Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Chuck Wendig's Aftermath Trilogy Made Me a Better Reader — and a Better Writer

The Aftermath trilogy isn’t just good for a fun Star Wars story; it also provides valuable lessons in accepting negative feedback from a galaxy far, far away.  ♦ 
Not too long ago, in the galaxy we’ve all come to call home, Chuck Wendig wrote the Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy, cementing into the Star Wars canon new characters and new stories that would, as an avid reader and Star Wars fan, come to be some of my favorite books. The Aftermath trilogy takes place almost immediately after the events of Return of the Jedi, with the Empire attempting to regroup after the Battle of Endor and the Rebel Alliance working towards building a New Republic. The first novel, simply titled Star Wars: Aftermath, follows a mission to rescue the rebel pilot Wedge Antilles, who has been captured by Imperial forces converging at the planet Akiva.

The five new characters in the Aftermath trilogy embarking on this rescue mission are Rebel pilot Norra Wexley, her tech-savvy son Temmin, Zabrak bounty hunter Jas, Imperial defector Sinjir, and Temmin’s droid, Bones. The Aftermath trilogy also brings in characters that Star Wars fans already know and love: Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Mon Mothma, and the aforementioned Wedge Antilles. As a reader, I loved watching the characters introduced in the Aftermath trilogy grow and change throughout the three books, and the plots always amazed me and kept me on the edge of my seat. However, as someone who was doing double-duty by reading the trilogy as an author and a reader, I had a few complaints.

While the first book in the trilogy, Aftermath, is amazing, and I can definitely say I loved it, I found the way it was written to have more than a few flaws. The book is divided into four parts, with the chapters that make up each part punctuated at various points by short vignette chapters called interludes. Part 1 introduces the reader to the five new characters that the Aftermath trilogy follows and sets up the plot with the Empire converging on Akiva and Wedge being captured. However, the character introduction keeps going . . . and going . . . and going . . . and the characters don’t come together and start really advancing the plot until halfway through Part 2. As both a reader and a writer, I saw that as a serious problem. I noticed my interest in the book fading as I kept reading chapter after chapter of what each individual character was doing during their day, punctuated only by the occasional interlude where I got to read about what was happening on a random planet with random people and aliens. As a reader, I knew the characters had to meet at some point, and I got sick of it not happening. Once the characters finally met, however, the story really began to pick up, with chapter after chapter ending on cliffhangers that kept me reading. The characters began interacting and developing in ways that made me love them and want to keep reading to find out what happens next.

When I finished the book I expressed my admiration for it, as well as my frustration about the slow start, to my dad. He mentioned that the author, Chuck Wendig, had received lots of negative criticism for the way the book was written. I remember being shocked to hear that. A famous author, who got to write books for Star Wars, getting negative criticism?! I couldn’t believe it. As an aspiring writer, I found the news a little scary. What happened when I published a book of my own and got negative feedback saying how much everyone hated it? What happened when I hadn’t even gotten to the publishing stage and people were reading over my shoulder saying how much they hated my writing? Questions like these plagued me as I waited for the second book in the trilogy to be released. When I finally got my hands on the second Aftermath book, Life Debt, I went into it unsure what to expect. Would I get another book that started off so slow that the story didn’t really begin until halfway through Part 2, or would Wendig have listened to the feedback from Aftermath and improved his writing? My question was answered when I began reading the book and only set it down twice during the day, staying up until three in the morning to finish it because I was so enthralled by the story.

Star Wars: Aftermath: Life Debt became my favorite book immediately after that. The book made me laugh, it made me want to cry, made me more than once press the book to my skin as if I could absorb the emotions the characters were feeling through osmosis, emoting joy or rage or disgust at something that had happened. Chuck Wendig nearly went from one extreme to another with his slow start in Aftermath being traded for a book that really hits the ground running from Chapter 1 with Life Debt. But Wendig also struck the perfect balance by not throwing too much at the reader at once. He begins with a prologue that follows an unknown character, piquing the reader’s interest and preparing them for Chapter 1, and the action immediately gets to a gripping and thrilling start. I know as a reader I loved the book, but as a writer, I read the book and was blown away as I realized with each page that I was holding a great teaching tool in my hands.

Life Debt is an amazing piece of writing. While it’s no Pride and Prejudice, I still feel authors can learn much from this book, because I know I certainly did; it's a perfect balance of action, romance, horror, and humor, like when a baker puts the ingredients in just right to make the perfect soufflé. Every time I found myself gushing with emotion, I took note of what the author had done to make me feel that way. How had he gotten the characters to interact just so, how did he throw in just the right piece of dialogue, how had he made the setting and the tension just right to make the reader feel something so strongly? And the question that was on my mind the entire way through the book: How the heck did Chuck Wendig get from Point A to Point B?

I doubt I’ll ever truly know Mr. Wendig’s thought process that allowed him to create a piece of artwork like Life Debt after the shortcomings of Aftermath, but I do know that just in reading the two books he taught me a lot about how to be a good author. A good author takes criticism in stride and uses it to make their writing as amazing as possible, something Wendig did beautifully and something I struggle with as an author.

I’m currently working on a novel that I try to share exclusively with my boyfriend, and he’s told me he doesn’t always like to give me feedback or criticism because “you get upset when I do.” That’s not the author I want to be. As authors, we need to be approachable and to remember that criticism is not an attack on us or our work, it’s a chance to learn and be better and to find things that will make our stories even better. My boyfriend gave a suggestion for my story that has already made it a million times better, and I know being calm, collected, and thankful for the criticism and feedback rather than hostile and defensive was better for the both of us.

I want to be like Chuck Wendig one day and write a novel that makes readers overflow with emotion. And if it takes a not-so-great book to get there, so be it. Chuck Wendig’s graceful recovery is something I strive to emulate as an author, and I think every author should, too. How many authors would still be writing rather than sitting in their bedrooms brooding over the failure that ruined their career, when it was actually a learning opportunity that could have led to greatness?

The Aftermath trilogy was great in so many ways. All three books managed to reel me in and make me hungry for more. As a Star Wars fan, these novels are a great addition to your library and a fun way to learn about the hidden stories of the galaxy far, far away. As a reader, these are wonderful books that will keep you interested and engaged and make you fall in love with amazing, quirky characters. As a writer, this trilogy is an amazing teaching tool in pacing, accepting feedback and criticism, and using that to improve your writing. I’m so grateful I got to be a part of it and experience that journey, and I know for certain that the Force is with the Aftermath trilogy.

  • About the Author
    Isabela Liu is a sophomore Creative Writing major with a minor in Spanish studying at Miami University. She hopes to obtain a job in the writing field upon graduation. When she’s not in class or doing homework, she likes to read, write, or help care for her brothers at home.

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