Melissa Scott (mescott) wrote,
Melissa Scott
mescott

Translations

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!
Tags: legacy, writing
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