5 Things Watching Sci-Fi has Taught Me about Writing

It’s no great secret that my favorite genres to read and watch are fantasy and science fiction. I’ve actually watched a lot more sci-fi than I’ve read (unless you count comic books). But anyway, I’m doing this post as a follow-up to last week’s post about things that Star Trek has taught me about writing.

For this post, I’ll branch out, and draw examples from some of my favorite sci-fi TV shows ever: Babylon 5, Stargate (all the series, but mostly SG1), and Star Trek (all the series, but mostly TNG). And don’t worry if you haven’t seen all or any of these – my point is to illustrate how good writing is good writing, regardless.

Consistency in world-building is vital to believability

This is the most important thing that I’ve learned about writing. Whether you’re writing sci-fi or a YA contemporary romance, a short story or a 10-novel series, you must be consistent within the world of your story. Consistency helps create credibility and believability, even with a fantastical subject matter. In Star Trek, regardless of which series you’re watching, the ships always fly with a warp drive. This is one thing (of many) that the audience can always expect from any story set in the Star Trek world.

Characters are what truly make the story

Citizen G'Kar of Babylon 5 may be an exotic-looking alien, but he's also a deeply complex, and surprisingly human, character.

Citizen G’Kar of Babylon 5 may be an exotic-looking alien, but he’s also a deeply complex, and surprisingly human, character.

Of course people watch sci-fi for all the special effects, the exotic aliens, and the epic space battles. And in books – sci-fi and otherwise – the adventures, snappy action, and rich settings are important. But without fully-developed characters, all you really have is a cool travel brochure of the world you’ve created. For a story, you need plot and characters. Readers and viewers need people they can connect with.

The three sci-fi shows I mentioned – Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Stargate – have no shortage of characters. What makes an engaging story is the relationships between the characters – their friendships, the different ways they handle challenges, their enemies, their likes and dislikes. In Babylon 5, the overarching plot is war encroaching on peace. But what makes the audience keep coming back for the next episode is not just the dramatic space battles and the epic story of the Army of Light versus the Shadows. It’s the characters who make up that Army of Light, the characters who have hopes and dreams and a reason to keep fighting. If the audience didn’t care about the characters, they wouldn’t care who won the war. Continue reading

Strong Women of Sci-Fi – Lyta Alexander from Babylon 5

This week I’m going to highlight one more strong female character from science fiction – and I have to discuss my favorite sci-fi show ever, Babylon 5. For anyone who’s watched Babylon 5, you would probably agree that the two main female leads – Susan Ivanova and Delenn – are strong women. But as much as I’d agree with you, and as much as I’d like to discuss either of those characters, I’m going to talk about the character of Lyta.

Lyta Alexander from Babylon 5

Lyta is a telepath, and she initially serves as the diplomatic aide to the enigmatic Ambassador Kosh of the Vorlon Empire. Throughout the story of Babylon 5, the Vorlons – at first allies, then enemies, but always mysterious – alter Lyta’s telepathic abilities. She becomes stronger than average telepaths, and by the end of the series she reveals that the Vorlons had intended to use her as a doomsday weapon in their war against the Shadows.

I believe that Lyta is a strong character, but unlike Delenn or even Ivanova, she has a negative character arc. At the beginning of the story she starts out “good,” as it were – she’s a good person, she wants to do the right thing, she readily sides with the Army of Light. But through both circumstances and her own poor decisions, her character arc descends from the positive to the negative. By the end, she is hated and feared by her friends, and she herself has become belligerent, distrustful, and a terrorist. Continue reading

10 Quotes about Life from Babylon 5

I’ve written another post of quotes from sci-fi and fantasy, but I thought I’d do a part two and make it exclusively quotes from the sci-fi TV show Babylon 5. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I’m rather fond of that show. Not only is it one of my favorite TV shows ever, it’s one of my favorite epic fantasy stories, in any medium. The writing was brilliant, and the episodes were full of witty dialogue and quotes of wisdom.

As I asserted in my previous quotes post, we can learn a lot about real life from stories of fantasy.

