Story Telling… I Admire: Babylon 5

I’ve already mentioned how much I admire Dune, and aspire to that level of writing, so since I’m crap at reviewing, we’ll talk about what I admire about my favourites. Another one my all time favourites series, this time  a TV one, is Babylon 5, created by J. Michael Straczynski back in the 90’s.

So let’s talk about that.

A Bit of History (for those don’t remember the 90’s… which is increasingly more and more adults – darn time!)

Back in the 90’s, and in decades before that, the majority of television shows (though not all by far), were episodic, with arcs focused on that episode, and you could probably air many episodes out of order with little to no effect on the stories being told. Most of Star Trek is like this, and it’s fine – it’s what we expected, nay what we thought we wanted.

However J. Michael Straczynski while in the shower, combined two story ideas he’d been playing with a big space opera and a story taking place aboard a dinky little space station. The big space opera would be too big, and too expensive to make in a TV show, while an episodic TV show set aboard a space station wouldn’t have much life, just a few seasons. His eureka moment in the shower was that in combining the two, you could have a five year story that saw a universe at war, and peace, have politics and a consequences play out, and punctuate some action and fallout on the station to contextualise the space opera, without having to invest too significant parts of the budget for space battles.

They were doing this in the early days of the CGI revolution, now everyone with a some 3d program, and a video editing suite can put together a fleet on fleet battle, in HD or even 4k, with some time and patience.

Side note: I actually wonder if they could make Babylon 5 these days, the restrictions of budget and technology helped to create something amazing, but there aren’t the same limiting factors, you can do whole series in front of blue screens without much need for a set, you don’t need expensive physical models, and people are already trying to make CGI people a thing, so you might not need pricey actors either.

So, what is Babylon 5?

So back to the idea – a small contained space, operating as a space UN of sorts. It ties together smaller character driven stories and a grand epic. The factions have unique motivations to them which drive them, hurt them, and so on, and actions for against a faction has consequences for those factions and the over arcing plot.

I’m trying not to get into spoilers, but you have plots involving a character or characters place and interaction with their own state, you have law and order plots, including local (on the station), internal (with the one of the nations of the galaxy), and international, (with multiple nations involved), you have siege and attack plots, Revolutions, enslavement, spies, survivor stories, medical dramas, but also a sense of magical plots, magical tests and quests, mystical items, after life stuff, and I’m not so be with this yet, then you have interpersonal plots with romance, buddy cops, noir detectives, comedies, arguments and misunderstandings. Basically it has everything.

“But!” I hear you shoot, Star Trek has all of that – and you’re right, but except on DS9, it didn’t add to anything it was just adventure of the week.

Now DS9 was doing something similar, but it didn’t feel as in depth, it was more focused, where as Babylon 5 went in a hundred, but coherent, didn’t directions but brought it back together. What DS9 did do though was better communicate the world was ending and the war stories were just more intense, that’s where the budget differences came in I think. Babylon 5 was more cohesive, and the building blocks all lead to how it ends (taking season 4, not 5 in fairness).

So What Is It I Admire, And Can Learn

So ultimately what I admire is the ability to balance personal and grander story telling. Now it is probably easier in hundreds of 45 minute episodes than writing a novel, but when you look at each series, (1 through 4 anyway), they are beautifully balanced.

Where I fail is I get lost in scenes, specifically dialogue ones, I get stuck in circles, the dialogue in Babylon 5 is what carries the story, and it’s not as punchy as a Sorkin series, but still all the important dialogue is focused, and delivers three things each time, the characters personal feelings and motivations, exposition to explain the current situation, and the plan – what actions do the characters intend to do.

I like that, and I think ultimately that’s what I want to learn, and it doesn’t matter if it’s on screen or on a page I think it’s a good way to do dialogue. It will definitely help to have three things before writing dialogue scenes:

  • History
  • Motivation
  • Plan

Doesn’t matter what the plan is, it’s not the plot of the story, it’s just what the characters intend – actually that’s not true, it does matter, because for the dialogue to be important, whatever the characters decide will drive the plot, it’s just a matter of whether they succeed in their intentions, or are denied by another factor.

Also just to mention, as with Dune, I could go through a lot more, but I wanted to pick an element that is of particular interest to me right now.

