Category: Writing (page 1 of 77)

From The Vault: Why I Miss Darth Vader

In light of Star Wars Celebration and the new teaser for the upcoming film, I thought I’d revisit my thoughts on the first Dark Lord of the Sith to which audiences were introduced. When this post first went up, there were some wonderful comments regarding how this character got railroaded, what the Clone Wars series did to address that, and a powerful aspect of Return of the Jedi. It’s clear we’re ready for a Star Wars film that does its characters and universe true justice. I suppose we’ll find out in December if that’s what we’re actually getting.

Vader, back when he was awesome.

My good friend Rick over at Word Asylum brought up some classic villains. What stuck out in his pretty comprehensive top ten list was the presence of one Darth Vader. I was reminded of what he, and Star Wars in general, were like when it was first introduced. I discussed him briefly back when I talked about villainy in general. Let’s go back a bit, however, and examine one of the most iconic bad guys of the big screen a bit more closely.

Star Wars

Rooted as it was in the adventure serials that people like Lucas grew up with, having good and evil somewhat diametrically opposed was par for the course. Good guys were good, bad guys were bad. And they didn’t come badder than Darth Vader. We are introduced to Vader when his stormtroopers blast their way through a Rebel spacecraft, his motivations are clear when he strangles one of the ship’s officers and he’s more than willing to turn his significant strength and wrath against his own people if they question his faith or their orders. You don’t need a manual or novelization to understand Darth Vader. It’s laid out for you on the screen and, surprisingly enough considering later entries in the Star Wars series, it’s shown instead of told. When someone does try to tell instead of show, Vader chokes the bitch. “I find your lack of faith disturbing” is all that need be said.

The Empire Strikes Back

Rick described this as being Vader at “his lowest point, when the Dark Side firmly had him enthralled.” His loyalty and dedication to the Empire has given way this obsession with capturing Luke Skywalker. On the surface, this is a straightforward motivation – Luke humiliated Vader in battle, and Vader wants revenge. He’s willing to strangle anyone, destroy anything, sacrifice entire Star Destroyers and recruit the most insidious of bounty hunters to get what he wants. His villainy takes on a whole new dimension when it’s revealed that his pursuit of the Millenium Falcon is all a ploy to draw Luke out of hiding, and when Luke does appear, Vader goes from being a merely dark villainous presence to a deep and haunting one.

Vader, we discover, is Luke’s father. Beyond his desire to corrupt Luke and seduce him to the Dark Side, Vader wants Luke to join him, work with him and help him build a peaceful, orderly Empire. He wants to establish a true monarchy by deposing Palpatine, becoming Emperor himself and ensuring his son will succeed him and carry on his goals. It’s his way of seeking reconciliation. However, rather than trying to bridge the gap between them, Vader offers to yank Luke over to his side of things. It shows just how far Vader has fallen to the Dark Side, and what happens next is perhaps the greatest moment of storytelling in Star Wars to date.

When Luke chooses to face death rather than join his father, watch Vader closely. Without seeing his face, without saying a word, Vader conveys an emotion that pierces all his Force powers and imposing armor the way blasters never could. Luke breaks Vader’s heart. Not only is this a telling moment in the relationship between father and son, there’s a reveal here even more shocking than that of Luke’s parentage: Darth Vader, a deadly and cunning manipulative bastard of a villain, has a heart to break.

Star Wars never saw anything like this moment again. It shines as the pinnacle of the saga’s power and beyond everything that comes after, for me, it remains untouched.

Return of the Jedi

There’s a huge difference between the Vader in the first two films and the Vader in Jedi. He sounds weary. He’s still driven and loyal, but the wound he suffered on Cloud City still bleeds inside of him. Inside that dark armor wages a battle between the man he wants to be – Luke’s father, someone the boy will admire and want to be with – and the servant of the Empire he has become. When Luke reappears in Vader’s life, he makes another attempt to appeal for the young man’s favor. In response, Luke searches for the smaller side of the internal struggle he feels, the man Vader once was.

