Thoughts on writing the B7 characters

by Neil Faulkner (from AltaZine #4)

...or Dayna, or Servalan, or Gan, or... I suppose most fan writers have come up against it at some time or other: the fact that some B7 characters are harder to write for than others. This can be a real problem because a fan writer is often stuck with the presence of a character he or she would rather not have to handle. I can't speak for other writers, only myself, but I detect three different aspects interlocking (or rather, failing to interlock) with each other: the characters I like the most; the characters I particularly want to write; and the ease with which I can handle them when writing. When all three fall together, then fine. Otherwise, big problem.
Niel Faulkner (21K)

I know who my favourite character is - Cally. Not just for looking at (though I don't deny that comes into it) but for all the things I associate with Cally. Energy, determination, practicality, courage, sensitivity, level-headedness. And some less positive aspects as well - her loneliness, fanaticism, a potential for ruthlessness, self-absorption, guilt. I can see them all. They fit in with how I've come to see Cally over the years, as a woman who has seen, and has done some pretty awful things on Saurian Major, been driven to the point of self-destruction, and then been offered a chance to start again, rebuild herself into what she might have wanted to have been. Basically, I see Cally as a distressed war veteran, struggling to come to terms with her past. If that doesn't square with the Cally you saw in the series, then that only highlights another conflict facing the fan writer: the character as portrayed in the canon, and the character you ideally want him or her to be.

I don't think anyone would deny that fan writers idealise the characters they write about. I think it's one of the primary motives for writing fanfic in the first place. I don't think readers object too strongly, either. They seem to lap up all the various interpretations of their favourites, except for the ones they take a real objection to. And the interpretations certainly do vary - compare Judith Seaman's Blake to Sondra Sweigman's for a real contrast of extremes (and I know which of the two I prefer. Not the one that merely uses Blake as a means of sticking Avon on a pedestal). I'm hardly one to complain, since I do it with Cally, but I find it an interesting process and I'm not sure all fan writers go about it the same way. My concept of Cally arose partly out of the kind of Cally I would like to have seen in the series (and therefore also the kind of Cally I would like to write about), but also through thinking over what the aired series offered to write about in the first place. Which isn't all that much on its own.

What it comes down to is getting a grip on the character. Call it empathy if you want, though I'm not sure that's the best word in all cases. But somehow you've got to get a foot in the door, as it were, and sometimes the door can be hard to find Sometimes you have to knock a hole in the wall. But I don't think you can write for a character without finding first some identifiable common territory, that bit of them that you can also see in yourself.

Cally might be my favourite character, but I actually find Tarrant and Travis easier to write for. Perhaps it's because they both have military backgrounds, which is a bit odd since I haven't worn a uniform since I left school. But the military thing still appeals (like a lot of people, I'm rather interested in military hardware whilst not exactly liking what it does), and the tension between image/ideal and the underlying reality automatically puts a tension within those two characters. They have something to live up to, but they can't necessarily manage it all the time. It's the same with Blake: he has a fairly obvious personal agenda, namely blitzing the Federation off the face of the galaxy. But he also has the ability to see all (or at least most) sides of an issue and weighing them up against each other. I find Blake most interesting when he is pulled between the course he wants to take and the one he feels he ought to - which will win out? Cally likewise, I see as someone with ideals that can't always be met. Again, there is a tension there.

Other characters I find much harder to get to grips with. I would once have said that Jenna was probably the hardest B7 character of all to write, though I've since found a door to stick my foot in. As with Cally, it took a bit of figurative carpentry on my part, but her initial antipathy to Cally was a useful lead. What if a pig-headed xenophobic bigot lurked in the depths of Jenna's psyche? Not very flattering, true, but I've always found the murkier depths of the mind to be far more interesting than the bright and shiny bits, and a character is all the more interesting for his or her flaws. From that slender thread I wove a whole tapestry of Jenna's past, though I've yet to get it down in a complete story.

