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Dec. 6th, 2010 | 12:00 pm

I've spent the weekend finishing up the Wraith plotline in Secrets, so I've been in that mental space for a few days, and that's got me thinking about how, exactly, we've been going from what's on the screen to what's in the books.  And now that Homecoming is almost out, I feel safe risking some very minor spoilers. 

I loved the Wraith from the minute they appeared in the show:  an alien species that could only consume the life force of intelligent beings is a fascinating antagonist, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it was also the visuals, the costumes, the set — and long silver hair and black leather coats — that got me all excited.

One of the biggest problems in writing the Wraith is that the show tells us they don't have names.  Sheppard keeps asking, and when he never gets an answer, he assigns them — Steve, Todd, Kenny.  As viewers, we don't need to know the names of the other Wraith — the ones in Midway, say — because they don't look alike.  We can tell them apart without needing to know what they call each other, if indeed they actually need to call each other anything.

Of course, if we were going to write anything from Todd's point of view — and I was determined to do precisely that — we had to figure out some way to identify them.  And that meant, since we're writing conventional fiction, figuring out how to name the nameless without losing their essential Wraithiness.  It seemed to me that, given that the Wraith were telepathic, they might not have names as we understand them, labels that bear no direction connection to their identity — when Sheppard asks for their names, not only is it as startling to them as it would be for a cow to demand to know who's back there milking her, but it simply doesn't translate.  So I thought perhaps the ways that the Wraith identify each other to each other can't be expressed in a few syllables, but instead, have to do with flavor of mind, tone of mental voice, a flash of background image when they are speaking mind to mind.   It's such a gestalt that none of the Wraith can imagine reducing it to a word or two, and so they stare blankly at Sheppard when he asks.

But then, how to write it?  What I ended up doing was introducing Wraith characters with a description of how their minds feel to the point of view character — "the voice in his mind was banked fire, a coal still warm at the core:  not a man he knew" — and then refer to each person by a shortened version of that feeling, in this case, "Ember."  That, I hope, satisfies the need to be able to identify the characters easily and quickly, to make the story readable, and at the same time keeps an essential...  Wraithiness.

Pretty much everything we learn about the Wraith is presented visually. Yes, there are the things Carson deduces, and that we are told here and there, but what we know about Wraith society is told mostly in the sets and blocking.  We are told the Wraith have queens, who control hives; we see that the hives are full of masked warriors who seem to act like drones, and males with uncovered faces and elaborate clothes who crew the ships, control the drones, fight battles and fly Darts and circle around their queen like courtiers.  They are the ones who act, the ones who seem to take most direct measures to stop Altantis; they are the ones who cull and who hunt humans for sport, with the masked ones as backup.  The queens have absolute power, and there is only one per hive; we are told, and shown, that they kill each other and take each other's place, though Todd... could be lying about how often it happens.  Half the fun of writing them has been figuring out ways to put names to those visual distinctions, and then building on all those gorgeous visuals.  I hope it works as well for readers!

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Comments {8}

Ashkaztra

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from: ashkaztra
date: Dec. 6th, 2010 10:45 pm (UTC)
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Seeing as the Wraith are my favourite thing about SGA (though the rest of the show follows shortly behind) posts like these make me even more excited about Legacy. I love the show canon, but they just don't tell us enough about the Wraith.

I think of the Wraith name issue much like you, I think. My two Wraith original characters, who developed a personality on me when I turned my back, are named quite similarly to what you describe here. For Frost, his "name", or so to speak, is actually the impression on the piercing cold wind on a winter morning when the temperatures is just above zero Fahrenheit and you feel like you'll freeze solid if you stay still.

I find that when I write Wraith, one of their greatest points of frustration is that though the general idea translates to human, communicating vocally only feels wrong and limited to them. We must seem like a pretty stunted species in comparison.

I'm very excited to see what you'll be doing with that Wraithiness. Which is a great word, incidentally. (I can see quite a few of the SGA characters using that.)

