangirl, and a purist. I collected action figures, magazines, watched the movies until I had them memorized, read the novelizations, wrote fanfic and even engaged in online role-play. The prequels? I defended them to the death, even though each viewing of The Phantom Menace killed me a little inside. I dressed up as a Jedi (or “Dark Jedi”) for Episode II, and went to the midnight showing of Episode III, only to wake up and view it again the next day.
I lived, ate, drank, breathed, and bled Star Wars.
Never in my wildest did I think I would get to the point where I can say any of the following:
1) Star Trek is superior
2) The prequels are a disaster
3) Harry Potter is my favorite all-time saga, hands down.
To the teenage me, any of the above would be blasphemous.
Granted, as I grew older, I began confessing little things to myself regarding the prequels. A couple years ago, I admitted the first one was rubbish, but still defended Episodes II and III…even though the “love story” between Anakin and Padme was cringe-worthy, I stood by it being a decent tragedy. I could never, though, pinpoint what exactly was the prequels’ main failing.
Turns out there were many failings. RedLetterMedia’s Plinkett reviews of the new series opened my eyes in a way they didn’t want to be opened. I have officially renounced the prequels from my personal canon of the Star Wars universe and become one of those “George Lucas Raped My Childhood” fans.
There is one glimmering ray of hope in the stinkbomb that was the prequel movies. If any writer out there needs a diagram on how to NOT write characters, look no further. Plinkett discusses this in his review of The Phantom Menace. The characters lacked any fundamental connection with the audience, and this was demonstrated with a simple challenge.
“Describe Character A without referring to his/her profession or what they look like.”
If your readers can’t go beyond this question, or have to search for an answer, you haven’t given them enough reason to connect with your character. Take Rhett Butler. He’s cocky, arrogant, swarmy, deceptive, strong-willed, determined, and when he loves he does so with all he is. Conversely, take Liam Neeson’s character from the prequel films. He’s….there. He has a beard. He talks with words. And that’s about it.
Characters should be more than their appearance and job status. If you’re writing a hopeless romantic, it’s not enough for you to tell us he’s a hopeless romantic. Show him doing something to convey that characteristic. When you send your manuscript to your CPs, ask them to look for these things. Make sure they can say something about your characters' actions and behavior, not just their description. After all, if we don’t know the characters well enough to care about them, whatever else happens in the book won’t matter to us, because there will be nothing at stake.
Character should never be undervalued or sacrificed. We need to know and care about these people. When they ache, we should ache with them, and for reasons beyond "it's the main character." We should remember their names after the book has been shelved. To me, that’s the ultimate test. If I can remember a character’s name a month after I read the book, I consider it well written. It means the character stuck with me.
So go forth. Write well and prosper. Try not. Do…or do not. There is no try.
As for me...I'll have to live with the tattered ruins of my childhood, having finally accepted the horrible truth.