Well well well… look at who’s darkening your door step

So I’ve been gone a while, but I’m back. I lost my mojo for a bit, combination of many many factors, which ultimately are dull, and uninteresting compared with what’s going on in your life, and the world in general – but it was important to me at the time, and it dragged me away from writing, and blogging.

As the title suggests, and the first line, (because apparently reiterating your point, however pointless is the best way to get it across), I’m back. I’m currently working on a project, an epic piece though slightly unoriginal in a world populated by George R. R. Martin, J. R. R. Tolkien, and many others… but it’s fun, and maybe along the way I’ll stumble into a something unique and interesting in the world of fantasy story telling.

I have other ideas piling up, which is great suddenly the creative juices are flowing again.

And I’m half way to fixing my site up – I’ve reinstalled WordPress, and managed to upload all my old posts and comments, (which turns out is very easy), but it’s still running slow.

I’m not sure what I’ll be blogging about – just a journal of my life writing, commentary on writing news, a significant amount about NaNoWriMo this year and future years, (and if that’s news to you… surprise! I’m obsessed with the non-competitive writing competition), a challenge or two, and I’d like to analyse other people’s stories, not just writing but other media’s too – because I find it fascinating. I’ll try and sort out things like that out, but I’m all a quiver at being back, and to be writing for  a few weeks, and I wanted to share that.

Daily Flash Fiction: The Early Conclusion

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

Genesis 1:31

And the writer saw everything he had written, and behold, he saw 14 grammatical errors, 27 spelling mistakes, 5 plot inconsistencies, and 3 unbelievable truths

Jonathan L. Lawrence, May 2013

 

Hands up if anyone noticed I’d not posted in a month? Well I noticed, and it was very annoying, because it means I’m really really quite far behind on my daily flash fic posting. So far behind that it’s gotten to a month and a half, (well 44 days to be precise). I’m never going to catch that up, because I don’t think I can commit to daily stories at the moment. It’s never been my style, I’m not a short story writer. Well despite 135 short stories to the contrary.

That said, I am really proud of some of them, yes they all need a lot of work – the challenge was not to edit and just keep posting, but there are some real gems in there.

And since I’m very fond of stats, I’ve had a look at some for this challenge:

105,168 words written (in story only)

796 average story length

Here’s some graphs, because I love a good graph. The first shows my words per day, and a moving average word count. It shows I was gradually getting shorter in length, which was a goal of the challenge, so that’s something positive to take away:

From Word Usage

The second is just for my interest really, I like seeing an accumulative word count. Of course with a limit of 1,000 words maximum, and for most of the challenge a minimum of 500 it was pretty much guaranteed to run a relatively straight line, but it’s nice to see all the same:

From Word Usage

Aside from getting bogged down in distractions, apathy, and writer’s block, I’ve enjoyed the challenge for the most part. And it’s succeeded in several ways, such as having the chance to try new things, practice things I’ve never been particularly good at, writing with a little more abandon. It’s also given me ample opportunity to see where my skills are weakest in the fundamentals, (spelling and grammar that I simply don’t get).

It’s also more words than I’ve written outside of NaNoWriMo since I started doing NaNoWriMo, and probably from before then too.

I’m not done though, although I won’t be trying to keep up with 365 short stories in a year, I am going to post the occasional short story – to keep my eye in for next year, to give me a break from other projects, and to simply test out an idea I’ve got bouncing round in my head.

In the meantime I’ve got two pretty big story ideas, neither of which will be saved for NaNo, I want to write them now. I’m in a planning phase at the moment with brain storms and notes scattered all around. I’ve decided which one I’m going to write first, though I’ve written a few lines, (the proverbial foothold in enemy territory of the plain white page), I’m mostly writing out the back story. It’s a fantasy piece and it requires a good backing mythos to really work.

I’ll get you next time, Gadget. Next time!

Daily Flash Fiction Challenge 135: The Voice on the End of the World

This is the 135th in a series of 365 Flash Fiction stories I’m writing. You can find out more about the challenge here.

The Voice on the End of the World, by Jonathan L. Lawrence, 14th April 2013

Word count: 632

The story:

“All you have to do is crawl inside and pull the wire,” the voice over the wireless headset said.

“I’m not going to survive am I?” Carol asked.

“Its already too late. I’m sorry, we didn’t know it would be uncovered,” the voice said soberly.

“I liked you better when you were flirty,” Carol said, “This will save everyone else though?”

“We think so, it will at least stop it spreading,” the man on the other end of the call said, “If there were any other way… If there was any way at all to save you, I would make sure it was done, even if I had to hop in a helicopter and do it myself.”

“Thank you,” Carol said.

“When you go in,” the man said, and Carol appreciated bringing the conversation back to business, “The cables going to be far in, it’s bright red. Pull with everything you’ve got until it comes loose. That will stop the reaction and the radiation will begin to subside.”

“What’s it going to be like in there?” Carol asked.

“It’ll be hell, it’s going to be hot, your hands and feet will burn every time they make contact with a surface. You’ll feel your hair melting, and your vision will be impaired.”

“Wish you’d stopped at hell,” Carol said.

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Daily Flash Fiction Challenge 134: Interplanetary Politic

This is the 134th in a series of 365 Flash Fiction stories I’m writing. You can find out more about the challenge here.

Interplanetary Politic, by Jonathan L. Lawrence, 13th April 2013

Word count: 460

The story:

“What makes you want to be president?” the journalist asked, then tipped her microphone forward.

The senator took a calming breath, “I want to make a difference. This world we live, well the universe really, faces unique and immense challenges, and as head of the World Government, I believe I can help us through it.”

“There’s some controversy over the office of World President, many member nations have expressed a wish to leave, or even disband the World Government. President Hutton founded, and headed the government for four terms, without him, will it stand?” the the journalist asked.

“I wouldn’t say it was under significant risk,” the senator said, “People are worried, the future is uncertain, it’s understandable. However, humanity has the greatest opportunity to shape it’s own destiny since since someone shared the secret of fire with their neighbours. The first rounds of the presidential elections will be in a few months, everyone will vote at least to see where it will go, before anyone chooses to leave.”

“Thank you Senator Wetherby,” the journalist said turning back to face the hovering camera. The senator walked on, where his press consultant and Chief of Staff awaited him.

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Daily Flash Fiction Challenge 133: The Pitch

This is the 133rd in a series of 365 Flash Fiction stories I’m writing. You can find out more about the challenge here.

The Pitch, by Jonathan L. Lawrence, 12th April 2013

Word count: 820

The story:

“This it?” the General asked looking at the stand.

“That’s what all the fuss is about,” the executive said.

“Its not very intimidating,” the General noted.

“This weapon isn’t a threat, if you pull the trigger while it’s pointed at someone, they will die. Armour, cover, none of that matters. It has a one hundred percent kill rate, and it’s spot on accurate. No loud bangs, not even the puff from a silencer. It does one thing kill,” the executive said.

“Can we wrap it in something more terrifying?” the general asked.

“A wolf dressed as a wolf?” the salesman asked.

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Daily Flash Fiction Challenge 132: Romancing of the Fighter

This is the 132nd in a series of 365 Flash Fiction stories I’m writing. You can find out more about the challenge here.

Romancing of the Fighter, by Jonathan L. Lawrence, 11th April 2013

Word count: 758

The story:

 “Let me put this a way you’d understand,” Francis said, “I need room to manoeuvre.”

Robert stood there quietly, waiting for more, challenging Francis to go further, when he didn’t he asked, “Why?”

“Because this isn’t the life I wanted. Fair enough you got drafted, a lot of people did, but after the battle for Epsilon Eridani, most people quit and returned home. You went career without even talking to me.”

“They needed me,” Robert said, he was a man of few words, a trait he considered stoic, right now Francis just found it infuriating.

“I needed you,” Francis said, “I needed you, and you are barely here. Always off on some secret mission or another you can never talk about when you are home.”

“I understand,” and he really thought did, his colonel had warned of the hardships of a career in the defence force.

“I need space, and I need time. I need to find out if this is what I want,” Francis said quietly.

“I understand,” Robert repeated.

Two weeks later Robert was gone, he’d been out of contact for a week, Francis already knew that meant he was on mission again, and he was trying not to care, but he worried, he always worried. Pilots had short life spans, so many things to go wrong when you’re in and out of space constantly. Francis had seen the war documentaries, accidents had taken nearly as many lives as the enemy in the two years of the war.

There was an electronic chime from the door.

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