Analysis

Guaranteed Fixes for Five Popular Stories

Riker watching holograms of Shran and Archer argue.
You might have heard there are no shortcuts to fixing a flawed story, that the only solution is to roll up your sleeves and make the hard revisions. You may even have been told that hiring a content editor is a good way to deal with problems you can’t solve on your own. Lies, all of it. Fixing bad stories is easy, and you barely even need to work for it. Watch as I fix the well-known issues of these popular stories with just a few strokes on the keyboard!

1. The Name of the Wind: Read It in a Silly Voice

Cover art from The Name of the Wind showing Kvothe with a hood over his head.

The main problem with Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind is that its main character, Kvothe, is just an insufferable prick. When we’re in the framing device dealing with Old Kvothe,* he tells us how awesome he is over and over again. In the main story, Young Kvothe is more humble, but he’s still the best at everything he does, often without trying. The only reason he ever has problems is because the entire universe conspires against him. Ugh, I hate just describing him.

Kvothe is so overcandied that many readers speculate he’s actually an unreliable narrator trying to make himself sound cooler than he really is. There’s no evidence of this in the text, but these readers are onto something anyway. It turns out there’s a super easy way to make Kvothe into the unreliable narrator we all want him to be: read his narration in the silliest voice you can imagine.

Which silly voice you use is entirely up to you, but I’m a fan of doing a Foghorn Leghorn impression. Observe the transformation. We start with this over-the-top bit of dramatic narration:

Names are important as they tell you a great deal about a person. I’ve had more names than anyone has a right to.

What does that even mean? Names tell you what names were popular in a person’s culture when they were born. Let’s transform that purple prose!

Now I say, boy, names are important…that is – now pay attention, son – as they tell you a great deal about a person, and now I’ve had more names, I say, I’ve had more names than anyone has a right to.

See? Now Kvothe just sounds like some schmuck who’s really full of himself and desperately wants you to believe how cool he is. Feel free to experiment with your silly voice, so long as it’s something no one could possibly take seriously.

2. Discovery: Play It at Half Speed

Spock and Burnham standing close together with Spock holding up the Vulcan Salute.

Star Trek: Discovery has two main problems. The first is that the story is way too complicated, especially in the second season, so each episode drowns you in information and exposition. There’s just no time to absorb anything; it all goes by too fast!

The second problem is that the show’s creators don’t seem to understand moderation, so they dial up the drama and emotion to eleven for every scene. Not only does this mean that the truly dramatic scenes no longer stand out, but it’s just exhausting to watch. There’s no time to catch your breath, and it’s really silly when the writers try to turn even the most mundane scenes into epic melodrama.

It’s especially bad when the show is doing its grimdark edgelord routine, like that time they tried to summon a time traveler by torturing Burnham to death.* Fortunately, there’s a really easy solution that fixes both problems: just turn the playback speed down to 50%.

With episodes playing at half speed, you’ll have plenty of time to absorb every new piece of information. You’ll float through the show like a serene exposition master. Sure, there are time crystals on Boreth – why not? Doesn’t bother you. Oh, I guess one of them cursed Pike to get badly injured in a future timeline. That’s weird, but you’ve got plenty of time to think it over. No rush here.

Just as importantly, the grimdark melodrama won’t be nearly so unpleasant once you slow it down. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible to take anything seriously when the dialogue’s all stretched out. Watch! In the episode Context Is for Kings, Saru lashes out at Burnham over the death of their previous captain by saying:

“I intend to do a better job protecting my captain than you did yours.”

There’s really no reason for Saru to say this, since Captain Georgiou’s death wasn’t Burnham’s fault, nor do we have any understanding why he’d think it was. This line’s only purpose is to push the melodrama up and further the show’s bizarre obsession with making Burnham suffer. But if you slow it down, it becomes:

“IIIIIIIIIIIIII iiiiiiiiiiiinteeeeeeeeeend tooooooooo doooooooooooo…”

Much better.

3. Enterprise: Make It a Holoprogram

Riker and Troi looking a holographic Archer.

It’s very important that Star Trek: Enterprise be preserved for future generations so that no matter how frustrated they get with the Trek currently being made, they’ll know it can always get worse.