Vader as a villain is no less effective in Jedi but his motivations are now far more personal, the sort of things we see in the closing acts of a Greek tragedy. Brought low by his actions, responsible for the deaths of friends and loved ones, Vader must face his own demons and put them to rest even at the expense of his own life. In the process, he finally wins the adoration of his son. The tragedy of his adult life is left far behind as he achieves his redemption. It’s this cycle, falling into darkness only to struggle back to the light regardless of cost, that defines many of Star Wars‘ better tales, such as that of Ulic Qel-Droma.

Everything After

When the prequels were announced, fans looked forward to seeing what Anakin was like before becoming Vader, discovering the details of his fall and fully understanding the pathos beneath the armor. Instead, we got a whiny, willful, selfish and ill-conceived brat with no real charisma, no redeeming values and little to offer the precious few tangible threads of story laid out by Lucas. By focusing on spectacle and merchandising, Lucas tore out the fangs of his greatest success entirely.

When you have potential like this, you shouldn’t let it go to waste. Take some time to consider the groundwork that’s been laid before you build something new. It’s not hard. I hate to keep coming back to this, but if I can throw together something in a weekend that people feel is better structured than a multi-million dollar production, the people that invest that money should be more willing to take a closer look on where their money is actually going.

But that’s just me. I’m a wide-eyed idealist and a starving artist, and for what it’s worth, I miss Darth Vader.

From the Vault: Lies We Tell Ourselves

Since writing this post three years ago or so, I’ve discovered that the ‘little voice’ I refer to below comes from what I’ve come to call the ‘badbrain’. I will go into more detail later, perhaps in another place, but suffice it to say that, no matter what its motivation, the badbrain is a decidedly not-me portion of my thought process that I am learning to interpret, internalize, combat, and ignore. Hopefully this post will help someone with a similar affliction deal with their own ‘little voice’!


I’ve been trying to puzzle out where, exactly, the ‘little voice’ comes from. You know the one I mean. When we work, when we strain ourselves, when we step outside our comfort zones or make time for something significant, that’s when you hear it. It isn’t intrusive and it isn’t even all that whiny, but it’s always trying to discourage us.

The discouragement isn’t always malicious. At times, it can sound downright helpful. It will remind us of upcoming appointments that will keep us from reaching our projected end point. It will point out how much this set of joints is aching or how deep the burning sensation in our chest is going. It brings up mental images and passages from other works that play in the same fields we do and are already successful where we are still struggling. In the end, though, the message boils down to putting what we’re doing aside, stopping before we hurt ourselves… quitting.

It is, of course, a pack of lies.

Yes, there are only so many hours in the day. Yes, there are limits to what our bodies can do. But those limits only remain as long as they are not pushed. The hours in our day are not fixed; we can move things around to carve out the time we need to do what we want. It really is a case of mind over matter, of responding to the ‘little voice’ saying “Thanks, but no thanks, I got this.”

I’m still not entirely sure why we lie to ourselves in this way. We try to talk ourselves into not giving our all, not striving for our goals. We succeed in not straining ourselves, and in doing so, we set ourselves up for failure. Why any rational, sane human being would willingly do this is a mystery to me.

The best I can come up with (being a total amateur at this sort of thing) is that it’s a defense mechanism. The body and our perception of time and exterior influences generate reactions, and at times these reactions happen more quickly than our minds can fully process them. Think about it; I’m sure many a time you’ve looked back on yesterday and said, “Oh, I actually would have had time to do X if I had held off on doing Y.” We opt for the comfort and ease rather than delaying our satisfaction in order to move closer towards achieving a goal.

It’s the same sort of reaction that tries to get us to back off from physical exertion. If you’re ‘feeling the burn’ and trying to push yourself towards a goal – five more minutes, five more pounds, reaching the end of the block at a jogging pace rather than a walking one – your body will try and tell you that it’s more trouble than it’s worth. That it’s time to ratchet back a bit. Take a break. Go easier on yourself.

