Case Study: The Mandalorian

Hi gang! Craig here with you today. Every once in a while I like to pick something apart for the sake of a writing study. I always use film because more people are likely to have seen what I’m discussing.

I’ve never done this with a television series before, so we’ll see how it goes because there is no end in sight. I was feeling bad during lockdown, because I hadn’t binge watched anything, so I rewatched The Mandalorian. If this post is going to spoil something for you, stop here.

This series is eight episodes long, so far. That means every episode is 12.5% of the total. Keep this in mind as we go along.

There are two immediate lessons that come to mind for authors. First, don’t drown the audience in back story. Second, hold some things back.

We don’t follow Mando from childhood and learn all about his culture before anything happens. Basically, Mando walks into a bar… A couple of toughs, including aliens, try to bully him. The fight that breaks out lets us know he has weapons, the ability to use them, and capability to do what he must. Only then do we find out why he went inside in the first place. He’s a bounty hunter, and the guy he’s after is still inside.

In just a couple of minutes we learned: science fiction, badass main character, action/adventure, bounty hunter. We didn’t learn about emotional scars, baggage, upbringing, goals, etc.

Then we do a bit of world building with an escape from a monster and get to see his crappy old ship. He goes to a desert planet to deliver his prisoners and get his next job.

One of the things the writers did is count on the idea that everyone has seen Star Wars. They didn’t explain light speed travel, because Han already did that 40 years ago. We can do this too, even if we’re not allowed to write in the Star Wars universe. We’ve all seen Star Wars, Star Trek, Galactica, and more. Many of us have read a lot of SFF. The ship needs to take him to the next place. No need to explain how it works, just do it.

He gets a paycheck and his next job. The client puts up a piece of Beskar steel as a down payment. Mando has one tiny piece of armor forged from it. We learn this has a religious significance to him, and get the tiniest drip of culture and religion. The writers did not stop to explain all of Mandalorian culture. We also learn about using any residual steel to help orphans and foundlings. Ah! There’s some depth to these guys.

We do a bit more world building, followed by a huge action scene, then capture Baby Yoda. Also known as the kid, and the asset, Baby Yoda is adorable. Baby Yoda is the beginning of an emotional part of the story. This is the story of a single dad, trying to earn a living.

At this point, we’re 12.5% of the way through the tale. We just met the secondary character. If you have 100,000 words at your disposal, that comes to over 12,000 words without character soup, without backstory (other than about three lines of dialog), and without a lot of reflecting.

I’m going to speed up now for the sake of economy. In the second episode they dedicated a lot of time to an encounter with Jawas. Makes some sense to toss the Star Wars fans a bone, but that doesn’t help us today. What we took away from that is Baby Yoda can use the force, Mando is still a badass, and more action/adventure. He delivers the line, “Weapons are part of my religion.” Drip, drip, drip.

In episode 3, Mando delivers the kid to the bad guys who come across like bargain basement Nazis right down to the accent. (Not a bad trick if you want to sell them as bad guys.) What do BB-Nazis want with adorable and innocent Baby Yoda?

Mando cashes in big-time and gets a full suit of Beskar steel armor made. We get bits and pieces of Mando’s religion and culture, but only bits. He deserves a signet, what’s that all about?

He worries about the kid, decides to rescue him, and we get more action/adventure. This expands into a battle between the Mandalorians and the Bounty Hunter’s Guild. Mandalorians have each other’s backs. Good to know.

We’re now 37.5% into this thing and still don’t know a lot about his background, or that of Baby Yoda. At this point we start putting two and two together, and making a connection between Mandalorians caring for orphans and foundlings, and the relationship between Mando and Baby Yoda. This relationship grows in the next episodes. This is another important point, and one I personally struggle with. Our readers are smart. We don’t always have to draw the conclusion for them. In fact it immerses them deeper into the story if we don’t.

I’m going to stop with the episodic breakdown here, because I’ve made my point about dribbling some things into the tale. The story deviates into some sub-plots, which is okay. One of the key thoughts here is to make people hang on for those bits and pieces. Make your readers draw their own conclusions.

Emotion is in play here, too. Baby Yoda is adorable, the bad guys want him, and there is a hefty bounty on him. Mando looks for a backwater planet to hang out on, but bounty hunters find them anyway. While there, we get plenty of images of kids playing and a possible love interest that wasn’t meant to be.

Plants were included that didn’t pay off right away either. We have the bounty droid from episode one who returns later in the story, the importance of the signet, and even a flight backpack. Some of the characters we met along the way returned for the big event at the end.

This post has gone on long enough, so let’s recap some of the lessons:

• You don’t really need a lot of backstory.

• Dribble out the important bits.

• Let readers draw the conclusions without author intrusion.

• Resist the temptation to explain too much. If you need a magic wand, a starship, or a flux capacitor, you can stand on the shoulders of those who’ve come before with your readers.

• Use plants and payoffs to your advantage.

• This is the way.

