How Yoda Helped Me Become A Better Writer
A long time ago… back in the 1970s and early 1980s… kids were watching stories unfold in a galaxy far, far away. And those stories led to adventures played out in school yards with broom handles clashing over concrete battlegrounds, with mobs of kids running from imaginary stormtroopers yelling out with melodramatic warnings that the Imperials were coming. For writers Ben Langdon and Renee Scattergood, even though they were playing on different continents with different gangs, the stories of George Lucas influenced the way they looked at the world and its possibilities. This is their conversation.
PART ONE OF TWO
Renee Scattergood: I saw Star Wars for the first time when I was eight, and it captivated me. Then when I saw an interview with George Lucas and he talked about being a story-teller, I knew I wanted to tell stories as well. I never thought about writing them down. I just loved making them up and telling them to my friends.
Ben Langdon: I spent a lot of time acting out stories with my friends and an imaginary world that we would describe and react to. The number of imperial bases we infiltrated and then destroyed probably ranked us up with Skywalker, Organa and Solo. We hardly ever got captured, and even if we did, things always fell our way eventually. Later on, once I’d had kids, the newer films came out and I got to play the games again but with my own little Rebels. I think it was a lot less serious playing these games as an adult than as a kid. When I was seven, the battle was real, the stakes were high. A lot of the new takes on Star Wars I see include criticism about some characters or events, but I think that criticism misses the point. Are you a Jar Jar Binks hater?
RS: Nope. In all the movies so far, there hasn't been one character that annoyed me. In fact, the ones that tend to annoy some people are some of my favourites, like Jar Jar and the ewoks. That probably tells you a lot about me right there!
BL: Dissen gonna be bery messy! Me no watchin’. But seriously, I think I enjoyed the ewoks as a kid and I distinctly remember the scene where the AT-STs blast a bunch of retreating ewok warriors. It’s a death scene and really sad even in the midst of a rather funny battle between little furry guys and the might of the Galactic Empire. When one of the ewoks tries to wake up his friend but we, the audience, realises that he’s dead… well, that’s still one of the saddest scenes in a movie for me.
RS: Yeah, I recall crying at that part. Well, I cried a lot during that movie, especially when Yoda died.
BL: What about favourite characters? Who’s yours?
RS: Yoda. I absolutely love Yoda. I love how he can be so serious one minute and a complete crack up the next. He's got a wicked sense of humour. I love it.
BL: He was so annoying when he’s first introduced and also a little scary!
RS: Are you kidding? My friend was sleeping over the first time we watched that one and we laughed so hard at that part, we kept rewinding it and playing it over and over more than a dozen times.
BL: So, Yoda’s one of those mentor characters that pop up a lot in Star Wars and form an integral part of The Hero’s Journey. It’s funny, that even though I’m a big fan of the teacher figure I don’t explicitly have them in my books. In fact, it’s kind of their absence or the memories of them that drive my characters. It’s actually one of the opening premises that my hero, Dan is on his own in The Miranda Contract. He has burnt his bridges and any kind of adult role model he had is in the past, most notably his insane supervillain grandfather. When he relied on the teachings of an older figure, he gets burnt. As a YA author I felt this need to rely on himself was something that young people can relate to. In my second novel, The Adventures of Charlie Conti, a similar thing happened but while Dan is lost and a bit hopeless on his own, Charlie is actually empowered when the adults in her life fall away.
RS: When I wrote Shadow Stalker, the first character I developed was Kado. He popped into my head fully formed. I knew exactly what I wanted him to be and it wasn't the main character. He was going to be a mentor to my main character. At the time, I wasn't consciously bringing him in as a mentor figure from The Hero’s Journey. I hadn't heard of Joseph Campbell yet. And as far as how he fits the traditional role of the old wise man...well he doesn't. Before he started caring for and protecting Auren, he was a spy and assassin - they're called shadow warriors in the serial. With Auren, he's more like the unrelenting drill sergeant than anything else.
BL: I think Miranda Brody becomes my drill sergeant! But that’s probably an exaggeration. She’s just a bit more direct in what she wants. It’s funny, but when I came up with Miranda, I based her visually off the actress Vanessa Hudgens from High School Musical with a dash of Selina Gomez.
RS: Sometimes my characters are based on real people. Most of the time they're a combination of real people and characters from other stories I've read (or movies I've watched). I can't honestly say where Kado came from though. I didn't think him up. He sorta just popped into my head.
BL: Ha! I have lots of conversations with my characters, with them popping into my head too. It’s part of how I brainstorm scenes or develop their voices. The back and forth dialogue between Miranda and Dan helped form their characters.
RS: Auren came along much later than Kado. When I develop a new character, I always start with a name and very basic information.
BL: I made the conscious decision to use a simple one-syllable name – Dan. But I also wanted to link him to his Russian heritage so at times he’s called Danya by his grandfather. I wanted him to be an everyman – a kid that the target audience (teenage boys) could relate to. He’s 17 and kind of dropped out of school accidentally and finds himself working in the fast food industry.
RS: Names are important, but for me, really, it's the story that develops my characters because I let them grow within the context of the story.
BL: Yeah, I really enjoy throwing them into situations and watching them react, drawing on what I know of them and their past experiences. I like the organic process of watching characters form over a period of time and writing.
Renee Scattergood, author of the dark fantasy serial, Shadow Stalker, lives in Australia with her husband and daughter. She loves reading, watching movies with her family, and watching YouTube videos with her daughter. Visit her site for a free copy of Shadow Stalker Part 1 (Episodes 1 – 6): http://reneescattergood.com
Shadow Stalker: Auren longs to prove her independence, but when she disobeys her foster-father, her forbidden excursion turns into a nightmare. The Galvadi have invaded and their emperor wants her dead. Only she can stop him and save her people, but can she overcome her fears and live up to the task?
Ben Langdon is the author of superhero YA fiction, including The Miranda Contractand The Adventures of Charlie Conti, published by Kalamity Press. He lives in Geelong, Victoria with his three heroes-in-training and enjoys teaching at the local high school when he isn’t trying to write about superheroes and angry gods.
A blog about reading, writing and the superhero life.