In my last newsletter post, I showed why the most important thing for a good Science Fiction story is a Bad Romance. It’s that troubled road of love to acquire someone or something. A bad romance makes for a good SciFi story because we humans want to see a struggle, or a conflict that brings about a change. For those of you who want to catch up or read more about why a bad romance is such a critical literary element to success, click here.
OK, what’s the next most critical thing? Well, here it is.
The 2nd Most Important Thing in Science Fiction Writing Is . . . a good travel agent!
A travel agent is required in a story because nothing will make you want to get out of town faster than a bad romance! Whether the escape is physical, spiritual or mental, you’re going to need a good resource to evade what’s really troubling you. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a thing or a person that helps you get away.
But in the end, you can run but never hide from your troubles. So, not just any travel agent will do. A good travel agent is one who will take you to a place where you must face your dilemmas, right now. Another way of looking at it is to say a good travel agent is a thing, person or event that facilitates the challenge, strife and agony that a character must go through to resolve their bad romance. As proof for this second requirement to literary success, think about the examples I mentioned in my first post on this topic.
In “Star Wars- The Empire Strikes Back,” during the Battle of Hoth, why do you think Hans left Leia on that ice moon as the Empire’s AT-ATs stomped their way into the Rebel Alliance’s base? Hans didn’t leave Leia cold because (as he said) Jaba the Hutt put a bounty on his head for an overdue debt. No, Leia froze him stiff because she denied any romantic feelings for him. Scorned by the woman he loved is the real reason why Hans skedaddled from that cold world faster than light speed.
Yea, he wanted to get out of town quick and the fastest way was with his spaceship, the Millennium Falcon! Able to make “the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs” makes the Millennium Falcon a good travel agent for Hans. By the way, a parsec is a unit of distance not time, but the quote has gained wide acceptance in the SciFi world.
Nevertheless, the Millennium Falcon makes possible for us to see exactly what Hans does to escape his Leia troubles. We see him and Chewbacca fly off somewhere only to return, destroy some imperial TIE fighters and help blowup the dreaded Death Star. It is here, where we see Han’s true nature, not as some space faring roughie but rather a person who will not abandon the love of his life.
Then there’s the movie “Left Behind,” based on the book of the same name, about the Great Rapture and the second coming of Jesus Christ as predicted in the Bible: Thessalonians. Now, this movie (not sure it is technically a SciFi) does have a bad romance going on in the form of a married but philandering airline pilot who plans a “mile high” interception with a flight attendant. But that’s about it.
There’s no travel agent to take the story higher or show how deep the issue of adultery impacts the philander, his wife or his girlfriend stewardess. Lack of a good travel agent leaves the characters flat and presents no opportunity for the audience to empathize with their troubles. Instead, the story uses preachiness to illuminate the characters’ flaws. But that reduces “Left Behind” to just another “Airplane” movie with a humorless religious twist.
Now, this is not to say that a biblical Armageddon is not the way to go for a movie or book. Indeed, “God Games” makes good use of the concept but only as an upside-down backdrop that sets into motion the battle between a secular Yahweh and an evangelical Lucifer. Bottom line here is that the characters’ troubles and travails to reach a goal should be the main thrust of a good tale. Yes, there can be a moral to the story but it’s not what you say but how well you show it that counts.
Then, suddenly, two space lovers zip in from a distant corner of our solar system, Naomi Nagata and James Holden from “The Expanse.” Now, one would think Naomi and James would have stuck together after the beginning of season two of this SciFi franchise.
But competing goals challenged their relationship. On one hand, Naomi, wanting to protect her fellow Outer Planets Alliance (the Belters), secretly hands over the dangerous protomolecule to Fred Johnson, a Belter leader. But that’s directly opposite of what James Holden wants. He would rather destroy the protomolecule to prevent this powerful and unknown substance from falling into anyone’s hands since it could result in the complete annihilation of humanity. Naomi’s decision to betray James (and the crew of the spaceship Roci) brings about subsequent guilt even though she would probably do it again if given the chance. And that determination makes for a bad romance between Naomi and James!
Then, Fred Johnson steps in and tells Naomi where she can find Filip, her long lost son from a previous bad romance. Naomi jumps at that chance. Now, one would think saving her son is the main reason for Naomi leaving James. But the real reason is to escape the guilt of betraying the crew of the Roci and the person she loves (James Holden). Naomi thinks she is going to save her son. But Fred Johnson unwittingly points her in a direction to face her guilt head on instead. That makes Fred Johnson a good travel agent!
All of this drives the story further to show what Naomi goes through when she’s betrayed by her son and is brought face-to-face with Marco, her son’s father and a radicalized member of the Belters looking to pit Earth against Mars for the benefit of the Outer Planets Alliance. It is here where we see how her character matures almost to the point of her own demise. It also shows how James handles her absence by diving deeper into his own quest to save humanity, also almost to his own demise! And along the way, we begin to see the true nature of these two characters, which is a dedication to an ideal and willingness to postpone their own personal satisfaction for a greater good!
So far, for a good SciFi story we need a bad romance that results in a desire to escape from or somehow satisfy that yearning for someone or something. Then, we must have a good travel agent to drive that person through the struggle to resolve his or her dilemma and this is where we see the true makeup of the characters and empathize with their issues.
What’s next? Well, you can find a hint in some of my previous letters. But I’ll reveal the third and final most important thing in Science Fiction writing in the next post! So, please subscribe to this newsletter and stay tuned! You’ll also get the first chapter of GOD GAMES for free with your subscription. It’s an upside-down SciFi retelling of the greatest story ever told!
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