Since it’s inside your head, it isn’t impolite to tell that voice to fuck directly off.

Unless you’re in real danger of hurting yourself, unless you’re taking time away from truly important things like family or you’re in jeopardy if missing a deadline that could cost you a lucrative job, kick that little voice’s ass. Test your limits, to see if you can break them. Carve out the time you need, in bloody chunks if you have to. The envelope is there to be pushed – push the hell out of it.

It’s easier said than done, I know. But when you’re in the moment, when you’re on the cusp of achieving something or reaching a goal, and you start to feel that little voice tickling your mental ear, that’s when you engage your mind and simply say, “No. I will not lie to myself. I will get this done. I can rest after it’s over.”

And no matter what the cost is, you’ll feel better in the long run.

When Will Words Come?

Courtesy floating robes
Courtesy Floating Robes

Writers have to write. Just the way that runners have to run, or smokers have to smoke, or brokers have to… broke? Break? Something involving breaking. Anyway, writers are compulsory creatures and writing is a compulsion. It’s felt under the skin. It’s an itch in the fingers, a burning behind the eyes. The fires of the creative mind of the writer are stoked continuously, and without release, the pressure builds to a fever pitch, and the next thing you know the writer is taking chunks of the desk with their teeth because they need to write, dammit!

But writers are also human beings. At least, they are until we perfect the AI that can write novels as well as our current novelists. That means they have things like hunger and depression and anger and distractions and fear and the Internet and bills and porn. A million tiny things can add up very quickly to an obstacle that the writer struggles to surmount, a wall between them and the words. Other than smashing that motherfucker down, what is the writer to do? What do you do when the words don’t come?

The advice I am about to give is, admittedly, advice I need to take myself. And it is influenced heavily by other writers. I am going to delineate it here anyway, because it is my hope that in doing so, my own walls come tumbling down and the words start flowing again. It’s getting backed up pretty bad in here. Kind of starting to stink.

Forget About Yesterday

A big part of what can get in the writer’s way is the writer themselves. Mostly, in the form of looking back over the past day or week and seeing all the words that didn’t get written. Production time is lost, due to research of legitimate related topics or ‘research’ on the optimum build for a Diablo III character or the exact taste of a new kind of beer. Some writers don’t write for a living and need to hold down dayjobs, whose work and commute and responsibilities suck time and energy away from writing the way a vacuum removes dust from lush carpeting. The dayjob also removes things like eviction notices and angry phone calls, but there’s always some good with the bad.

Regardless of circumstances, the best thing to do is to simply forget about the past.

Yes, mistakes have been made. Blunders happened. Forget about them. Leave the past in the past. You only have three temporal perspectives to consider, and I would argue that the past matters the least. Sure, it’s regretable that certain things didn’t happen certain ways. That was yesterday. Today is happening now, and there is always tomorrow.

Or is there?

Tomorrow’s An Illusion

Tomorrow isn’t here yet. You’re not in it. You won’t be for hours. It is, quite simply, not real.

It is going to be real, yes. And you can plan for what might happen or what is going to happen. Sure, no plan remains fully intact once contact is made with the enemy, and the writer’s enemies are many and varied, as mentioned above. But the fact of the matter is, time spent planning for tomorrow is time you could be spending writing today.

So, forget about the past, and fuck waiting for tomorrow. What’s that leave you?

Come on. Take a guess.

Write Today. Write Now.

If you remove the other two temporal perspectives, you’re left with the present moment. It is really the only moment over which you have direct control. Previous moments are immutable, and moments to come are illusory. NOW is the time you inhabit, NOW is the time in which you can wrest destiny away from forces outside of yourself, and NOW is the time to write.

Again, this is advice I need to take myself, and I need to keep taking it every day. I can plan for ways to make it easier for me to do so: get up earlier, get more sleep, stress less about the job, increase energy with changes in diet and exercise, and so on. But right now, in this moment, the choice is really a binary one: write, or don’t write?

