Disney Writing Takeaways: The Setup Should Make Sense

Courtesy of Pixabay

It’s not uncommon to just decide a story that you thought was over with should continue, especially if you decide to return to a series you thought you’d finished. Star Wars is hardly unique in that concept, but there are certain rules you follow in terms of story when you do that. The biggest one is that the story should logically follow what came before it. In other words, it should flow as though you had it planned out all along, even if you never thought this was something you’d ever revisit.

Specifically, you should never sit down to revisit your old work and decide, “You know what, my readers (or viewers) really liked that first book (or movie), and so did I. There’s a lot of nostalgia for both of us in there, so I think I’ll just rewrite that book with some new characters and get the old characters out of the way. Now it’ll be fresh for the next generation!”

Rehashing your earlier work isn’t a good idea, for once the nostalgia wears off your readers will probably see your story for exactly what it is. Now, I’m assuming most of us are book authors, short story writers, maybe screenplay writers, amateurs who write for fun, and people who aren’t actually directing movies. This means that we can’t rely on a nostalgic aesthetic to distract our audiences from seeing our story for exactly what it is. Your story needs to feel like it belongs as a necessary addition to your earlier work. Don’t reset the stakes, the characters, the technology, magic, or what have you; just think about where the story was when it left off and what should logically happen.

If you’re going to do something that might make your readers wonder, “How did we get from where we left off to where we are now?” then you’re going to have to do a good job of explaining it. I’m not saying you can’t start your story after a time jump and then subvert expectations by taking it a new direction, but you need to explain how things got that way in the first place.

Meme Generator

Looking at The Force Awakens, the plot seems to just follow A New Hope almost beat for beat. That means it has to start out with an all-powerful fascist regime and a plucky group of underdogs: a classic David vs Goliath story. In order to to successfully pull that off, we need to know how the First Order managed to thrive in the face of a newly reconstructed Republic. Why is Leia sending a lone pilot on a mission to look for a map while the First Order can send a legion of troops flying in the most intimidating ships on that same mission? Logic says that it should be the other way around, the First Order being a small, guerrilla force bent on restoring what they view to be the golden era of the galaxy.

Now, you can certainly pull off a set-up like this, but it needs a lot of explanation. Even if you don’t want to rehash some of the more boring scenes from your earlier work, you still need to set up why your new story is taking place in a world so similar to where your earlier stories took place. If your story is smaller and more self-contained, this isn’t as big of a problem, but if you’re used to writing expansive epics, then you’d better have a very, very good reason why your story seems to be starting off in the same place one of your previous stories did.

The plot bounces back and forth between the need to find Luke Skywalker, a character we’ll be talking about in a later section, and the need to destroy a massive super weapon that the First Order built. In other words, the stakes ultimately wind up being exactly what they were in A New Hope, which, in light of the rest of the film just following the path already carved by said previous film, just makes the film look lazy. A third death star feels unoriginal and nonthreatening, even after we see it destroy several planets in a single shot. The more you reuse old plot devices when setting up your stakes, the less emotionally invested in them the audience will be. What should be seen as threatening becomes old hat, like yet another plan to capture Pikachu that Team Rocket came up with.

Let’s fix this, pretending that this story is a novel in a long series of novels. We’ll even pretend we still want another death star and that we want it to feel threatening and have relevance to historical events, just as the Empire itself was reminiscent of the Nazis. If I were to have written The Force Awakens, I would have made it a rogue state, something akin to North Korea. Not only will this take the story in a new, logical direction, but it will give us a new dynamic to the conflict without just rehashing the Clone Wars conflict of the prequel trilogy.

Here’s the setup, which would be explained through character dialog so readers can follow exactly how the galaxy got to this state:

When we left our heroes at the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke had redeemed Vader who had just killed the Emperor. The second death star was destroyed and the Rebellion was now large enough that the Empire simply couldn’t recoup its losses. So, where do we go from here?

All hail the Supreme Leader!

Leia helps rebuild the Republic, the planets that were secretly allied with the Rebellion now compromising the majority of the new Galactic Senate. However, ideas don’t ever really die out, and the hardcore loyalists of the Empire continue to hold out in a corner of the galaxy, a sector where the planets that supported the Empire the strongest are mainly located. They forge their own regime that they call the First Order, a new, zealous philosophy of government that draws heavily on the former Galactic Empire. It promotes conformity, collectivism, hierarchy, and a strong central state that can be either seen as a benevolent overlord or an oppressive tyrant. All citizens born in planets controlled by the rogue government are indoctrinated into this philosophy and truly believe that the people living in the Republic are the oppressed ones, their lives dictated by corporations and their government ineffective.

The First Order has re-purposed a lot of the vehicles and other technology from the Empire, seeing as how they are a small government with few resources and a galaxy full of largely uncooperative, Republic-controlled planets. Their main effort has been to construct their own death star, a super-weapon they know the Republic fears and would never build themselves. Now they have it, and they know the Republic would never actually invade them or put a stop to their oppression because they don’t want another Alderaan incident on their hands. Much like the threat of North Korea deciding to lob a nuke at Japan or just start shelling South Korea, the First Order wields their weapon as an insurance policy to keep the larger Republic at bay.

The map to Luke Skywalker is still part of this plot, but it stems from the fear that Luke has been secretly training a new generation of Jedi, which could only bolster the Republic’s power. After all, the Jedi were a force to be reckoned with in the Clone Wars, and the last thing the First Order needs is a secondary threat to that of the Republic.

So that’s our setup. Put a pin in this because we’ll be using it as a way to fix various writing problems as we encounter them regarding characters, themes, and more. Join me for Part 2 tomorrow and take your plotting to the next level!

Find my other articles in this series here: Introduction

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Guy Andersin spends his time writing, learning languages playing video games, creating games for PC and iPhone, binge watching movies and TV shows, and camping.

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Guy Andersin

Guy Andersin

Guy Andersin spends his time writing, learning languages playing video games, creating games for PC and iPhone, binge watching movies and TV shows, and camping.

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