Star Wars New Jedi Order Round Robin Interview (Part 8)
DR: You’ve talked a little about how the NJO series was plotted. Can you give us more details?
SR: Almost from the first, we knew two things: where we were beginning, and where we were ending. We knew our heroes would succeed at the end of the series, but we really didn’t know how they would overcome the Yuuzhan Vong. The hardcovers were plotted first, with major events slated for each hardcover. The mass-market paperbacks were initially designed to cover more minor events, but it soon became apparent that the paperbacks had as big a role in the series as the hardcovers. Del Rey and Lucasfilm worked hand in hand in all of this, and both sides meshed very well. There were a few areas of debate, however. The one that springs to mind is the character of Vergere. It was first decided that Vergere would give her life for her cause. Then, later, Lucy and I thought it would be better if she lived through the series. Shelly pointed out some very good reasons why her death was necessary to Jacen’s growth and Luke’s authority, so we agreed (after much angst). Sparks never flew—not that I can recall. We work very, very well together and have a deep mutual respect and trust.
LW: We had several creative sessions over the course of the NJO series development. The first one, which I mentioned earlier, took place in 1998 and (I believe) lasted two days. In this initial meeting, the major points of the entire story were plotted out. Subsequent creative meetings were set up in later years, each time with new authors, where more details for the individual stories were plotted out. The beauty of these meetings was that good ideas were voiced by a variety of people—discussed, enhanced, developed into even bigger ideas, and then fleshed out by each individual contributing author with his or her own voice. Not only were they fun, you could almost watch the ideas spill out and become great, which was a very energizing thing. So many authors ply a lonely trade of writing alone by themselves in a room. Having a forum to build on the ideas of a group of creative participants was, I think, very exciting for all concerned.
SS: We all meshed smoothly from the start—it’s a great group to brainstorm with. Over the course of the series, we averaged one creative meeting a year, where we’d get together with a couple of the next-in-line authors and plan the next year’s worth of books, continuing to develop the loose story line we’d begun with, tweaking it and adding to it—and sometimes completely changing it—based on what had actually ended up happening in the series. There was only one time I recall a serious disagreement, and I’d rather not say what that was. Suffice it to say that Lucasfilm won <g>.
JL: The story arc was little more than a blueprint. It summarized the principal action and underscored key plot points. For a time, I felt that because the NJO was shaping up to be such a collaborative effort, it would be best to plot each book and have one person serve as story editor. That had been my experience when working in collaboration with scriptwriters on various TV series, and I thought that—in lieu of George Lucas himself— someone had to uphold the guiding vision. But most writers aren’t accustomed to teamwork, and who wants to do little more than connect the dots in any case?
Beyond that, carefully plotted outlines weren’t going to allow for enough individual creativity and were probably going to hamper organic growth—the unexpected discoveries writers make even when working from detailed outlines. Oftentimes characters refuse to do what you figured you had planned for them! The reaction you plotted suddenly doesn’t seem reasonable or consistent with the character that has emerged from the writing.
But that’s not to say that the members of the creative team were always of one mind about the changes that crept into the story arc, and as we approached the end of the series, we probably had too many voices weighing in with comments and criticisms, and perhaps too many authors, as well. Some outlines went through as many as nine drafts before they were approved. Some books were canceled before they were written, and others were canceled after they had been completed. Had there been time enough, a lot of inconsistencies and continuity errors would have been eliminated, and perhaps some plot points would have been jettisoned entirely. But all this seems part and parcel of ambitious sagas. Even when there is a “guiding vision,” it’s difficult to sustain the initial vision through five years of changes.
DR: How were the authors for each book selected? How much freedom did the writers have in terms of plot, character, setting, and invention of things like technologies, names, cultures, and aspects of the Force?
SS: Some authors I knew and recommended to Lucasfilm; some came to me, and I had to read their work before recommending them to Lucasfilm. Of course, it’s well known that, for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here, we only use established, previously published, professional writers.
Once an author is recommended to Lucasfilm, Sue reads a sample of his or her work and makes the final decision to approve using that author or not. The writers had a lot of freedom, provided they didn’t contradict existing continuity and that they hit the major plot points we required to keep the overall story arc moving along.
SR: For instance, we told Troy Denning that Anakin’s demise was a part of his book, Star by Star, but he created the setting and action. The same was true with Bob and the circumstances of Chewie’s death.
JL: At times it was like: “Start at A, go to B, then C, and make certain to wind up at D—but we don’t care how you get there.” Lucy, Sue, and Howard did request that we stick with existing worlds and make use of established Star Wars species, critters, and items whenever possible. Still, several characters had to be invented from whole cloth: obviously, with the exception of Nom Anor, all the Yuuzhan Vong. Because the invasion route had been determined early on, settings were often dictated by the needs of the story arc, but typically writers had a lot of freedom in that area. Given that we were dealing with Episode 1’s new revelations about the Force, as well as with an extragalactic species against whom the Force couldn’t be used, there were many, many discussions about the Force, right up to the end of the series.