Monday, December 28, 2009

More Than Placeholders

Okay, we've all watched moves that we've absolutely abhorred. We've probably opined about them at length online or with friends and family. But have you ever heard of a critique that goes on almost as long as the film's running time? I hadn't until I stumbled on Red Letter Media's excoriation of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, an astonishingly detailed review that goes on for seventy minutes. I'd be tempted to dismiss such ramblings outright if they didn't nail one big reason the narrative floundered right from the get-go: It failed to craft memorable characters. Skip to 6:45 of the following clip for a hilarious demonstration of this fact, but be warned that the narrator likes to use salty language. Thar blows some diction you won't find on network TV:

Red Letter Media's challenge -- describe a character without referring to his profession or role in the story -- is useful for far more than evaluating film. Consider it a sort of litmus test, a way to tell if you've actually created real characters or just placeholders for plot points. While the people inhabiting your tale don't necessarily need to be fully rounded, they do require likes and dislikes, preferences and prejudices, reasons for them to perform actions rather than simply have actions performed upon them. Anything less leaves your readers with mere, well, phantoms.

(Picture: CC 2008 by
Chemical Heritage Foundation; Hat Tip: Slashfilm)


C. N. Nevets said...

Crap. I don't think I can even describe people I know in real life without reference to their professions.

Un-crap. I don't think I ever describe a character with reference to his profession.

I have problems.


Loren Eaton said...

We writers seem to gather problems like some of my family's friends gather little silver spoons from each of the fifty states. Which is to say copiously and relentlessly. It guarantees we always have fresh material!

Loren Eaton said...

Post Script: For those interested interested in the review, The Daily Beast interviews its creator.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Amazing. Did anyone like this episode? It is horrible, as he says, to have it out there. Imagine kids that start there. Will they ever go forward?

Loren Eaton said...

To me, The Phantom Menace is like an overripe peach: It tastes worse and worse as time goes on.