Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Rewrites: May the Force Be with You

by Annette Lyon

Revising draft after draft of your book can be exhausting and sometimes disheartening. Will it ever be done? Will it ever be good enough?

Why bother on yet another rewrite?

Because it'll make it better, that's why.

Rough drafts are, by definition, rough.

Revisions and rewrites take that rough stone and try to make it something it only dreamed of originally. Doing so necessitates a bit of pain as sections are cut and reshaped to make a polished stone. It also takes time. I've never regretted the extra weeks (or sometimes months . . . or in a few cases, years) it took to finally "get" what the story needed and make it right.

A great example of a massive revision process is George Lucas's first Star Wars film, the movie that entered the culture with a bang in 1977 and never let America go.

According to one website that chronicles the various drafts of what would become the film, even the basic storyline and characters underwent significant changes. Early on, there were familiar names, but they weren't attached to the people we came to know in the films, and the plot is totally different.

Read the full article for all the details, but here are a few highlights that jumped out to me:

General Luke Skywalker and Annikin Starkiller are friends. Both are Jedi.
They "lead the princess on a dangerous escape route past Aquilae. They take two menial Imperial bureaucrats hostage along the way, and these passengers are a bickering terrified pair [who provide comic relief]. Their ship also contains 200 pounds of a rare spice."

When fighting, they use what Lucas then called a "laser sword"

Chewbacca is a Wookiee prince who rides a birdlike creature. Wookiees serve the Empire.

After adventures and near-death moments, the group is reunited by an old farmer who is married to a Wookiee.

They disguise ships as Imperial Rangers to rescue the princess, who is in Alderaan's prison complex.

After her rescue, the princess reveals her true goddess-like self and reward Luke and Annikin (neither of which is a relation to her).

Han Solo is merely a "friend to the Jedi."

(Note that the robots we know as R2D2 and C3PO are likely what the comic relief bureaucrats evolved into.)

The hero is Anakin Starkiller.

He and his father, Kane Starkiller (who wears cybernetic armor to stay alive), oppose the Emporer.

They do so with a 60-year-old general and Jedi master named Luke Skywalker.

Kane and Luke are the last of the Jedi, the rest having been killed by the Sith.

Enemies are still Prince Valorim (black knight of the Sith) and his tall, grim general, Darth Vader.

Other characters: a guy named Anakin and his little brother Deak, friends of Kane.

Emperor gives orders to kill General Skywalker

Death Star makes an appearance in the plot.

The king is killed. The queen demands that her children (14-year-old Leia and two sons, Biggs and Windy) be taken to safety.

Luke offers to train Anakin as a Jedi.

Battered robots named Artwo Detwo and See Threepio join Anakin's party.

Han Solo, a green-skinned amphibian smuggler, has gills and no nose.

To fix part of Han Solo's ship to get past a Emperial blockade, Anakin sacrifices the power unit of his cybernetic armor, saying he's dying anyway.

They spend time with Wookiees, including freeing them and training them to fly one-man fighters to attack the battle station.

(Note that there are seeds here of how Darth Vader ended up--there's the "black knight," a general, and a father in cybernetic armor.)

Name changes in a later 1974 version:
Leia becomes Zara.
Anakin Starkiller becomes Justin Valor.
Wookiees are "Jawas."
Prince Valorum is Captain Dodona.

Early 1975
Some elements are more familiar, but a lot is still far away from the final version:

Darth Vader has a breath mask. He wants to find rebel captain Deak Starkiller.

Deak is looking for his lost brother, Luke, and for the Kiber crystal, which intensifies the Force.

Deak programs R2D2 with a directive to find Owen Lars and bring a message to Luke.

Deak and Vader have a duel (much like the one with Ben in the actual film).

Luke is found on the farm of Owen Lars, where Lars's 16-year-old daughter Leia lives (she's Luke's cousin).

Also there are Luke's two younger brothers, Biggs and Windy.

Owen gives Luke the Kiber crystal, hidden in his belt.

Han Solo has a beard and is flamboyantly dressed. He's a cabin boy of a fat drunkard captain. (A crewman on the ship is named Jabba the Hutt.)

Chewbacca is 200 years old. He has fangs and large yellow eyes.

Ogana destroyed by the Death Star.Adventures in cloud city (which will eventually become the rescue of Princess Leia in the Death star).

Other versions:
Han Solo is Luke's battle-weary older brother.

Luke is a 16-year-old girl who falls in love with Solo, who was the central male character.

By late summer of 1975, the basic story as we know it was in place.

Can you imagine the Star Wars looking like any of those? (I'm still stuck on Han Solo as a noseless green frog . . .)

The six-film saga that we have today has a grand story arc that is essentially the rise and fall of Anakin Starwalker/Darth Vader.

What amazed me when I read the article is how that arc didn't exist early on. For that matter, Anakin even wasn't the same person as Darth Vader until quite late. He wasn't even Luke's father. Intead, at one point Luke was a geezer Jedi general, not a young boy. It wasn't until quite late in the game that that Han Solo became and Princess Leia took on their final roles.

The major characters and plot points that, in my opinion, made Star Wars the ground-breaking and classic story it became were missing until close to the end of the writing process.

While your story might not undergo quite the level of revision that Lucas's script did, his journey can help to keep his process in mind on a couple of counts:

1) Keep poking and prodding at your story.
How can you improve it? Lucas played with plot lines and characters like pieces of a puzzle, rearranging them until they clicked together and just fit. My personal favorite change: watching the three different characters morph into what eventually became Darth Vader.

2) Nothing is in stone until it's in print.
If Lucas had had his heart set on one element and had been unwilling to budge on it (say, Han Solo as that giant amphibian), there's a good chance that the creative process would have been stunted, that the great story he ended up telling might never would have come out or been embraced by the public as it was.

Don't despair when it comes to revisions. See them as a chance to take the clay you've made and mold it into something truly great.


Heather B. Moore said...

Great comparison, Annette. I know authors that still mark up their published books!

Tamra Norton said...

Anakin Starkiller becomes Justin Valor

Okay--that's just wrong! I'm picturing a kid in a boy band wearing bell-bottom exercise pants or something...

Don said...

Very interesting examples. Good stuff - and very timely, too. (Did I dash and comma correctly there?)

Thanks for the advice, Annette.

Julie Wright said...

brilliant post Annette

Rachelle said...

That was quite entertaining and now I have new hope for one of my hopeless novels! :)

Anna Maria Junus said...

Wow. Talk about completely different stories from the ones we know and love.

On the other hand, sometimes we have to stay true to our characters. Just because someone doesn't like our story doesn't mean we have to change everything.