Enterprise is a failure from almost every angle. It centers white dudes in a franchise that usually at least tries to be diverse. It features a captain who couldn’t explore his way out of a wet paper bag and almost starts a war because his dog got sick. It takes the bad ideas around the Prime Directive and runs with them until the characters let entire species die in the name of noninterference.

Basically, it’s a show we all wish could be excised from Star Trek continuity. Fortunately, the Enterprise writers themselves gave us an opportunity to do just that! In These Are the Voyages, the series finale, we see that the entire episode is just Riker running a holodeck simulation, and the show’s final line of dialogue is Riker saying “Computer, end program.”

Wow, how did the writers know that’s what we all desperately wanted? The only problem is that this solution doesn’t go far enough. While there’s an implication that every other episode was also Riker’s holoprogram,* it’s not explicit, and we need it to be explicit. The best way to do this is to splice Riker saying “Computer, end program” onto the end of every episode.

You can go further, though. The effect is even better if you splice in more Next Generation characters saying holodeck-related lines. I especially like to use scenes where Picard is irritated at his Dixon Hill program. That way you get exchanges like this:

Archer: Starfleet could’ve sent a probe out here to make maps and take pictures, but they didn’t. They sent us.

Picard: Computer, this isn’t what I wanted at all.

Intro Music: It’s been a looooooong roooooaaaad-

Picard: COMPUTER, FREEZE PROGRAM!

As you can no doubt tell, Enterprise is just better if we pretend it’s a holoprogram. That way, all the plot holes and terrible characters can be the products of holodeck malfunctions from the TNG crew just not being super great writers.

4. The Force Awakens: Watch A New Hope Instead

Kylo Ren looking at Vader's mask.

While The Force Awakens (TFA) is hardly the worst Star Wars film we’ve ever seen, it does have a major problem: it desperately wants to be A New Hope, even though the context that made New Hope work no longer exists within the universe. It’s unclear if this comes from director JJ Abrams being a Star Wars superfan or if Disney just didn’t know what to do with the franchise they paid four billion dollars for, but the results are the same either way.

At first, it looks like TFA is just going to be a spiritual remake of A New Hope. The characters are all chasing after some secret information hidden inside a droid, but that info is where to find Luke Skywalker, rather than plans for the Death Star. That’s fair – naturally the rest of the movie will build up to finding Luke, the way A New Hope builds up to the Death Star battle.

Or TFA could introduce its own Death Star. Sure, technically it’s called Starkiller Base, but even Han knows it’s just a bigger Death Star. So now we need to have an escape sequence from this new Death Star and then a giant battle where X-Wings try to land a critical hit on an exposed subsystem and TIE Fighters shoot at them.

This doesn’t make any sense, dramatically or logically. From a dramatic point of view, the Starkiller Base sequences are a total sidestep from the original plot. We got excited for a movie about finding Luke Skywalker, then pivoted to a planet-destroying base out of nowhere. From a logical perspective, how would the First Order, an organization built from the remnants of the Empire, possibly have the resources to construct something like that? Even if they did, we’re supposed to believe the New Republic just let it happen?

The only reason to include Starkiller Base is because A New Hope did it, and TFA must be as much like A New Hope as possible. Fortunately, there’s a movie out there that’s even better at being like A New Hope, and that’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

You’d be amazed how many problems this solves! If you ever get tired of TFA starting out by making a big deal about finding Luke and then totally dropping that plotline, watch New Hope, where the story starts off about the Death Star and sticks with that plot for the whole film. Does it bother you that the First Order seemingly pulled a planet-sized base out of thin air? Then watch A New Hope, where the Empire actually had the resources to construct the Death Star on their own.

The only downside here is you’ll lose out on cool characters like Finn, Poe, and Rey. Fortunately, I have a solution. If you enjoy the tight plotting of A New Hope but don’t love how the entire universe is wall-to-wall white dudes,* hire a computer wizard to paste in your favorite TFA characters’ faces over the originals. Get ready for Poe-Bacca, Finn Solo, and Rey Skywalker.*

If you don’t know any computer wizards willing to take the job, just cut out pictures of the TFA characters and have your friends hold them over the screen. It’ll work great, I promise.

5. Dungeons & Dragons: Just Play Some D&D

The villains from Dungeons and Dragons.