It really is as simple as choosing “write” more often than not.

Because that’s how stories get told.

That’s how dreams come true.

That’s how writers change the world.

From the Vault: Use Your Anger

Here’s a “Breaking Writer’s Block” post from a few years ago. I’ve been finding myself a bit more irritated of late, for many reasons. I need to remind myself that anger, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad; what we do with our emotions is what matters.

Also, the below works more for journalism and blogging than it does for writing fiction, at least for some/most authors.


Let’s try an experiment, shall we?

Most people who swing by this place have at least a passing understanding of Star Wars. You know that prequels to the original classics exist. Maybe you believe they’re abominations. Maybe you think Lucas is a genius and the prequels are under-appreciated gems that outshine the originals. Maybe you think the entire debate is stupid and we should stop wasting our time. Bottom line is, it’s likely to get your irritated, if not angry.

Good. Write about it.

We’re taught by some that anger is a bad thing and should be tightly controlled, hidden away, what have you. Sometimes we’re told that our emotions are detrimental to others and we shouldn’t give voice to them. Being emotional can come off as whining or complaining or generally being shrill and attention-seeking. Better for the world at large, the argument could be made, if one simply clamps their mouth shut and goes on about their business like nothing’s wrong.

Tell that to the millions in the streets over in Iran right now.

Anger isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it’s not entirely bad, either. It’s inspiring. It moves people to action. What action that is determines if it’s right or wrong. Twittering “I’m angry about X” is, in the long run, healthier than going out and burning down the house of whomever you’re angry at. You don’t even have to do it in public. Find a piece of scrap paper, grab the nearest implement of writing destruction, and dash out a quick wrathful line or three. Tuck it in your wallet or destroy it, but at least it’s out now. Emotional constipation is a quick way to put yourself in a very bad spot, and possibly in need of professional intervention. Trust me on this.

If you do post your thoughts publicly, be prepared to endure some flak. You’re going to be told, and perhaps rightly so, that when life hands you lemons, you should “shut up and eat your goddamn lemons.” And while this is true, as is the more eloquent illegitimus non carborundum, you shouldn’t let dissenting opinions stop you from expressing yourself. Again, look at Iran. In the eyes of the conservatives that tightly grip the leadership of that nation, millions upon millions are letting their voices be heard and don’t give a damn of the threats made upon them by the opposition. If they were taking up arms or starting insurgencies they’d be soundly condemned, and rightly so. But they’re not. They’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Neither should you.

Just remember what Oliver Wendell Holmes said: “Your right to swing your fist ends where the other person’s chin begins.”

Use your anger, clean out the negative and the dark, and move on unfettered by those useless and detrimental feelings. Who knows? Maybe in the aftermath of the cleansing fire you’ll find something you can use for a piece that isn’t so emo you can almost hear the Depeche Mode soundtrack.

From the Vault: Write Angry

Today feels like it’s going to be a big change for me. Which is good, I have needed it. But I have also been struggling with a lack of inspiration, so while I head downtown for what is hopefully the first day of a new endeavour, here’s a reminder to myself – and to you – about the best time to write. Even on a Monday.

Courtesy floating robes
Courtesy Floating Robes

Mondays can be difficult. Yesterday especially was a trial. The days in which I am legitimately frustrated, angry, or stressed about a project in front of me have been few and far between, but this was a doozy. I drove home from the office hours after I’d usually leave, thinking about how tired I already was, the level at which I was enervated, and keeping the fury from informing the hands on the wheel.

It occurred to me that it was the perfect time to write.

Neil Gaiman has said you need to write when you’re uninspired. This is true. Chuck Wendig’s advice on when and how to write tends to be condensed into little profane gems like “Art Harder, Motherfucker!” and I agree with him, as well. Indeed, it applies no matter what emotional funk you might be in: a dark one, a dour one, a sad one, an angry one.

If you’re a writer, it’s important to keep writing. Remember that the words you don’t write will never be read by another person. That world in your head will never really come to life. Just keep that in mind.

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