Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Clone Wars theory

I first read about the Clone Wars theory here. It’s based on a throwaway line from Star Wars where Obi-Wan says to Luke, “He fought with your father in the Clone Wars.”

There are no other references to the Clone Wars in the movie, but it’s the kind of tiny, telling detail that fleshes out the Star Wars universe, and for years fans speculated on what had happened in the Clone Wars. Finally another movie came along to tell that story.

So the theory is that such details shouldn’t necessarily be cut when editing, even if they’re not actively contributing to the story. As long as they’re making the world or the characters seem that much more three-dimensional or lived-in, they’re justifying their existence.

Another example of this occurs in my perennial favorite Gone with the Wind. Well over halfway through the book, Rhett divulges to Scarlett that he has a ward, a little boy back in Charleston. No other details given (is the boy related? Maybe even a son?) and what’s even more curious, remembering the child is an unpleasant experience for Rhett. Again, no reason given, which is all the more strange given that Rhett gets along very well with Scarlett’s son.

That and other details of Rhett’s mysterious past make up for the fact that so little of GWTW is told from his point of view. More so, they flesh him out as a character while still keeping him intriguing. Margaret Mitchell knew just how important it was to keep the readers longing for more.

Two caveats I’d use when applying this to my work, though. In Before the Storm, I took the Clone Wars theory to heart and had my characters mention the Infestation, which – from their mentions of it – sounded like a great war that had once devastated part of their land.

Unfortunately, I had them mention it on seven separate occasions, as opposed to the one-time Clone Wars reference, and as a result an agent asked what the Infestation was. Which left me in a corner, since I really didn’t know – and if I’d stuck to a single use of the term, I wouldn’t have needed to know.

The other concern is that whatever the throwaway detail is, it has to be truly throwaway. It’s one thing if a writer plays coy on very minor matters like the Doom of Valyria (I have no idea what that is, but it’s fun to imagine), but it’s another to keep important and necessary facts from the readers, especially if this interferes with their understanding the plot.

Other than that, though, this is a wonderful way to indulge both yourself and the readers. Not explaining everything makes readers feel that this is a three-dimensional world with hidden secrets, that the characters have lives deeper than the printed page. There’s more to them than meets the eye, and that makes them realistic.


JH said...

The link to the original article doesn't seem to be working, but that could just be a server hiccup.

I too remember wanting to know what the Infestation was, but I think the Infestation was a little more than a throw-away. I seem to remember that Garnath's motivation was to unify the land so that it could stand against another Infestation. The real tricky part about fleshing it out is that presumable all your characters know what it is, so they have no real reason to jabber about it.

Then again, sometimes throwaways turn against you. As you said, no one had any idea what the Clone Wars were for 30 years, and then they made a movie about it... we know how that turned out.

ChristaCarol Jones said...

And, if your lucky and get to write prequels to your sequels, you can always grow the throaway idea into something like Lucas did :P

Marian Perera said...

Dang. I emailed the webmaster about not being able to access Wordplayer and she said they'd had some problem with Toronto-specific addresses. So I thought other people would be OK.

Now it turns out I can access the site from work but not from home. Wordplayer has some good stuff, too.

Good example of throwaways turning against you, by the way. The book written about Rhett Butler's life seems to have the same problem. If you give the fans too much time to think of stories and scenarios, whatever is produced years after the original is bound to fall short of their imagination. :)

JH said...

Oddly (and annoyingly), I can see it at home but not work.