Cullen’s Whiplash Writing Recommendations: Quick, Everybody Do Nothing!

With a new Star Wars film coming out in five months, this seems like a reasonable time to write articles that pretend to have something to do with Star Wars. Because Star Wars, as we all know, is only about the Jedi and nothing else. And the Jedi have always espoused a philosophy of the variety I’m addressing in this article. Which makes that reference relevant. Look, to soothe you, I’m not putting ‘Star Wars’ in the tags. Fair? I think that’s fair. A good middle-ground solution, on which note:

“All things in moderation, including moderation.” A sentence used by many writers and philosophers, because its message is so very important. We need to be careful of doing anything excessively, and that includes being careful! For example, crossing the street. I don’t think it’s a very good idea to look left, look right, grin at the oncoming drivers and scream, “Everybody dies someday!” and sprint across. You’ll probably get away with it, but you’ll piss off a lot of people and you never know when somebody’s brakes aren’t working. At the same time, when there’s no traffic coming from the left for at least half a mile and there’s a nice person fully stopped on the right, giving you a friendly smile and waving you across, you should wave back, smile and walk at a brisk pace to the other side. Don’t stand there for thirty seconds wondering if she’s going to change her mind, because that’s wasting her time. Oh, you think she might be a murderous psychopath luring you to your death? Well, if your luck is so terrible that anyone who stops their car for you is planning to use your ejected spinal column as a hood ornament, you’re going to die very soon. Get used to that idea. Embraced your mortality? Good, cross the street.

Okay, I apologize, that got morbid and creepy. Unfortunately it sort of had to; the alternative is failing to address the fallacy that any choice is ever certain. Seeking safety is a natural impulse, but sooner or later it becomes crippling. There’s no point in preserving your life if you don’t live it, right? Which brings us to the next stage: refusing to act because acting might have bad consequences, thus remaining inactive so long that everything becomes infinitely worse. You know, that thing the Jedi always do in Star Wars whenever there’s a war, where they staunchly refuse to get involved because it’s none of their business. I mean, aside from the fact that they’re an order of warrior-psionics taken from their families before most of them hit five and trained in multiple killing arts from that point onwards, who then spend the rest of their lives traipsing around the galaxy as a sort of highly-specialized negotiator/police/shock infantry hybrid. But other than that, the Jedi don’t fight. Unless the Sith get involved, at which point the entire Order will mobilize within days to go forth and have drawn-out, overly intricate duels with their ancient arch-nemeses. Other than that, absolutely no warfare on the part of the Jedi. Unless a threat that was clearly in the process of overthrowing the Republic begins to actually do so, and then the Jedi will step in to perform damage control. As opposed to the accepted military stratagem of not letting the enemy get that far before you do something, because that would be impulsive.

The reasoning for this borderline sociopathic detachment, not just with the Jedi but with all the mystic, higher powers of wisdom and skill that practice it in any narrative universe, is generally, ‘blah-blah unforeseen consequences blah enemy has other plans blah-blah don’t be hasty blah.’ Innocent people dying in the billions? Nope, can’t take action, our highly disciplined force of peacekeepers who’ve spent their whole lives learning to control their emotions might fall to the Dark Side after one battle. Clearly malicious, oppressive force sweeping the galaxy? Well, it’s not the Sith, so we have to wait. Whoa, hold on, some of our people went on a mission and got captured? Shit, now it’s personal, guess we better send fucking everybody! And yes, I know the prequels are considered awful for many reasons like that, but you know who else pulls this crap? Elves. It’s pretty much always the elves in any fantasy universe. If any of you readers are real elves hidden in the wires and cogs of this modern human industrial society, I apologize for what is no doubt a malicious caricature, but I am addressing fiction here and must be forthright in doing so.

Let’s take The Lord of the Rings. In both books and film, there is a moment in the aftermath of Sauron’s defeat where Isildur can just end Sauron. He is standing within a comparatively tiny distance of the only place in the entire world where the One Ring can be destroyed. But he’s a fallible man with a lust for power in the place where the Ring is strongest, so he falls to it in seconds. Elrond, Lord of all Elfkind, is standing right there. He can tell that Isildur has been corrupted and isn’t going to do what has to be done. He knows that the One Ring will only further warp the mind of this human, who also happens to be the ruler of the largest, most powerful and influential of the human kingdoms. He also knows that the Ring’s power is greatest only when in physical contact with it, though it’s dangerous regardless. He knows the Ring will probably screw Isildur over in the near future anyway. Elrond has three basic options here:
A. Let Isildur walk off with the Ring, knowing that Sauron still lives and will not die while the Ring exists. Canonically, Sauron has been defeated before, both after the downfall of his master Morgoth, the previous Dark Lord, and later when the ancient Numenorians came after him with everything they had. In both cases, Sauron eventually rose back up through deceit and trickery, then started fighting again when he had the strength. Letting him survive this time will inevitably lead to the same result.
B. Take the Ring for himself. Perhaps Elrond will be strong enough to- wait, that’s idiotic! The Ring corrupts everybody! But it’s shiny
C. Wait for exactly the right moment, kill Isildur and make sure the Ring falls in with him. Maybe this will start a war between Elves and Men, but it’s got to be better than letting Sauron come back later when everyone is unprepared, probably after his Ring has corrupted even more of mankind’s already-drained strength.

Of course Elrond chooses the first option, even though he can see the fucking future. Not even in the normal way of ‘well, this might happen,’ but in the very clear way of ‘If person X performs action Y, than outcome Z is absolutely inevitable. For sure.’ And I know that if Elrond did otherwise, we wouldn’t have a story. But my point is that inaction is still an action; we still make a conscious choice not to pursue a particular plan, and usually this is referred to as somehow wise or reserved. That’d be fine if anyone ever used this excuse in a situation where waiting made logical sense.
“Sir, should we send the entirety of our reserves after the enemy? They appear to be retreating!”
“Lieutenant Dunoff, that would be unnecessarily risky! They seem to be falling back in good order, not routing. It could be a trap, and  we’ve taken the field, so send only light cavalry to harass them. We must wait and see what they plan.”

“Hey Jerry, it’s taking them a long time to serve dinner. I feel like we should give the restaurant a bad Yelp review.”
“Don, c’mon, it’s only been ten minutes. That’s not that long. We should wait on the food.”

You get the idea. The only time authors actually need to mention this excuse is when they’ve written up a scenario in which an action is patently moronic, and instead of confronting this by just saying, “Well, the character’s being a short-sighted ass right now,” which is totally valid, they instead effectively turn to the reader and say, “I’m not dumb! You’re dumb! Criticizing is dumb! Don’t be so judgmental, you jerk!” Hey, don’t give me that look. I’m probably going to revise this post later, you should wait for that instead of judging a work-in-progress!

Even if the progress is that I never actually revise anything.

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