OMEC: Discuss Firefly with SL Huang

Editor's Note: You can check out the forum topic here, but you'll need to log on to post.

There’s a fantastic essay by Hugo-winning writer John Chu about using non-English languages in English-language fiction. I come back to it every time I include multiple languages in a piece. John details the challenge of how “nonfluent readers must never feel as though something is missing but fluent readers must never feel as though anything is extraneous.”

The whole essay is very much worth reading, but there is one section I find myself thinking about during so many other creative circumstances as well, not just multilingual ones. And that’s the parallel story John tells about the composition of the musical Carousel:

The new theatrical orchestration of the Carousel Waltz obviously had to match Carousel‘s existing pit instrumentation, but Rodgers also needed an orchestration suitable for an upcoming concert performance. […] Rodgers wanted one orchestration which incorporated a set of additional instruments. Without those instruments, the instrumentation matched that of the Carousel pit. With those instruments, the instrumentation matched that of a concert orchestra.

The result had to be an orchestration that sounded complete and satisfying either way. Those additional instruments had to sound integral to the waltz when they were used. The waltz couldn’t sound like it’s missing something when they weren’t used.

Don Walker is quoted as saying, “This was the hardest thing I ever had to do.”

I think about this story when I’m writing about anything some of my audience will have a background in and others won’t, like math. I also think about it when I’m writing sequels, or other books in the same universe—how it has to make sense to people who know nothing and also not bore people who’ve read everything.

And I think about it when watching the first two episodes of Firefly.

When the network declined to air episode 1, both episodes 1 and 2 had to act as a pilot episode, letting the audience know exactly what was going on with the world and exactly who the characters and relationships were. But they also had to function sequentially, so that on an eventual DVD release, it wouldn’t seem like episode 2 was repeating information.

And they had to do this using the media techniques of film—namely, dialogue and audiovisuals—to accomplish all of this exposition.

In my opinion, they do a smashing job of this. Whatever other criticisms can be made of Firefly, the fact that the first two episodes are both able to introduce and establish an enormous main cast of characters and relationships—in addition to the world they live in—is a heck of a feat. And it doesn’t feel at all repetitive.

When I think about writing those teleplays, I almost faint with how difficult it feels. In both, it’s specifically established that Kaylee is the ship’s mechanic and also that she’s the sunny heart of the crew. In both, it’s slipped into conversation that Zoe and Wash are married, without it seeming like an “as you know, Bob” bit of dialogue. In both episodes we get told very clearly that Book is a preacher, and in both episodes we’re also given hints of his mysterious past. We get the history of the world and Mal and Zoe’s role in the war and long history together, and we’re shown and told exactly what kind of world we’re signing up for. And with nine people who function as a found family, we get many, many relationships established, sometimes visually, sometimes through dialogue, sometimes both.

If I were to make a list of everything they were clearly trying to establish and squeeze into each of two different episodes, ones that had different stories but that also had to function as one following the other, and tried to write those…well, I’d melt into an intimidated mess. But Firefly manages to leverage the techniques of filmmaking to do all of this to great effect, without it being at all obvious to the casual viewer.

I could keep going with examples, but instead, I want people to come discuss it with me! How does Firefly do this level of establishment of character, story, relationships, and world, and do it twice, using the techniques of film? Come nerd out about it! Or about anything else Firefly-related or film-related you’d like to talk about!

Let’s get our geek on and tear apart exactly how those two episodes drew so many of us in so effectively.

Editor's Note: You can check out the forum topic here, but you'll need to log on to post. Personally I'm excited to talk about Firefly any chance I get! I look forward to seeing you there.


Writing Characters with a Compelling Romantic Spark

When
you're contemplating writing a romance or including a romantic subplot in one
of your novels, how do you bring it to life? The romance writer's ultimate goal
should be to throw two characters on the page together and have a reader crying
out in agony, "Now kiss!" So how do you ensure that your characters
have a spark? And how can you make sure your audience is rooting for them to
fall in love?

Hopefully, this article gives you some useful tools for building not only your characters, but also the romantic arc in your stories.

1. Get them to work together.

Because
a lot of writing is about character arc, you can make learning to work well
together part of their arc. At first they hate it and each other. But then, through working together on a shared goal,
they find out how much they have in common. How their strengths complement each
other. How nice it is to have someone to rely on.

This really is the  satisfying conclusion the romance should be building toward. Not a kiss or an engagement ring, but the certainty for both characters that their love interest has their back. That they have someone in their corner who will help them reach their goals. Whether that means fighting back-to-back to defeat a vengeful demon horde, or helping them fill out a bank loan so they can finally buy that used spaceship they've always dreamed of.

2. Make them learn to communicate effectively with each other.

A
big part of being a team is communication, and in many popular romances the
characters are constantly bantering and quipping with each other. How fast the
characters can talk and make jokes together is a hallmark of the classic era of
screwball romantic comedies, for instance.

Now
I love me some snappy banter, but part of what underlies snappy banter is two
characters having a similar communication style. You can't quip with someone
who doesn't quip back. Banter—when it's well done—can be another tool a writer
uses to show these characters are meant to be together. For example: Maybe none
of the other characters quite get your protagonist's sense of humor…until the
love interest comes along. Or maybe your protagonist has to learn to let their
sense of humor out and their love interest helps them with that.

A note on communication:
One of the big pet peeves for romance readers is a plot that hinges on The Big
Misunderstanding. This is a story (or subplot) where the conflict could easily
be resolved if your two characters would just sit down and have an honest
conversation. And there's no reason they can't…except
then the conflict goes away. Using a Big Misunderstanding not only annoys a lot
of readers, it can also weaken your romantic plot. I have often found myself
reading a book and thinking, "These two people can't even communicate
clearly, and you want me to believe they're going to live happily ever
after?" Try to find conflicts that are more compelling. Challenge
yourself. Allow your characters to tell each other the absolute truth and it still doesn't fix everything. Or, if
they must keep secrets, make sure the reason they're doing so is reasonable and
compelling. 

3. Let them (and by extension your
readers!) have fun together. 

My
last big tip for writing great romantic couples is fun. Your couple should have fun when they're together. Your
reader should have fun spending time with your couple. Even if your story is
angsty and dark, a few well-chosen moments where the couple can make each other
smile are really important to show the connection between your lovers. This
ties back into the happy ending too. How am I supposed to believe they can live
happily ever after if they never actually laugh or smile in each other's
presence? On the flip side, a protagonist who can always make their love
interest laugh stands a pretty good chance of convincing me they really will
live happily ever after.

So,
there you have it, my top tips for writing romantic couples with a compelling
spark:

1. Get them to
work together. 

2. Make them
learn to communicate effectively with each other.

3. Let them (and
by extension your readers!) have fun together. 

What makes a romance work or not work for you? Who are some of your favorite fictional couples? Tell us your answers on the forum!