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Melissa Scott

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from: mescott
date: Dec. 6th, 2010 11:07 pm (UTC)
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I find that when I write Wraith, one of their greatest points of frustration is that though the general idea translates to human, communicating vocally only feels wrong and limited to them. We must seem like a pretty stunted species in comparison.

And short-lived and fragile, too, I think. Wraith can often afford to wait, when humans have to act.

I'm very excited to see what you'll be doing with that Wraithiness. Which is a great word, incidentally. (I can see quite a few of the SGA characters using that.)

*g* I can hear John saying it, myself! I'm glad this is working for you!

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Melissa Scott

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from: mescott
date: Feb. 9th, 2011 01:49 pm (UTC)
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It's a little complicated, but this was more or less my train of thought. Kenny is one of the few named Wraith who last more than one episode (Todd, much as I love him, is hard on subordinates!) and one with an identifiable physical voice, so I ended up building on those cues. First of all, his hair is straighter and sleeker than many other Wraith - bone straight. And the bones of his face are very prominent. He's also just about the only Wraith we ever see successfully question Todd - he has legitimate objections to the Lanteans' new plan, and he's able to express them freely and bluntly. There's a dryness to his tone ("This is absurd.") that I liked, and he's also obviously capable of a great deal of self-control - witness the way he deals with John and company after the Primary's hive disappears into hyperspace. Combining all that with the bone images, it made me think of sun-bleached skulls, a mental voice pared down to something very dry and direct and somewhat pulled back. Bonewhite.

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Melissa Scott

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from: mescott
date: Feb. 11th, 2011 11:22 pm (UTC)
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A pleasure! It's always nice to have an excuse to talk about the Wraith.

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Melissa Scott

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from: mescott
date: Feb. 13th, 2011 06:07 pm (UTC)
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I'm embarrassed to say I haven't worked the dice game out in detail. I was thinking of craps and hazard, and also the Roman game of knucklebones, which seems to have evolved into more of a dice game than the jacks-like game that wikipedia describes. Both craps and knucklebones name the various combinations; in craps you can bet on specific ways of getting a number, and I was thinking that any Wraith dice game would have that feature, because they'd love the side bets. I was also imagining both 6 and 12-sided dice, used in various combinations for different games, and some of the throws' names came from that.

Double-4 is the human throw because the square 4-dot pattern looks like a human house.

On 6-sided dice, 6s are hives, double or triple sixes are a fleet, and a 6-plus-1 is a hive and dart.

On 12-sided dice, 10 is the Ring (and 5 is the little Ring); 8 is a star. A combination of two 1s, two 4s, and a 10 (darts, humans, and a stargate) is a Culling, and sweeps the pot.

I only got to use one of them so far, but I'm hoping to fit more of them into the later books. Which I suppose means I really ought to work out the proper rules! *g*

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Melissa Scott

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from: mescott
date: Feb. 13th, 2011 10:20 pm (UTC)
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Thanks! (I really have to get me some dice now and start fiddling with this. In my copious free time, of course! :-)

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Melissa Scott

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from: mescott
date: Feb. 20th, 2011 09:51 pm (UTC)
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That's about it for recurring Wraith, isn't it? Or am I missing somebody? (I was personally sorry that the ones from Midway didn't survive - it was a clever plan.) There's Michael, of course, who's referenced later on.

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Melissa Scott

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from: mescott
date: Feb. 20th, 2011 11:50 pm (UTC)
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Got you! (Sorry, long day.) I'm not sure if I can actually justify it, but I've been assuming that the group we see with Todd in Lost Tribe are still part of his command. Ease certainly was one of them, managing the drone escort. Hasten, the engineer, is with them as well. Precision is part of the group in The Queen, which is when he fell in love with Steelflower. Ember wasn't part of Todd's alliance during the course of the series, but I've been saying he was one of the clevermen assisting with the attack on Midway.

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