Some characters are just plain impossible. What the hell do I do with Gan, for example? I have actually written a Gan story, which I took on mainly as a challenge, but he soon got overshadowed by an original character of my own devising. Gan ended up just sort of being there, as a line of argument for the broader philosophical themes of the story. Dayna is also a problem, which is odd because she has the most detailed background of any character in the series, but it doesn't offer much to get a hold on. Besides, I'm not terribly interested in Dayna (no, not even in *that* way). Or Gan for that matter.

Soolin ought to be a real pull for me. She's virtually a blank canvas, and there's a lot of space to splash paint on. I know the kind of Soolin I want to write - hopelessly screwed up behind her cold, calculating facade - and the fact that she was 4th Season only gives me no qualms about redesigning the character any way I see fit. I suspect that it's because she *was* 4th Season only that puts me off writing her in, because to do that I would have to either redesign the feel of that season or go along with all the junk that I had to endure on screen (Slave springs horribly to mind). Basically, I hate the infantile series 4 and half-wish they hadn't made it. I've only written one S4 story, set entirely on Xenon, and there wasn't a part in it for Soolin even if I'd wanted to include her.

Servalan is a problem too, but for another reason. I can't find a way of getting her into a story. Being a stickler for what I regard as plausibility, I can't just dump her into the action when I know she ought to be halfway across the galaxy sitting behind a desk. As yet, none of the plots that I've felt compelled to write have given so much as half an excuse for Servalan to encounter the crew. So if I ever write for Servalan, it's going to be her and her only as far as the regulars are concerned.

And what about Avon and Vila? I like them both in the series. They got more than their fair share of the action, and some of the best lines. But I find it a hard slog writing for either of them, which is a bit of a problem because they're neither of them easy to marginalise in a story. In some ways I find them both difficult to approach. I mean, I can walk right up to Gan or Soolin and find little more than empty space (thank you, scriptwriters), but I can't get near Avon or Vila. Or if I can, then I can't seem to get my foot in the door. There are too many doors to choose from, and they all lead into an unnavigable labyrinth. It's not too difficult to pick on one aspect of Avon or Vila, but then there's the problem of squaring it with all the others. No, I don't like writing either of them.

It might be because I can't find the angle that pulls me into Blake or Travis or Cally. If there's a common thread running through my stories, the serious ones at any rate, it's of people struggling to climb out of the muck of demand and need and to do themselves justice as human beings. That near-hopeless inner struggle doesn't really apply to Avon or Vila. Vila's all too human to start with, and Avon doesn't give a squit (I know Sondra, for one, would loudly disagree with that, but I have to be true to the way I perceive the characters, just as any fan writer does). *Last Stand at the Edge of the World* creates an inner conflict for Vila, but it doesn't really suit him. He goes with the flow and takes what comes too easily. The wracking torments that fan writers devise for Avon are equally lacking in conviction, and the one episode that hints of an inner pull within the character - *Terminal* - has "Plot Device" stamped all over it. True there is a dichotomy between what Avon said he wanted (get rich and hide somewhere) and what he did (stay with Blake), but I can't for the life of me reconcile it. I can't accept any of the reasons various fan stories offer, least of all the slash ones, and until I can come up with a reason of my own, I'm going to approach Avon in my fiction very cautiously.

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned three ways in which the characters can pull a fan who wants to write B7 fiction. How do they pull me, or rather who pulls me in what direction?

Well, the ones that I most enjoy watching would be Cally, Avon and Vila, probably in that order. The ones I find I most want to write about are Cally, Jenna and Blake, in no real order at all. But the ones I find easiest to write are Tarrant, Travis and - limping in third place - Cally. Since only Cally seems to be going all three ways at once, perhaps it's no surprise that she tends to figure more highly than most in the bulk of the fiction that I write.

Do other fan writers experience the same problem in the same way? I wouldn't mind knowing.

Back up to Essay index

Back up to Blakes 7

Last changed on 26th of April 1998