Yoda’s Failure

I made a mistake as I started lunch.  I know it’s hard to believe, that mistake thing.  I mean, c’mon…when have I ever made a mistake?

Okay, then.  Moving on…

My mistake?  I read the comments sections of a number of news & opinion websites I follow.  Now, look…I know internetland.  Hell, I grew up in internetland.  I grew up in the frightening old days before Reddit, cesspool that it is, managed to actually raise the level of discussion.  I grew up in the days when Usenet was the only place to go for active conversations and interaction.

*shudder*

To all the permanently outraged and indignant out there: before you find yet more library books to ban and burn, try visiting some of those old-school places first.  Stay away from the alt.binaries areas though.  You do not want to see that shit.  Trust me on that one.

So you have cynical, well-armored me reading the comments…

You have the me who has yet to find many moments when my fellow Americans have not found a way to live down to my worst expectations, let alone delve beneath them…

And still I found people managing to lower the bar.  Not by a millimeter or two, mind you, but by entire freaking miles did they manage to sneak under my already sewer-level expectations.

Have I mentioned just how fucked we are as a nation and a society?

I have?  Oh.  Okay.  I’ll move on, then.  Just give me a minute or two to wash the taste out of my mouth…

You ever see those old war movies where they sterilize a wound by pouring booze on it?  Yeah, it works for that taste in your mouth, too.

A friend once asked me how to keep his kids safe on the internet.  “Join the Amish,” was my reply.

Ummm…

Remember way back when I warned you just how wordy I could be?  About how I started this blog all those years ago specifically to improve my short-form writing?  Yeah, I just used 300+ words for a semi-joking, mostly real, and 100% cynical intro that has nothing, really, to do with what I sat down to write about.

Yep, no matter how huge the changes in my life lately, I’m still me.

So what did I actually sit down to write?

Well, I thought about the news story I read about the rapper whose fans had a party with his embalmed body.  I thought about that one, but I’ll save it for the next post.  There is just too much fun to be had with that whole entire concept to squeeze in to this one.

No, today I sat down to write about something I have talked about before.  I wanted to write about a concept that has been a recurring theme in so much of my writing, not just here on the blog but also in my fiction stuff.  It has especially been a part of the personal (private) concepts I have used to explore characters and settings…and myself.  That concept?  To put it in words I have used before, I’ll refer to a flashfiction piece from a few years ago: someone else’s skin.

I have worn someone else’s skin.  For far too long did I wear someone else’s skin.  For far too many reasons — excuses all — did I wear someone else’s skin.  I have made a habit of being what others want me to be for a very long time now.  I did so because I thought I had to. That I will write about later…

No, for the moment let me tie this back to the theories and philosophies and reality of writing — you know, what this blog is supposed to be about — that truly define writing for me.  And when you boil everything down, there is only one thing that truly defines writing for me: characters.

Look,  I know you can write characters who are exactly what they seem.  I know you can write someone interesting and compelling who is, well, exactly what’s written on the tin.  You can also write about a can of tuna.

No, to me, a character has to be real.  A character has to have good days, and bad.  A character has to have bad breath at the worst possible moment; a character has to stumble over his or her words;  a character has to occasionally be what others need him/her to be, rather than what they are…let alone what they want to be.  In the end, a character has to answer to the people and the world around them as much, if not more, than they have to answer to themselves.

Just like real people.

Now for the “but” that inevitably comes with an assertion like I just made…

BUT…things change.  But…people change.  But…your characters have to change, too.  Oh, I know, we all make the proper noises about growth and change and development in our characters.  We all know that we have to use the plot, and its various crises, to show how our characters are evolving and changing.  We all know that, but still we tend to restrict those changes to the “big” things.  And we forget the small things.  We forget the real things.

My favorite example of this is Luke Skywalker, of all people.  Look, he grew over the three movies in which he was the protagonist.  He grew and changed and improved himself.  Lucas showed that quite well.  He even managed a nice emotional touch when Luke’s rage in his fight with the Emperor in Return of the Jedi turned to pity and regret when he chose to spare his father in that fight.

Okay, golf clap there.  Good job, Luke.

While Lucas had a great image of Vader’s mask disintegrating, he forgot to show the mask Luke himself was wearing.  What Lucas didn’t show was the expectations and burdens that Luke bore from the failures of the old Jedi.  The failures, when you get right down to it, that belonged to Yoda and Obi Wan…but for which Luke, and ultimately his nephew Ben, paid the actual price.

Luke wore someone else’s skin when he took up the mantle of Jedi and teacher.  Luke tried to be what his teachers told him he should be, and failed to be what and who he really was.  It was that failure that, by the way, that caused Ben Solo to fall and become Kylo Ren, not any innate drive towards evil.  Hell, one could argue that it was Yoda’s own failure to understand and embrace the gray areas — and Obi Wan’s weakness in not standing up for what he knew to be true — that drove Anakin himself to turn from neurotic, angsty teen into the world’s best antagonist.*

*Don’t believe me on that score?  Watch again one of my favorite ever movie scenes, linked below.  Luke is all speed and tension and urgency, and Vader is just…relaxed.  Luke is a rabbit, terrified and scurrying, while Vader is very much the predator, toying with his prey.  To (mis)quote the movie Patton, “God help me, I do love it so.”

So…just who are your characters trying to please?  Just who are they trying to be?  Chances are, if they are at all “normal”, that answer is not themselves.  It doesn’t have to be some plot changing answer, by the way.  No, as the writer you can go all Greek-drama on that score and have the answer be very much offstage, but you do have to answer the question.  So the question when you create your characters is not just “Who is your character?” but also “Who is your character trying to be?”

{Clip: Nerd Mode enabled!}

Musical Note: I had a list of songs I was going to choose from, to match the theme of what I wrote above. But…well…I decided not to. No, instead I decided to answer here an email from my Dad. My Dad responded to some of my previous music choices with some of his own, and I realized that I have very much limited what I use here in my posts. That is not necessarily a bad thing, by the way, as I try to match things like mood and tone and intent between post and song, but it does to shortchange the breadth of my choices. So, below, I am posting a song that really is a favorite of mine. One funny note about this tune: y’all know hockey is my thing. I actually teach hockey, to be honest. Or at least I used to. One of my favorite exercises has been to take this song and make the folks I am working with do agility & shooting drills to its timing and rhythm. You will never laugh so hard as you will watching high school and college players — all confidently arrogant in their youth and abilities — stumble over themselves trying to keep up with a song that is almost a hundred years old…}

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