Even if you don’t like Star Wars, and I know a few people who don’t, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the first Star Wars movie created millions of fans, myself included. The photo above includes only a few of the Star Wars objects we have in our home. I’ve pretended I was buying them for my son, but now I can admit I love them too. I’ve been a fan of Star Wars for a long time and have learned much about storytelling and adventure fiction writing from watching the movies over and over. (I probably don’t need to specify I mean the original trilogy only. We don’t acknowledge the later three films at our house.) When I do school visits, I bring along an R2D2 as a reminder that emotions in stories can be conveyed many ways, not just through dialogue alone. I’m not saying there aren’t flaws in the movies, but here’s what they did right, and what writers can learn to make their stories into ones thata readers love:
- Add in bits of humor.
Humor is not the first thing a person thinks of when it comes to Star Wars, but it’s a key component to appeal of the film. I’m not talking slapstick humor, but the little bits of dialogue that round out the characters as more than just action heroes. We may not remember every accurate hit on a tie fighter, but I bet most viewers remember the chess scene between R2 and Chewbacca along with C3PO’s comment, “I suggest a new strategy. R2. Let the Wookie win.”
- Make your sidekicks out-of-the-ordinary.
Best friends and sidekicks are a staple in film, but often they are just there to avoid having the main character talk to themselves for the whole movie. Star Wars took the idea of a sidekick and went to the extreme, including two who speak languages the viewers can’t understand and turning the standard robot into a fretful fussbudget. (Note-It is possible to go too far in your quirky sidekicks. I’ll just say Jar Jar Binks and leave it at that.)
- A touch of romance never hurts.
Many adventure stories go way too far in trying to add in romance in the middle of extreme danger. It’s completely unbelievable in movies and stories when a couple takes time out to gaze into each other’s eyes while they know a bomb or something is about to destroy everything, so the tiny hints of attraction between the characters in A New Hope are just enough to add a little interest.
- A team is better than one lone hero.
Many readers and viewers want to identify with a character, so the more choices, the better. The interactions of an ensemble cast of characters can make most stories far more interesting than just one lone hero off to save humanity all by him or herself.
- Characters’ flaws make them real and relatable.
There are some books where the main characters are so annoyingly good at everything that it would be refreshing to see them trip over their own feet once in a while. Perfect characters distance themselves from readers and viewers. Star Wars avoids that trap. Princess Leia was just enough like a bossy older sister to add in a touch of humanity to a member of planetary royalty. Luke, as naïve farmbook, was not your standard cool and collected young hero, and Han, preening in his scoundrelness, was refreshing in his ability to not take himself too seriously.
- Make your bad guys more than just bad.
It’s obvious from his first appearance that Darth Vadar is one really bad dude. Being able to strangle someone without touching them is fairly extreme on the evil abilities scale, but once we get that he is the bad guy, we’re also teased that there is a bit more to Vadar than just “evil guy wants to rule the world” trope. We don’t get Vadar’s whole back story for a long time, but in the first movie, there are hints, particularly in the confrontation between Obi-Wan and Vadar, when he says, “I’ve been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.” That’s enough to make the viewer curious as to the backstory. It doesn’t take much and that’s a good thing to remember. In writing, you don’t want to infodump the antagonist’s whole miserable life on the reader right away, but hints here and there give some depth to the character.
- Create a world readers want to visit.
I’m not much for dive bars in real life, but if I was ever in Tatooine, I’d make a beeline for the Mos Eisley cantina. Even the grittiest of worlds can pull on readers. It’s not like we want to live there forever, but compelling world building in your stories will make the readers long to explore, even if just for a couple of hours. It doesn’ teven have to be fantasy or futuristic worlds. Enough interesting details can convince a reader they really want to visit your story’s fictional town in North Dakota so they can order a mouthwatering cheeseburger at the equally fictional Bea’s Diner.
- Get readers wondering what happens next by creating a string of mini roadblocks.
I’ve heard that building tension in a story works best using a stair step effect, where there are a series of hurdles to overcome that increase in seriousness and difficulty. A good example of this are the scenes on the star destroyer where Han and Luke are trying to rescue Leia. Each step forward leads them into new predicaments. It’s “Now What?” for viewers as we wait to see what happens next. When the characters jump into the garbage chute, you expect them to face something bad, and it comes when the creature pulls Luke under, but only a few seconds after he survives that encounter, they face being flattened as the walls move together. It’s a definite edge-of-seat moment.
- Include a ticking clock.
Even if your story doesn’t involve your heroes being blown up in an explosion, there are ways to add in a ticking clock to solve the main problem. Adding a time limit where Bad Thing X will happen in your main character doesn’t solve Major Problem A helps to keep the pages turning.
- Craft an ending that leaves readers wanting to follow the characters into the next part of their lives.
This may be the most important takeaway of all. So many times I hear readers say they hated the ending of a particular book, and that leaves them not wanting to read more by that author or to reread the book. Or even if they didn’t hate it, they just don’t care enough to feel much emotion for the story when it ends. Endings don’t have to be all happiness and light and unicorns, but I know I’m disappointed if I feel like the characters just sort of wander off into mundane ordinary life when I’ve closed the cover of a book.
If you are interested in other films that can inspire your writing, check out this post AIR FORCE ONE Thumbs Up, OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, Thumbs Down: https://deegarretson.wordpress.com/2013/10/01/air-force-one-thumbs-up-olympus-has-fallen-thumbs-down/ on