It takes a rare kind of wisdom to accept change and redemption in another. Many would refuse, seeing only what was, not what is. – G’Kar, “The Hour of the Wolf”

You seek meaning? Then listen to the music, not the song. – Kosh, “Deathwalker”

We are all born as molecules, in the hearts of a billion stars – molecules that do not understand politics or policies or differences. Over a billion years, we, foolish molecules, forget who we are and where we came from. In desperate acts of ego, we give ourselves names, fight over lines on maps, and pretend that our light is better than everyone else’s. – Delenn, “And All my Dreams, Torn Asunder”

We are all the sum of our tears. Too little, and the ground is not fertile and nothing can grow there. Too much, and the best of us is washed away. – G’Kar, “Objects in Motion”

Touch passion when it comes your way, Stephen. It’s rare enough as it is. – Marcus, “Lines of Communication”

I am both terrified and reassured to know that there are still wonders in the universe, that we have not explained everything. – G’Kar, “Mind War”

We are dreamers, shapers, singers, and makers. – Elric, “The Geometry of Shadows”

Fighting a war is easy, destroying is easy. Building a new world out of what’s left of the old: that is what’s hard. – Delenn, “Lines of Communication”

Faith and reason are the shoes on your feet. You can travel farther with both than you can with just one. – Brother Alwin, “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars”

Now we make our own magic. Now we create our own legends. Now we build the future. Now we stop being afraid of shadows. – Delenn and Sheridan, “Into the Fire”

Happy Valentine’s Day from a Few Fictional Couples

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, here is a brief post about romance. I’m not a reader or writer of the romance genre, but I like a good love story as much as the next gal. So here are four of my favorite couples from sci-fi and fantasy.

Éowyn and Faramir – Lord of the Rings

I could have picked Arwen and Aragorn from this series, but I actually like the story of Éowyn and Faramir’s relationship better. There’s less romance, since they don’t actually get together till the very end, but I like how these two tragic characters who have faced death and lost loved ones find healing and joy with one another. And their union helps to re-forge the ties between the kingdoms of Rohan and Gondor, so that’s always a plus, too.

Helen Rossi and Paul – The Historian

This couple is from a book that I recently read called The Historian. (I discussed this book briefly in another post here). These two people wind up together on an unexpected quest to find a common loved one who’s gone missing (Paul’s professor, who is also Helen’s father). Since the story is told in the first person by Paul, we get only his feelings for Helen, but the author did a beautiful job of showing Helen’s growing affection for Paul even without getting the reader into her head. Although the actual “love scenes” in this book are minimal, the characters’ passion for each other is evident on every page.

Gomez and Morticia Addams – The Addams Family

I mentioned the Addams family and love in another recent post. Gomez and Morticia are well known for their propensity to drop whatever they’re doing at any random moment and engage in a passionate encounter. But in addition to their chemistry and sweet murmurings in French, they have a solid, deep love that is never shaken by external or internal conflicts. They are a together-together couple who raises their family with strong (albeit bizarre) values, and they show unconditional love to everyone in their family.

John Sheridan and Delenn – Babylon 5

This pair is probably my favorite fictional couple ever. There’s a lot to say about these characters and the way that their relationship is written into the story. Their romance grows slowly and naturally – it takes a year and a half before they begin to realize their feelings for each other. They’re from different races (which used to be at war) and so the cultural tensions are always subtly present, even after they’ve been married for years. I also like how these two stay happily married, even through the rough spots, and they always make decisions together as a couple. (Short-term romances seem to be very popular in TV shows, and almost expected in sci-fi TV shows, after the precedent set by Captain Kirk in classic Star Trek.) Also, all of the other characters (well, most of them) love Sheridan and Delenn as a couple, and are constantly supportive of their relationship. Their goodbye to one another at the end of the series is one of the most poignant partings ever (can anyone watch the finale “Sleeping in Light” without crying?)

Delenn and Sheridan, from "Babylon 5"

Delenn and Sheridan, from “Babylon 5”

So who’s your favorite fictional couple? Please share!

For Writing and Life: Where Are You Going?

In the TV show Babylon 5 there are four questions that are central to the series’ theme, and that are asked by different characters throughout the story: Who are you? What do you want? Why are you here? Where are you going?

In this blog series, I want to cover each question individually – what it means to me, and what it means to you. If you’re a writer (or pursuing a creative passion of any sort), I think these questions are especially important.

As a writer (and reader) of fantasy tales, I believe that one of the strengths of the genre is to give us a new and deeper way of looking at reality. The best fantasy always points to the truth. And so, I ask this question:

Where are you going?

Each of the four questions in this “writing and life” series builds upon the previous one. If you’re figuring out what your purpose is, and what your goals and dreams are, then next you need to look ahead to see where you’re going.

Intentional action

Answering all of these questions for yourself is good, but without a plan of action, you will not get to where you want to go.

