Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Darth Vader and the Death Star: An Editing Ideology by Laura Lascarso


In between construction on Death Stars I and II, Darth Vader moonlighted as senior editor for a major publishing house. He applied his same philosophy in running the Death Star to critiquing manuscripts, using the Force to ensure that writers were as ruthless with words as he was with underlings. He valued, above all else, economy and efficiency. 

Here are a few pointers from the Darth Vader school of thought:

1. Choke your darlings.
If you have a minor character who is underperforming, or worse, not performing at all, choke them out using the Force. If you have a droid and a human who serve the same function, combine them into a cyborg, thus making them more than both. There is no room on the Death Star or in a manuscript for freeloaders.

2. Blast your adverbs, clich├ęs, unnecessary dialogue tags, etc.
These time-wasters are like Stormtroopers—can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Like the Imperial Army, they’re incredible ineffective. They have state-of-the-art weapons, but never actually hit their mark. In fact, they are the laughingstock of the entire galaxy. Economize the best and pulverize the rest.

3. Treat your adversaries with respect, but show no mercy.
Make your protagonist work, your antagonist too. Don’t let their fates be handed to them. If your protagonist is lacking oomph, make life harder—murder his aunt and uncle, cut off his hand, throw him down a vent shaft. If your antagonist seems two-dimensional, give him an inglorious Jedi past, a lost love, a dysfunctional father-son relationship. Give them both motivations and desires. And plans. Your antag and protag should each have a master plan that is in direct conflict with each other. Also, a fight scene with lightsabers never hurts.

4. Curb your tangents.
Keep only what’s interesting, relevant and well-written. This applies to both descriptions and random factoids. Do you know what the Death Star serves in the cafeteria on Wednesdays? Or how Darth Vader feels about the Emperor’s new job creation policies? Don’t distract from the story with too many asides. Keep the reader in the action of the story.

5. Break his heart.
Darth Vader no longer has a heart, but he remembers what it was like to have one. He wants to feel things too. Give your protagonist an internal struggle, have them build relationships with other characters, then destroy those relationships only to rebuild them again. Darth still wonders how a Wookie has more friends on Facebook than he does. Don’t they know he can destroy them with a single thought? It’s because at the end of the day, neither superweapons, nor annihilation can fill that empty space in Darth Vader’s chest.

Only the heart of your story can.


Laura Lascarso lives in in North Florida with her darling husband, two children, three chickens and a dog named Lucy. Her book, Counting Backwards, is coming out August 2012 from Antheneum (Simon & Schuster).

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