Last week I mentioned the three last-minute books I bought before I embarked on No More Books 2012. But now I have a confession to make: I was lying.
There was one other book.
That book was Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays.
A friend of mine called this purchase the geekiest thing he had ever heard. And he’s a huge geek himself. But I don’t care. I love stuff like this, the behind-the-scenes of the writing. It’s a chance to see how other writers work, a chance to examine how they do things and to learn from them.
To prove it, here’s three things I’ve learnt from the geekiest purchase ever.
Steal From Other Stories If Need Be
“I have a bad feeling about this”, a line which ended up in every Star Wars film, was originally in the script for Indiana Jones. But Lucas felt it would work better in Star Wars, so he took it out of Indiana Jones’ mouth and placed it in Luke Skywalker’s. If you’ve an idea that would work great in one project but you originally envisaged it in another, don’t protect one and hurt both. You need to make this current project as strong as it can be.
Remove Characters With Nothing To Do
In earlier drafts, Lucas didn’t kill Obi-Wan. But he found he was making no contribution to the film after the escape from the Death Star. Alec Guinness was going to be very expensive set dressing. So he killed him off.
If a character is a good one, killing them off should feel like a loss. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a loss to the story. Sometimes it’s a gain.
Don’t Be Precious; Change Whatever You Need to Make It Work
Lucas’ first treatment was radically different to the final film. About the only things that remain from treatment to screen are an empire, a rebellion, a force and a few names. Luke Skywalker was Annikin Starkiller. Obi-wan was after a Kiber crystal. Darth Vader was a bit part.
No writer should be afraid of the red pen, even if it causes the end result to be almost unrecognisable from the first plot outline. If it’s making things better, it can only be a good thing.
(Bonus Lesson: If you’re tempted to create a Jar Jar Binks? Don’t.)