A Thought Provoking Critique Of The Phantom Menace

I hadn’t planned to do another post before the end of the year, but then Lovely Lindy sent me a link to the first part of a video critique of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.   I watched it, expecting humorous jokes, sarcasm, and snide remarks, and all that abounds in this review. 

But it also contains carefully thought out, extremely sophisticated, arguments about the difference between strong characters and weak ones, between exciting plots and boring ones.  It openly and honestly lays out the necessary elements for a good story, and argues convincingly that all those elements are missing from The Phantom Menace.

Below is the first part of the series, and here is a link to it on YouTube.  There are seven parts in the whole series, each 10-minutes long. 

Yes, that’s right, this is a 70-minute critique of The Phantom Menace.  Trust me, just watch the first 10-minute segment; if you don’t like it you won’t be interested in the rest. 

But if you are like me, if you care about storytelling and seek to improve your skills, you will find yourself wanting to take notes.  This is the kind of honest, unvarnished criticism that writers always want but rarely receive.   It has given me  insights into my own attempts at writing; has prompted me to ask myself questions that I will be struggling with for some time to come. 

I Must Include The Following Warning

This video series also includes a darkly comic sub-story revolving around the narrator’s fictional private life.  I won’t provide any spoilers here, except to say that the video does contain elements which may offend some people and which are not for young children.  Consider yourself warned.

The maker of this video series also has has a 4-part series critiquing Star Trek: Nemesis.  The comments on his YouTube site indicate the Nemesis review is as funny and insightful as his Phantom Menace review.   If it is, I may well write another post promoting it as well.

When Last We Met…

Yesterday, Sunday September 27, The Magic City Writers met to review the first chapter of Lindy’s new story, The Night Things.  We also gained a new member, Kyle Strickland, and for the first time ever Nicole missed a meeting.  (She felt under the weather and stayed home instead.)  I shall get into the details of the meeting itself right after our on going segment I like to call “Lets Torture Alex by Mentioning What We Ate”.  Granted, this is a long title, but it’s just so darn descriptive (and evil) I can’t resist it.

Kathryn made ‘pork chalupas by putting uncooked pinto beans, a pork loin roast, chili powder, onions, stewed tomatoes, and cumin in a crock pot for 8 hours.  The pork was then pulled apart, and the pork and beans were served over a bed of bite-size Tostitos chips and topped with chopped tomatoes, sour cream, sliced avocados, cheese, and salsa.  As a snack she made pumpkin bread using a civil war recipe.  It was especially good when sprinkled with cinnamon.  I followed this up with a chaser of Neurontin, Flexeril, and a heating pad, but I digress.

Now back to the meeting. 

Literally, just seconds ago, it dawned upon me that I forgot to record the meeting.  Lindy, I am sorry.  I shall blame the Neurontin for making me a scatterbrain. 

Lindy’s new story starts off with an extremely well-written first draft of her first chapter.  In fact the group consensus was that she should break what she showed us into two good chapters.  It was not perfect, but I have seen published works that were worse than what she wrote.  Speaking for myself, I thought she had good descriptions, well-defined characters (though some need to get their meds balanced), an intriguing plot, and a foreboding style that created a wonderfully creepy atmosphere at times.   If she wrote an entire book at this level of quality I feel confident she could find a publisher willing to help her edit the rough parts.  Congratulations Lindy, you deserve it.

Lindy also introduced us to her friend, Kyle Strickland, who decided to join our group.  Kyle is a freelance writer who has had several short stories published and also writes for the site http://www.neverborncomic.com/.  Kyle’s view of the writing industry was quite different than the one we got from authors Bill Drinkard and Jeremy Lewis.  I think we all learned a lot talking with him.  With luck, we will even be able to entice him into positing some of his manifestos on this site.  Welcome to the group Kyle.

Kyle also has the dubious distinction of being the tenth person on our mailing list.  This is the limit for BlogSpot, unless I can find a way around it.  This means that those of you receiving these posts must now take it upon yourself to forward them to everyone you know.  I’m sure I can count on each of you to either do your part or ignore this not-so-subtle suggestion.

After the meeting, Lindy and Kathryn retired to watch Mystery Science Theater 3000, and I read an insightful e-mail upon…uh, I mean…on my own writing from a dear friend and former professor, Ada Long.   (Yes, there is a private joke in the middle of that sentence.  If you didn’t get it, it wasn’t aimed at you.  Which, I  suppose, is the whole meaning of the word private in the previous sentence.  Oh…dear…god.  I’ve started analyzing my post on analyzing writing while I’m writing it.  If I don’t move on, this whole post could get sucked into a metaphysical black hole formed by the weight of its own cyber-drivel. )

Ada and I recently exchanged writings in an informal way and she send me a very nice letter that contained both high praise and thoughtful criticism.  Ada admits to having no interest in fantasy, but nevertheless said she thought my first two chapters were, “terrific”.  Ada’s positive influence on my life has been considerable, and her knowledge of literature is quite deep.  Therefore, I think you can understand why I am feeling a little proud myself at the moment. 

With regards to her criticisms, some I immediately addressed, while others I must consider more carefully.   Especially since they touch upon…uh, I mean…on my long running war with grammar. I do not wish to elaborate in an already overlong post, so perhaps I shall ruminate about her advice later.

That covers it for this meeting.  It was a good day, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves immensely.  Y’all take care and have fun.

The essence of character analysis

There are certain things that make a story’s character unique. Whether it is the kinky hairstyle, the way they always chew a toothpick, or their unerring strive towards justice, there is something that makes them special. But, your person is more than just that one unique quality. They are many stones that build up the base of your character’s personality, even if only one or two of them are easily recognized. One of the best ways I have found to create (or flesh out) a character is to write up an analysis of their character, what makes them tick. Here is my personalized list of what I do when trying to flesh out a hero, heroine, bad guy, or sidekick for my stories.

    Physical Description
    – Full name, including nicknames, maiden names, and aliases
    – Height, weight, age, sex, and race
    – Hair color and style, eye color, face shape
    – Tattoos, body piercings, scars, moles, freckles
    – Clothing, makeup, and jewelry preferences
    – Physical movements or quirks
    – Talkative or silent? Morose or happy? Introvert or extrovert?

    Writing Description
    – What words would you use to describe the character?
    – What phrases would be good to associate with the character?
    – What objects are associated with the character?
    – What places are associated with the character?
    – Are there any manners or morays of the time the character is in that affect the traits of the character?

    Morality and Motivation
    – What is the character’s moral compass set to?
    – What is the character’s core motivation?
    – Will this character change throughout the story?
    – Will this change in the character also affect the moral compass?
    – How will this change affect the others?

    Action
    – Are the characters actions normally wise or unwise?
    – Does the character think before acting, or more spur-of-the-moment?
    – What is the effect of the character’s actions on others?
    – Does the character have special moves or ways of doing things?

    Author’s Preference
    – What do you like about the character?
    – What do you dislike about the character?

I hope this outline of a simple character analysis helps anyone who is having trouble making their characters real or unique. At the very least, I hope this spurs whoever reads this into making a character list of their own.