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.