Saturday, January 1, 2011

When Stories Don't Work

I have been studying how to make my stories better. Lately, this new knowledge has been helping me to see when story elements don't work. Of course, I'm still trying to figure out what does work, but I figure this is a step in the right direction.

For instance, this morning I was watching a Star Wars Clone Wars episode with my son. Now, I've been a huge Star Wars fan since 1978 (I grew up with Luke Skywalker - we were kids together) and was real excited when I heard about a cartoon series coming out set in the Star Wars universe. For some reason, though, I have not been able to get into these shows; they just don't capture my interest. I have to force myself to sit through them, but the kids like them so I just can't delete them from the DVR.

The episode I saw today helped me see a possible reason why I can't get into them. It was episode 3.8 "Evil Plan" [warning - spoilers follow] where R2 and C3P0 are sent on a mission to get some special fruit. Anakin sends R2 with C3P0 to be the "responsible" one on the trip. The two droids manage to get the fruit, but then another droid that was working for a bounty hunter tries to persuade them to go to a "droid spa." R2 insists that it wants to go while C3P0 wants to stick to the mission. They split up. C3P0 gets captured and interrogated by the bounty hunter while R2 enjoys a luxurious cleaning at the spa. Since C3P0 was clueless, the hunter decided to send his minions to go get R2, who just happened to be getting out of the spa.

Now, this bothered me on several levels. First off, it immediately struck me as out of character for R2 to want to abandon the mission for a little luxury. At least in my mind, R2 is a responsible, no-nonsense character who would stick to the mission, no matter how small, no matter what. And then, for R2 to frivolously spend the remaining credits that Anakin charged him with keeping track of also goes against its character. Also, it seemed way too convenient for R2 to still be in the area for when the bounty hunters came back to retrieve him. Lastly, C3P0 dropped the cylinder of fruit in a part of town with a lot of foot traffic. It was still there later when the episode ended, so they could just go pick it up and take it back to Anakin. No one stole it, kicked it, ran over it, or threw it away after what had probably been hours in their time. That was a convenience that stretched credibility.

So, why did they do that? As a writer, their reasons seem clear to me. They needed something, first of all, to split up the two droids. Then, they needed something that would keep R2 in a convenient place for later. Now, I understand this dilemma: when you need your characters to be in certain places so that plot elements can happen. Our challenge is to do this in such a way that it seems natural. In this case, it seemed very unnatural because it violated R2's character for me, and thus, caused me to disconnect from the story.

How could they have solved their situation? Many ways of course. One, they could have had C3P0 abducted while the sales droid pestered them, then R2 could have gone off to try to rescue his buddy. One problem with that plan is R2 is the smart one and would try to contact someone for help. In order for that scenario to work, R2 would have to somehow be blocked from finding help. Or another idea would have been for both of them to be captured and then, once the bounty hunters couldn't get anything from C3P0 they would turn to R2. I think the reason they didn't do this is because they wanted to show the contrast between C3P0 being tortured one second and then switch to R2 enjoying the comforts of the spa. That's not a bad idea, but they had to contort the character to make it happen. I think this was a "darling" that the writers put in that needed to be killed.

What makes us enjoy stories is seeing characters that we can relate with overcoming obstacles in order to become better people. It just doesn't work when the characters have to be changed in order to make a plot work.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Mueller said...

LOL! I love your conclusion. It's like Cinderella's ugly stepsisters trying to squeeze their size 10s into size 6 shoes!

GREAT post, thanks for the refreshing insight! Have a great weekend!

♥.•*¨ Elizabeth ¨*•.♥