How about it, gang? Do you struggle to hold some things back in your fiction? I know I do. I have a cool idea and want to get it on the page right away. Do you draw conclusions for your readers? I struggle mightily with this one. Do you feel the need to explain how everything works? Never had that problem, myself. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

55 thoughts on “Case Study: The Mandalorian

  1. Pingback: Mystery Musings – Judi Lynn

  2. I haven’t seen The Mandalorian because I don’t have Disney+, but I’ve considered getting it because everyone raves about this series. Lol! I love holding things back from the reader and then shocking them later. Backstories should be built into the current story in small pieces. There are some exceptions. I’ve read books that have a prologue set in the past that sets the scene for a present-time story. I enjoy those, so I guess it all depends on how much time is spent explaining backstories. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. All those years of reading and watching movies or TV shows has paid off in some ways. As a viewer I know what turns me off so when I write I avoid it. As a reader the same applies. Give me the goods and let me decide from there. It’s a delicate high wire act but if we watch enough or read enough it can pay off. This was a fun example. It brings to light how much we can learn from viewing a good show. Thanks!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have not seen The Mandalorian, but this is an excellent post, Craig. Readers can’t wait to get to the end of the story and find out everything, but at the same time, they hate being told everything upfront. It takes all the mystique out of reading. It is hard to hold things back. It’s good to hint at things, but not tell them, and even with that, you have to be careful not to give away too much. It’s a fine line and the example you put out here is a perfect model. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve not seen the Mandalorian but I loved this post! As a writer, I generally like to drop little nibbles here and there throughout my stories, then tie them into a bundle at the end. I’ve had a number of readers comment about my main character in Myth and Magic, and how they never had a full picture of the tragedy in his background until the last quarter of the book.It’s kind of like painting a picture with a few brush strokes revealed at a time.

    I don’t always get it right, but I do strive not to do info dumps. Sometimes I catch those on draft read throughs!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is the way. I just (FINALLY) finished The Mandalorian and absolutely loved it – I want my own Baby Yoda. This is a fantastic breakdown, Craig – an informative post for newbies and timely reminders for us not so newbies.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post. It’s hard to give enough information to set your scene but not too much. Your examples explained it really well. I’ve never watched The Mandalorian, but I watched the first Star Wars so can see how the story unfolds by throwing us right into the action. I need the dribbles to keep me interested in it, and that’s tricky, too. At least, for me. You did a really good job walking us through it.

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  8. Excellent post, Craig. I have been guilty of assuming the reader needs a piece of information only to find I have written paragraphs about it. Your example was terrific and the lesson learned. Thanks. The application is key. I wish there was an app that slapped me hard with the message TOO MUCH INFO. STOP IT. 😁

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    C. S. Boyack has a terrific post on Story Empire today! Check out Case Study: The Mandalorian for a detailed explanation of how much you can learn from film and tv to make your writing stronger. I’m filing this one away for future reference. You might want to do so, as well. And as always, please consider passing this along on social media so others can benefit, too. Thanks, and thanks to Craig for an entertaining, simple to understand writing lesson. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Terrific post, Craig. It has given me lots to think about, and as a pretty new writer, I’m always looking for ways to do it better. I think using the TV series as a way to set up examples worked perfectly, and I’ll be saving this post for future reference! Sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I LOVED The Madnalorian. Favreau did a fantastic job of bringing the franchise back to Lucas’s original tone. (I’m about to go off on a tangent, so I’m going to stop before I do.)

    I 100% agree with everything you said. When I edit, I often find writers dumping huge chunks of info on the reader (especially in the beginning). I also find a lot of… well, I want to call it mansplaining, but not all authors are men. Writesplaining? Whatever. Too much explanation when it would be better to let the reader figure it out. I’m not going to say I (as a writer) haven’t fallen victim to the same problems because I know I have. When we conceive a fabulous story world, we find it so tempting to share every facet of it we can. It’s hard to show restraint.

    Excellent post, Craig. (I still want to talk more about The Mandalorian.)

    Liked by 4 people

    • I’m pretty sure I’ve done all of those things at one time. I know I’m getting better, because you’ll find this kind of thing in my older works. I have written two main characters with no backstory at all. Lisa Burton simply booted up, and Yak Guy mostly fits the bill, too. It isn’t always needed. I’m up for a Mandalorian chat. You know my haunts, or send me an owl.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Good post. I don’t like a lot of info dump and backstory should be can be used sporadically. Better to let it come on in bits and pieces rather than all at once. In writing first drafts, I tend to write info dump but it’s more for me. I clean it up and / or move to a different part of the book. Telling too much too soon spoils the story.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. There are times when I don’t hold stuff back. I don’t do a lot of backstory though. Usually, I have characters answer questions or tell of past experiences whenever appropriate. Flashbacks don’t really work in present tense third person. As far as Mandalorian goes, I think it does show one area of caution too. You have to be careful with how many deus ex machina and Murphy’s Law events happen. I know it can work for an episodic presentation, but binge watching can make the use feel repetitive. It might just be me, but it gets a little dull if it feels like there’s always an unexpected wall that one runs into. Especially if the characters rarely have thing go even 75% right.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That makes perfect sense. I watched it the first time as it was released. A week between episodes is different than binge watching. I’m kind of a fan of Murphy, but Deus ex machina is not our friend. There is a lot of good here, and it makes a reasonable example of a few things.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I binged it with my son. Took 3 days, but that’s still much different than weekly. I do worry that people depend on Murphy to the extreme. Yes, things go wrong, but it gets ridiculous when everything goes wrong. That’s more Three Stooges than Star Wars.

        Liked by 2 people

      • You say Three Stooges like that’s a bad thing. Ha ha! If only the written word could provide that visual comedy. Murphy is a tool for the toolbox, but has been overused while other tools are available.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Fun post and a good breakdown of the essential points. I always try to avoid info dumps and back story … I hate reading them, so won’t write them. I know what you mean about struggling to hold back with a cool idea for a while longer, lols. Isn’t it great when the writer gets so excited? Thanks, Craig 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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