Like millions of other people on this planet, I have admitted to being in a category that enjoys this title:
STAR WARS NERD
Yes, this mild-mannered writer can be thrown off course and word count if she’s interrupted with something like, “CLONE WARS IS ON!” or “You can’t really think that Episode 4 is better than Episode 5.”
I love the story, the artwork, the characters, the trivia, and all of this started because a boy was born to me and I let him watch the original movie when he was five years old. (Don’t worry. I shielded him from seeing that gruesome part.) He fell in love with Star Wars.
The first Star Wars movie came out in 1977. I saw it that year, but it was my son’s love for the saga that caught my attention. I was a mom who watched and read everything that interested him, and most of that everything was Star Wars related. Soon I was a nerd along with him.
What is it about this story that causes so many of us to love it? And what can we learn from it as writers?
A small person overcomes big obstacles
Writers far better and more experienced than me have written articles and whole books on “the hero’s journey.” The protagonist (a literary term for the hero) is living a normal yet unfulfilled life. He dreams about better things but there is nothing to propel him to greatness — until the incident comes that forces him to choose beyond himself.
The adventure begins and he is faced with what seems to be insurmountable obstacles. His character is tested and he makes mistakes. He comes to a do-or-die situation. The protagonist performs in a way that both saves the day and elevates him out of his normal life. He is a new person.
That is Star Wars in a nutshell, along with thousands of other stories.
Lesson for Fiction Writers: Readers love a main character who is challenged hard and grows exponentially. Luke Skywalker was a selfish boy who had given up on a dream. At the end of the story he has saved his people from the evil Empire and shown his potential as a Jedi knight. Such a transformation will grip your readers as they root for your character. They will know the potential he has to become great, if you’re writing well, and they will turn page after page to get to the place where that happens.
Reluctance overcome by responsibility
Readers love a reluctant hero, and I think that’s because it’s the human condition. We don’t like it when our normalcy is interrupted, and we’d rather not get involved if it’s at all possible. You know what that’s like — every one of us has failed at some point to live up to our responsibilities.
So, when we get to read about someone who rises above that — especially when the circumstances are more than we’ll ever bear — the story is irresistible.
At first, Luke Skywalker doesn’t want to join the rebel forces, even after Obi-Wan Kenobi tells him about the ways of the Force and his family ties to it. It is only when Luke’s family is murdered and his home is destroyed that he joins up with the rebellion. He’s reluctant and even skeptical of their chances. However, with every evil event, new acquaintance, and brush with heroism, Luke realizes his responsibility to his fellow citizens.
Lesson for Fiction Writers: Make your protagonist a real person, one with faults and dreams and who makes mistakes. In other words, make her a human being. If she is perfect from the beginning, your readers will not want to spend time with her. Why should they? With perfection, there is nowhere to go.
Readers (for the most part) want to be uplifted by the stories they read. Give your readers an adventure from low point A to high point Z. Take your protagonist from watching out for herself to caring more for others. That is a story that will resonate with fallible and imperfect human beings.
You will find that many of the most loved novels and movies use the literary devices I’ve mentioned. Small versus big. Reluctant to heroic. Think of these stories:
- To Kill A Mockingbird. A small-town lawyer versus a racist legal system.
- Gone With the Wind. A selfish woman versus the Civil War.
- The Wizard of Oz. An innocent girl versus a powerful witch.
The list of stories that you can include here is long, and the variety of takes on the hero’s journey shows the wonder of fiction writing.
But each writer adds something to the hero formula that sets the story apart. Star Wars is so beloved, in my opinion, because of the genius in its opening line:
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”
Even today, 36 years after first seeing the movie, I’m tickled by that intro. It is clever; my mind goes in two directions when I read it. George Lucas added something to the hero’s journey that made it his own. Luke Skywalker lived during a time in the past when even the most primitive of lifestyles was superior to today’s technology. It is a twist that caught the imagination and hasn’t let go to this day.
Lesson for Fiction Writers: Make this timeless storyline your own. What can you add to your hero’s journey that sets it apart from the thousands of others that have been and will be written? I kept this question in mind when I began revising my novel. I had a good story, but I want it to be a great story. I had to come up with something original, something that would make readers want to, once again, follow a hero’s journey.
There are many types of heroes. A young rebel pilot is just one. But Luke Skywalker and all of his Star Wars friends and foes are unforgettable. It’s a beloved story because it uses that winning combination of hero, obstacle, change, success, and originality.
Now, go and create one of your own.
[Wow — this was one long post! See what a great story can do?]
If you’re writing a novel in the classic “hero” tradition, what are you doing to set it apart from the rest?