The only thing that really matters is the story
I’m reading a book at the moment; in fact this is the third time I’ve read this book. So what’s special about that? Well, for a start, it’s fan fiction, built on the Star Wars universe. In a way, you might say it’s an unauthorised use of the franchise, something to which George Lucas et al turn a very wise blind eye. I only mention that it’s fan fiction because this means the author can gain no financial benefit from the book. I haven’t bought it, it was free. For that reason fan fiction is exempted from some of the standards I would expect from a novel I had to pay for, or even from a novel offered for free by a prospective best-selling author.
This article isn’t a review. I’m trying to describe why I’m reading this book for the third time because, let me assure you, technically it leaves much to be desired. Even the first time I read it, before I was myself published, my fingers itched for the red pen. I’m something of a grammar Nazi and let me tell you, the grammar is awful. For instance, dialogue is incorrectly structured eg. “‘This should not be happening.” He said.’ ‘Capitol’ is used where ‘capital’ is intended, ‘lightening’ for ‘lightning’, just two example of poor spelling. The MS is littered with clumsy sentences, repeated words and overuse of tags. The MS has never been copy edited.
And yet I’m reading it for the third time.
Why? Because I love the story the author has woven out of well-known Star Wars threads interspersed with entirely new characters. The novel is written in first person past tense and to some extent, a reader can excuse the clumsy writing because it is a person speaking. That person is a young woman (Merlyn) who is recruited as personal assistant to Darth Vader. She has a somewhat interesting history herself and comes from Tatooine, as does the Dark Lord. This somewhat unlikely premise nevertheless provides an opportunity to look at the events in the Star Wars saga from a completely different point of view. For instance, there is a scene where Merlyn watches Princess Leia being brought aboard an Imperial ISD and the subsequent destruction of her ship. Add to this Grand Admiral Thrawn while he was still Captain Thrawn and you have a love story. Sure, there are times where you don’t want to think too hard, just accept the Universe for what it is – but that’s true for any Star Wars story. The illustration, by the way, is from Timothy Zahn’s novel, Outbound Flight, and depicts a young Thrawn. I found it here, where you’ll find out more about the Thrawn character.
This novel adds depth and detail and humanity to Star Wars going beyond Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn series. The author takes you to the palace balls, the retreat on Naboo, Padme Amadala’s last resting place and then adds all sorts of details to Grand Admiral Thrawn, changing him from just a brilliant military genius into a complex, many-layered, many-talented individual. While I can criticise the writing technically, underneath all that the descriptions are exquisite, engaging all senses. Here’s a small example.
All around the lakes the hills and mountains rose majestically, covered in lush green vegetation. Everything here seemed alive and shimmering. Down by the water’s edge, long branched sleepy trees, covered in pretty pale pink flowers decorated the shore line, the scent of the blooms wafted across the water, sweet, like honey. Birds with long wing spans flew high above the lake on thermals in large lazy circles. I was awed by their grace.
Most of all, the author is in Merlyn’s head. We feel what she feels, shudder at her first meeting with the Emperor, wonder at this strange connection she has with Vader, get exasperated as she wards off Thrawn despite her attraction to him. And all through, the extended Star Wars universe stories are woven into the fabric.
So, all you aspiring writers, by all means bone up on the rules of writing. Don’t overuse ‘that’ or ‘there was’ or adjectives, think about your adverbs, put your commas in the right place, avoid tags if you can (etc etc). But if you can grab me with your story and hold me so tightly I’ll come back for a third bout, then you’ve done good. We can sort out the small stuff at the other end.