Monday, March 15, 2010

Voyager and Character

Kurt Vonnegut had a piece of advice for writers: everything you write has to do one of two things:
  1. Reveal character
  2. Advance the Plot
Nothing else is allowed. I think Voyager is a good example of why this is important. For the first six seasons of Voyager, character is incidental. Occasionally, we get a character driven episode, but most "character" we see is "Be'llana gets angry at something! She's half-Klingon!" or something along those lines. Instead of revealing character, they're reminding us of Be'llana's one-sentence description.

I'm halfway through the last season of Voyager, and I know the following things about Chakotay, the second in command:
  1. Native American
  2. Used to resent his Native American-ness, but now embraces it just enough to be silly
  3. Used to be a boxer, briefly.
  4. He was in the Maquis (A resistance group that opposed both Star Fleet and the Cardassian Empire)
That is all. Personality wise, I'd say he has a vague placidity that must have made him a terrible captain when he was in the Maquis.

Note, I have no idea why he was a boxer, or why he joined the Maquis, or what made him change his mind about being Native American.

For a well fleshed out character, you could imagine what he would do if he was in a new situation. All I can imagine Chakotay doing is standing around waiting for input from another character. I've heard that the actor playing Chakotay was unsatisfied with his character, and did a lazy job because he didn't care. This is entirely possible, but even if he acted his heart out, you can't do anything with a character that's less fleshed out than Checkov.

PS. I only got the idea for this after watching some clips of DS9 again. Now there's a show with character! Quark, a character who almost never is driving the central plot of an episode, is far better fleshed out than anyone on Voyager.

No comments: