Wednesday, March 31, 2004

And It Won't Be Airing on the Sci-Fi Channel, Either!

People on a mailing list I belong to were kicking around this topic and making lists, and I thought it might be fun to do one of my own. So:

When I am the writer/producer of my own SF TV show...

My aliens will be as believably alien as I can make them and still have them work as television characters. Specifically, they will not conform to human gender stereotypes. They will not look like humans with head bumps (though I recognize that time and budget considerations must sometimes trump principles in this area). Their cultures will not be caricatures of historical or modern Earth cultures. For every cultural or biological quirk I give them, I will carefully think through what the consequences would be for other aspects of their biology and behavior, and I will write them accordingly.

My heroes will make mistakes. They will not do so only when it is convenient to the plot. If they do do so when it's convenient to the plot, they will be given an especially hard time about it by the other characters.

There will be no dead girlfriends (or boyfriends) of the week. Ever. Light flirting between a major character and a doomed guest star may be acceptable, but only if there are no weepy declarations of "I think I could have loved her!" at the end.

I will not introduce a major, universe-altering plot twist unless I am willing to follow through on the consequences. On the other hand, if the consequences are interesting, I'll go for it.

While a certain amount of scientific fudging is both necessary and acceptable, I will try not to flout the known laws of physics and biology too flagrantly. If I find it absolutely essential to include a plot element that doesn't make a great deal of scientific sense, I will be sure to have the characters who know about such things scratch their heads and go, "Huh." Things that would make less sense if I tried to explain them, I will leave unexplained.

I will examine each storyline and ask myself, "Has this been done before?" The answer will almost certainly be "yes." I will then ask myself, "Has anything new been added to it?" If the answer is "no," I will toss the script in the trash can.

If the characters need to explain the plot to each other in the last five minutes of the episode in order for it to make sense to the viewer, it's probably a bad plot, and I will either fix it or ditch it.

My aliens, robots, and other non-human entities will be able to use contractions and will not humorously mangle human figures of speech. They will posses both emotions and a sense of humor, though these may not be of a type that humans will easily understand.

I will pick one philosophical or metaphysical framework and stick with it. Human consciousness, for example, will not be presented as a purely physical process which can be duplicated by computer one week, and a mystical "life-force" which cannot be explained by science the next week.

My villains will have lives apart from chasing after Our Heroes. They will also have reasons for chasing after Our Heroes other than "he tasks me, and I shall have him!" That doesn't work for anybody but Khan. Or, OK, Ahab.

I will not misuse the term "energy."

I will not introduce technology with the potential to solve all the heroes' problems, thus neatly saving myself the bother of having to think up ways of making it break.

I will not name alien life-forms by putting an adjective in front of an Earth-critter's name (e.g. "Tiberian bat"). I will also not create alien figures of speech by taking a well known English-language cliche and replacing some of the words with made-up alien syllables.

Warrior women will keep their vulnerable areas covered.

When my characters find themselves in a situation just like the one they were in twelve episodes ago, they will notice and comment on it. They will also at least attempt to avoid making the same mistakes. If this happens on a regular basis, I will damned well make it stop.

Characters living in the future will not have irrational interest in and in-depth knowledge of the 20th/21st century with any greater frequency than contemporary people do of, say, the 15th century. When they do make references back to our time, they will frequently get them wrong.

On the other hand, if a contemporary human character is thrust into a science fictional setting, he will recognize when has has found himself in a situation that mirrors the plot of a Star Trek episode and respond accordingly.

There will be as much diversity among the individuals of any given alien species as there are among humans (unless that species is supposed to be a hive mind or something). If a species is described as a "race of warriors," that simply means their culture is strongly focused on fighting, not that there are no engineers or janitors or day-care providers among them.

Further to this, there will frequently be multiple cultures represented by the same species. Just because one Alpha Centaurian society practices cannibalism, worships the Sky Goddess, and produces Galactic Grandmasters at tiddliwinks doesn't mean they all do.

There will be a strict limit on the number of times a character can return from the dead. Each time it happens, there will be a penalty exacted.

Leaving the occasional dangling plot thread to be picked up on again later is great for building story arcs. Allowing the occasional mystery to remain mysterious is good for verisimilitude. And introducing tiny, strange, unexplained elements here and there to be used as possible story hooks later on is fun. But I will not go overboard with this. When I have more possible story seeds than I have stories, it's well past time to start tying those plot threads together.

I will do my very best to make sure the audience's perceptions of a character and the other characters' perceptions of that character match up, unless the audience very specifically knows things about that person that the other characters don't. E.g. I will not have a character that everybody onscreen praises as incredibly smart who consistently does incredibly dumb things without anybody apparently noticing.

If two characters are clearly interested in having a relationship with each other, I will not invent artificial ways of keeping them apart. I will instead concentrate on finding ways of making their relationship interesting. I will do this before all their interaction starts focusing on their sexual tension, however, because otherwise getting them together will simply be an anticlimax.

If I go to the trouble of creating a good ensemble of characters with interesting backstories and personalities, and of casting good actors to play them all, I will take advantage of this instead of having all my plots focus on the same two or three people every week.

If I come up with a nifty bit of backstory for a character for use in, say, episode 35, I will ask myself exactly why he hasn't ever mentioned said nifty bit of backstory in the past 34 episodes. If I can't think of a good reason, then I don't care how nifty it is, I'm not going to use it.

When a new species/idea/gadget/whatever is introduced and everyone is surprised and acts like they've never heard of it before, I will not then in future episodes treat whatever-it-was like it has been galactic common knowledge all along.

Just because it's "day" on the spaceship doesn't mean it won't be night when Our Heroes land on the planet, or vice versa. Jet lag will be a problem, at least for human characters (and probably for aliens as well).

Systems run by artificial intelligences will have a good reason for being artificially intelligent. If a system can be run perfectly well by a machine that doesn't have a mind and an agenda of its own and doesn't feel the need to talk back, it will be.

I will avoid using props that look like they belong on the spiffy cutting-edge of technological development, because that will only make them look incredibly dated twenty years from now.

No Reset Button. Ever. I mean it.

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