The infamous Dungeons & Dragons movie is bad for a lot of reasons. Its writing is shoddy, the characters are annoying, and the plot doesn’t make any sense. But deeper than that, this movie was always going to be an uphill battle because there’s no way to make a D&D movie unless you’re making a comedy.

D&D the roleplaying system is built to emulate epic fantasy stories, and as such there’s nothing to set it apart from other stories in the genre. A movie based on specific D&D settings like Forgotten Realms or Eberron could work, but the only elements specific to D&D itself are hilarious, like a high-level character falling hundreds of feet and then walking it off because they still have 50 hit points left.

Since the Dungeons & Dragons movie isn’t a slapstick comedy, the filmmakers had nothing to latch on to. There’s nothing in the source material to serve as a core for the film, so they came up with this lackluster plot about thieves who can’t steal things and mages who don’t seem to know any actual magic.

There’s only one way to fix this movie, and it goes like this. Step 1: Turn off the player. Step 2: Delete the media file or burn the disc. Step 3: Get out your dice and character sheets. Step 4: Play some actual D&D. Or any roleplaying game really – it doesn’t have to be D&D.

No matter which system you play, I guarantee it’ll be a better and more authentic experience than watching this movie. You’ll get to personally take part in your character’s heroic deeds rather than watching some mediocre white boy get heaped with glory he doesn’t deserve. Plus if you play a wizard, you’ll actually get to use some magic!*

Sure, some of the storytelling will probably be a little haphazard, but that’s a lot more understandable coming from your friendly neighborhood game master than it is from a huge studio with a multimillion-dollar budget. And if you really don’t like the way things are going, you can volunteer to take a turn behind the screen yourself. That’s a feature Hollywood doesn’t offer yet, as far as I know.


It may have become clear to you by now that I didn’t actually fix any of the problems with these stories. I know, I was extremely subtle, but now you know the truth. Actually fixing flawed stories is hard work, it requires difficult choices, and there are almost never shortcuts. Except for reading The Name of the Wind in a funny voice. That one’s totally real and works every time.

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Comments

  1. Kalani

    Nice article. I totally agree with the Enterprise one.

  2. SunlessNick

    that time they tried to summon a time traveler by torturing Burnham to death.

    Is there some reason *why* they thought torturing Burnham would summon a time traveller?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Sort of. They figure out that this time traveler shows up when Burnham is in danger, and they needed to make the time traveler appear again for plot reasons, so they decide to put Burnham in a situation where she would die without help.

      Their logic is a little shaky, but whatever, you figure they’ll give Burnham some kind of painless injection that will kill her if the the time traveler doesn’t intervene. No. They strap her to a chair on a planet where she is burned, poisoned, sand blasted, and suffocated at all once.

  3. Julia

    You can really take Name of the Wind to the next level if you read it in a silly voice while doing a silly walk at the same time!

  4. FluxVortex

    I’m sorry, but “These are the Voyages” really wasn’t the finale “we” wanted. It was a bitter slap in the face just as the show was getting good.

    I watched Enterprise from the first season, here was this show that’s supposed to be Star Treck for my generation, like my mom had TOS and TNG and nineties fans had DS9 and Voyager. But no, the show is never allowed to find a voice and is just pilloried over and over again by self professed “old school” fans.

    And here’s is this final episode that just spits in my face and I have to hear it from TNG fans how it “proved” Enterprise could at least do something right.

  5. Tifa

    I laughed a lot while reading this article, especially at #1 and #3.

  6. Grady Elliott

    Number Five is pretty much my go-to solution on any given Sunday.

  7. uschi

    I am currently in my first watch of Enterprise (season 3, at last getting closer to the end) and knowing the ending after reading this article will definitely improve my viewing experience, thanks Oren!
    The script snippet suggests you also struggled with the “Skip Intro” button appearing too late in the intro… damn you Netflix

  8. El Suscriptor Justiciero

    #2 makes me imagine it being a show made by ents in Middle Earth’s future.

    “Wwee, hhhaaave, ddecciiddeedd… tthhaatt, yyoouu, aarreenn’tt, Kklliinnggoonnss.”

  9. Christine

    I would *pay* to have someone do the editing and splicing to make all of the Enterprise episodes sound like holoprograms.

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