It’s hard to believe 40 years have passed since Star Wars was released, on this day. I saw it in its original run and remember how people lined up outside the movie theaters to see it…not once, by multiple times. People didn’t watch it twice; they watched it twenty times.
It wasn’t like any other science fiction movie before it. The ones I grew up watching were astronauts visiting another planet at getting stalked by an alien monster; a scientist inventing a monster and getting stalked by it; a monster rising from the depths and stalking the human cities–well, you get the idea.
But Star Wars was pure adventure, and fun. It has space battles, a cool villain–Darth Vader was so different from the standard villains who were either monsters or cackled dementedly about taking over the world. There was something about James Earl Jones’ voice that really brought him to life from behind that mask.
But then George Lucas did a rookie mistake, like I’ve seen some writers do. He had this hugely successful movie, and instead of spending the next forty decades writing other movies, or even TV series, or how about novels like Stephen Cannell, he fixed Star Wars. He was never happy with the special effects of the time, so he “improved” on them.
I know the cantina scene was a challenge to shoot because there was no budget. The actors wore Halloween masks. Yet, Lucas did a good job shooting it because it doesn’t look like cheap Halloween masks (there are a number of movies I’ve watched where the costuming looks like no one cared). He transformed us into a different world.
It’s also one of the scenes that fans talk about. It introduces our naive character Luke Skywalker to the rest of the galaxy and how dangerous it will be. And it’s fun!
And Lucas fiddled with it because all he could remember was the bad parts of the shooting, that the technology of 1977 didn’t match what he pictured.
In getting what he pictured but couldn’t do, he broke things that fans liked.
When I was growing up, we would drive from Los Angeles to Morro Bay, which is a coastal town in Central California, stay a day, and then head onto San Francisco. My grandparents lived in San Francisco at the time, but later moved to Morro Bay. Our trip took us on Highway 101, which had beautiful views of the ocean.
But it had a big problem, too. The road cut through these huge sloping mountains. Always brown from the dryness, and some years, black, because brush fires had burned away the grass. Nothing to anchor down the dirt when it rained.
One year, it was pouring rain and we were headed back to Los Angeles. A state trooper stopped us, dressed up in his yellow slicker, and told us the road was closed. We had to turn back and wait a day for it to be cleared.
A landslide happened this week in the same general area and closed a quarter mile of the freeway. Check out the video in the link.
I’ve been taking a workshop on Editing Yourself. It’s not the first workshop I’ve had like this; I had another one called Keys to Editing, which covered the topic if you wanted to go in business as an editor. The Editing Yourself is very different from that one.
The editing class is on essentially taking care of the story while you’re creating it. Like when I plopped a description of a character in the story early on and then he evolved into something different so I had to create a new description that reflected that evolution.
But one of the things that strikes me is that the writing community generally refers to editing and revision and rewriting all as the same thing when they are very clearly not.
Except in one place.
And that’s when they’re creating the story and they go back and do what I described above for the class. They called it “revising as you go along.” And with using that terminology comes actual revision, and often endless revision. I used to call it that myself and had to learn what I could change and what I couldn’t.
It’s what got me into trouble working with a cowriter who was suffering from fear of finishing and me not knowing that he had this fear.
After a disastrous book where I kept getting stuck so I’d go back and “revise as I went along” until I solved the problem, I decided on the following guidelines:
- If I was stuck, I had to work that out. I could go back a few scenes to see if I’d bounced off the tracks, but I couldn’t go all the way to the beginning to tweak words and sentences.
- I could go back and change things like adding more foreshadowing for a later scene, correcting a name I’d just changed, or a gender of a character.
- No fixing! No tweaking of sentences or words to make them perfect. If I didn’t have a good reason to change something (i.e., I don’t understand what I was trying to write), it stands as is.
My writer friend would have happily revised the first chapter for years. And this is so easy to do because you think you’re making progress and suddenly the novel takes 25 years (that’s from a writing board I’m on) and never gets done.
The only progress you make is when you can type “The End” and move onto the next one. Sometimes the tools provided to us by “experts” get in the way of that.
It always found it strange when I hear that someone never learned how to swim. That was a statement I heard often in the military, particularly from people in the Southern states like Georgia. How can you grow up and never experience a swimming pool?!
Swimming … and going off the high dive is kind of like a kid’s rite of passage.
Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, though the actual date isn’t until June 20. Washington DC is normally sweltering by now, but we had an arctic front come in. It was in the 40s! We were all lamenting that our heat was off.
But no fear, it’ll be 90 later this week.
When I grew in Los Angeles, the end of school for the summer, signaled days over at the local city pool. In the very early days, they still required a rubberized bathing cap for girls. Those were god-awful things. Try getting a close-fitting cap over your head while it pulled your hair.
Or worse! Getting the thing off without taking out a clump of hair. They never kept my hair dry, so it was ‘what was the point?’
But the worse thing about them was that the pool authorities only required girls to wear the bathing caps. Everyone always it was so the long hair didn’t clog the drain, but it was only applied to the girls and not the boys. My brother hated getting his haircut so he let his hair grow out long enough to mistaken for a girl from the back, but he was not required to wear the bathing cap.
One of those things disguised as fashion, but seemed to single out girls.
They did disappear after a few years, because it was on the tail end of the trend. Now the caps are more fashionable for professional swimmers. Men and women wear them for an extra bit of speed in the pool.
Still don’t look very comfortable.
I grew up watching TV shows where characters got whacked over the head fairly routinely, woke up, and was normal again. Not even a look at by a doctor. And then, a few years ago, I met a former soldier who had a service dog. She had a serious concussion and one of the aftereffects was that she lost her depth perception. If there was a hole in the ground, she could not tell it was there!
The Washington Post published this article on writer Ernest Hemingway. He killed himself in 1961, well before we started to learn from war what effects concussions do to the human brain.
This was for research, but it was pretty cool.
This week, I started Dean Wesley Smith’s writing workshop on “Editing Yourself.” One of the things I had to do was think about how to describe my writing process.
The first thing I thought of was this video:
Whenever I’m reading a book, it’s hard for me to put a face to the character if the writer doesn’t describe anything. I know there’s a crowd that says to leave it off, leave it up to the reader’s imagination or imagine herself.
I don’t imagine myself in the character’s place. If I don’t get a description of the character, it’s a missing piece of the characterization for me.
Not only that, it gives control of an aspect of the story up to the reader.
Even non-fiction tales about people describe the people as part taking the reader back into that world of the past.
If someone walks up to you, don’t you look at them? See what they look like? Maybe notice that the clothes don’t fit or that they lost weight? Don’t you form an opinion about that person?
The problem is how description of characters is taught. As an exercise, separate of a character’s point of view and separate of the story. It’s like a mug shot:
He had brown hair and his eyes were blue. He had to be over six foot tall. He wore a black suit.
He was a big guy. Made me feet short, and I wasn’t short. Hair shaved to hide he was going bald. He wore a black suit, but had gotten it off the rack without looking in the mirror. Shoulders pulled wrong, button strained. The pants hem pooled around his ankles.
Some of the particularly memorable writers I’ve read have been that because they described both the setting and the characters.
And just for fun, here’s a picture of what Ian Fleming thought James bond looked like.
Abandoned by war, abandoned by death. Neyan is a soldier hanging on with only the goal of completing her mission: kill the enemy.
Now the enemy are mounting an attack on the kingdom, and she is the only one who stands between them and her people. Then she meets the enemy and she isn’t so sure of her mission any more.
Available from your favorite book sellers:
Every time I hear about themed months or “firsts” (first woman this or that), it’s sad to see. The first is that it seems to be the only way women get visibility for accomplishments and that we really should be beyond firsts … and still aren’t.
When I first got to Washington DC, everyone was still squabbling over the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. The men were actually saying that the women didn’t do anything … why should they be honored?
This woman was a secretary to a military officer during World War II in the Philippines. The Japanese attacked and captured her. But she was smart and thought about what she could do to help herself:
After American and Filipino forces surrendered in May 1942, Finch hid her American background and instead passed herself off as a Filipino citizen to avoid being placed in prison camps with other American civilians.
Then she helped out both the resistance and the POWs:
Landing a secretarial job with a Japanese-controlled fuel distribution company, she managed to direct supplies to the Filipino resistance movement as well as food and medicine to POWs, including the Army officer who was her former boss in the intelligence office.
Unfortunately, she got caught, and the Japanese tortured her. But she never broke. Then she was released by American forces.
When she moved to the U.S., then she enlisted in the Coast Guard!