In Babylon 5, the Vorlons have a plan for defeating the Shadows. This plan, centuries in the making, remains a mystery to all of the other characters until it’s almost too late. But the Vorlons know what they are doing, why they are doing it, and where it will take them.

Everything the Vorlons do, they do with deliberate intention: everything from the genetic altering of other races to create telepaths, to their involvement with the Rangers, to their assistance with Delenn’s transformation. Their questionable ethics aside, the Vorlons know how to be diligent in following the path they have decided upon.

Intentional writing, intentional life

If you are a writer (or pursuing some other sort of creative passion or career), deliberate action is necessary if you want to hit any goals. If you are pursuing your creative endeavors outside of a full-time job, then the intentional and consistent action is even more necessary. Creative bursts can come and go, but to actually finish a project, discipline is required.

Determine where you want to end up, map out a plan to get there, and then follow your plan. Do you want to finally publish that book, get that degree, take that trip? You can accomplish all of that and more with intentional action, backed by a secure understanding of who you are, what you want, and why you want it.

Enjoy your journey!

Who are you?

What do you want?

Why are you here?

Where are you going?

“All my life I’ve had doubts about who I am, where I belonged. Now I’m like the arrow that springs from the bow. No hesitations, no doubts. The path is clear.” -Sinclair, “War without End, part 1”


For Writing and Life: Why are You Here?

In the TV show Babylon 5 there are four questions that are central to the series’ theme, and that are asked by different characters throughout the story: Who are you? What do you want? Why are you here? Where are you going?

In this blog series, I want to cover each question individually – what it means to me, and what it means to you. If you’re a writer (or pursuing a creative passion of any sort), I think these questions are especially important.

As a writer (and reader) of fantasy tales, I believe that one of the strengths of the genre is to give us a new and deeper way of looking at reality. The best fantasy always points to the truth. And so, I ask this question:

Why are you here?

I believe that every person was created for a specific purpose. Whether you share the belief of a loving Creator with divine intent, or you believe humanity’s presence is more random, most people agree that to feel fulfilled in life, you should try to find your purpose.

Destiny, choice, or a combination of both – the details don’t actually matter that much. I believe what matters is your pursuit of your purpose or calling. Or the pursuit of discovering your purpose.

“Why are you here” builds upon knowing the answers to the previous questions discussed in this series. If you know who you are and what you want – or are actively learning and discovering these answers about yourself – then it follows that you may soon understand why you are here.

The journey

Discovering your purpose is a valid life pursuit. If you’re a writer or other creative type, you’ve probably been on this journey of self-discovery most of your life. What I find sad is that so many people believe that they are accidents or mistakes and have nothing of value to contribute to the world, and so they never even try to discover who they are, what they want, or why they are here. Who’s to say that your journey of discovery itself isn’t your purpose? You can grow as a person and add value to the world all along the way.

In Babylon 5, some of the character actively engage in the journey of self-discovery more than others, but all of the main characters pursue their purpose – even if they don’t know that they are. The characters of Sinclair and Sheridan, who both commanded the Babylon 5 station, have destiny and purpose thrust upon them. Zathras lays out their callings as “The One Who Was” and “The One Who Will Be” in the episode “War Without End, part 2.”

But it’s still up to Sheridan and Sinclair to walk out their journeys. Sheridan doesn’t know everything that’s involved in being The One Who Will Be – what he’ll have to do, have to sacrifice, or what the results might be. Still, he decides to embrace this destiny, and he continues to do what he believes is right, for himself and his world; and he uncovers his purpose more and more with each step.

It’s your choice

Even if you have an idea about what your purpose is, you can choose to ignore it. The capacity of free will gives us that right.

Londo Mollari is one of the most tragic characters of the series, largely due to the choices he makes involving his purpose. Right from the beginning of the story, Londo knows the answer to the question of “Why are you here?” He believes he has a destiny to do great things – great things for himself, for the Centauri empire, and for all of history.

He does accomplish great things that change the course of history, but not in a positive way. Londo willingly makes choices that propel him to the greatness of an architect of disasters. In his journey of self-discovery, he finds himself to be a guilty, weak, and broken man.

Your choices, more than anything, I believe, determine your destiny. If you know why you are here, then pursue that calling with wisdom. If you don’t know, then choose to begin the journey of discovering.

Why are you here?

“You’re not embracing life, you’re fleeing death… Your friends need what you can be when you are no longer afraid, when you know who you are and why you are, and what you want. When you are no longer looking for reasons to live, but can simply be. … It’s easy to find something worth dying for. Do you have anything worth living for?” -Lorien, “Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi?”