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Overview of the 5-year plan

from J. Michael Straczynski, creator, writer and producer
copyright 1993

There has always been a plan for a series to follow. If anything, that was the point of the entire exercise...to tell a story. To create a novel for TV that would span five years, for which the pilot is the opening chapter. Having now seen, or about to see the foundation for that story, and before being asked to lend support to that series, you have a right to some sense of what that series would entail, and what you're being asked to support. One should never sign a blank check on the bank of one's conscience. So here's a preview.

You will find out what happened to Sinclair, for starters, during the Earth/Minbari war. For nearly 10 years, Sinclair has worked to convince himself that nothing happened to him on the Line other than what seems to be the case: that he blacked out for 24 hours. He's just managed to convince himself of this. Now, suddenly, someone comes into his life and with seven words -- you'll know them when you hear them -- completely unravels the self-deception. He knows then that something DID happen to him, that someone DID mess with his mind...and he is going to find out who, and why.

The ramifications of that discovery will have a major influence on the series, on his relationships, and the future of not only his character but many others.

You will see what a Vorlon is...and what it represents. And what it may have to do with our own saga, and a hidden relationship to some of our other characters (watch the reception scene carefully). We'll discover that there are MANY players in this game. You'll find out what happened to Babylon 4, and it will call into question what is real, what is not, and the ending of that episode is one that you have not seen before on television.

We'll find that most every major character is running to, or away from something in their hearts, or their pasts, or their careers. Garibaldi's checkered past will catch up with him in a way that will affect his role and make him a very different character for as much as a full season, and have lasting effects thereafter. Lyta will take part in a voyage of discovery that will very much change her character. She will be caught up in a web of intrigue and forced to betray the very people she has come to care for.

We will see wheels within wheels, discover the secret groups behind the Earth and Minbari governments who suspect, with good reason, that one of the B5 crew may be a traitor, who sold out Earth during the Earth/Minbari war.

Some of the established empires in the pilot will fall. Some will rise unexpectedly. Hopes and fortunes will be alternately made or destroyed. At least one major race not yet known even to EXIST will make its presence known, but only gradually. Some characters will fall from grace. Others will make bargains whose full price they do not understand, but will eventually come to realize, and regret.

At the end of the first season, one character will undergo a MAJOR change, which will start the show spinning on a very different axis. The first season will have some fairly conventional stories, but others will start the show gradually moving toward where I want it to go. One has to set these things up gradually. Events in the story -- which is very much the story of Jeffrey Sinclair -- will speed up in each subsequent season.

Someone he considers a friend will betray him. Another will prove to be the exact opposite of what Sinclair believes to be true. Some will live. Some will die. He will be put through a crucible of terrible force, that will change him, and alter his destiny in a profound and terrible way...if he goes one way, or the other, it will determine not only his own fate, but that of millions of others. He will grow, and become stronger, better, wiser...or be destroyed by what fate is bringing his way. In sum, it is a story of hope against terrible adversity and overwhelming odds.

Each of our characters will be tempted in a different way to ally with a dark force determined to once and for all destroy the peace. Some will fall prey to the temptation, others will not, and pay the price for their resistance.

The homeworld of one of our major characters will be decimated. War will become inevitable. And when it comes, Babylon 5 will be forever changed.

That, in broad brush strokes, is a little of what I plan to do with the series. It is, as stated, a novel for television, with a definite beginning, middle and end.

Has the show deviated from the original idea?

May 10, 1996 response to a viewer question: some of the above seems to not apply any more. Is the series off track?

It's a fair question. I'm going to try and deal with it as best I can. The problem, first and foremost, is trying to explain the craft of writing to someone who isn't a writer. This isn't intended as a slight; if a brain surgeon tried to explain his work to me, I'd be about as much in the dark. I have no idea where music comes from; I can sit with Chris Franke for hours, trying to understand that process. I never will. I'm not hardwired that way. I *am* hardwired for writing. So it's not a judgment, just a minor truth.

The creative process is fluid. Has to be. Consider for a moment the position in which I find myself. Let's say I'm writing a novel. I start with a fairly clear notion of where I'm going. Six chapters in, I get a better way of doing something, so I go back and revise chapters 1-5, so it now all fits; you never see what went before. Now, compare that to a situation where you're publishing each chapter as you go, and you can't go back and change anything. (This is pretty much the situation Dickens found himself in, as he published his works chapter by chapter; you can never back up, only go forward.)

At the same time, because we're using actors who have real lives of their own, to whom things happen -- broken limbs, health problems that may preclude appearing in a given episode, sudden career changes, you name it -- you have real-life obstacles constantly in your way.

The closest thing I can compare this to...is if you're on stage, in front of a large audience, and you have to do a very elaborate dance...and all the while people are throwing bowling balls and chainsaws at you. You either learn how to accommodate all that, and keep pretty much on rhythm, or you're dead.

This show was originally conceived in 1986/87. About 10 years ago. Back then, all TV episodic stuff was done pretty much from one person's point of view, your nominal hero. Yes, you'd occasionally dive outside that for a quick scene with other characters, usually to set up something, but for the most part, it was about that one person. In MURDER, SHE WROTE, Jessica Fletcher was always at the heart of every episode; you had the occasional guest character with whom she'd interact, and the recurring supporting cast, but none of them ever changed, and none of them ever really took center stage for more than a few minutes at a time. That's how TV has been done up until now.

Novels, on the other hand, are often omniscient in narrative structure, and you blip in and out of multiple points of view. THE STAND, for instance.

Now, I've done both; I've written novels and I've written TV. When it came time to pull together B5 initially, you go into the "okay, who is the TV point of view character" question. Which was Londo's narration, and which was the way I'd learned to write TV all these years. Once the series got going, it quickly became apparent that I'd have to learn a whole new way of writing TV that was a lot more like what I'd been writing in my novels, which were multi-POV huge stories. It's a kind of writing that's never really been done before for American TV; and I had to somewhat invent that style or form of writing as I went, in front of millions of viewers.

You can't prepare for something like this, as much as you try, because it's never been done before.

(On reflection, probably the closest thing to what I've been doing here was the miniseries The Winds of War, in terms of the multiple viewpoints involved.)

Also, in the last 10 years, I've become a better writer, learned more about my craft, added more tools to my toolbox. That means being able to perceive better ways of doing things now than I could've seen before.

So here we are. I sit at my word processor with my notes from 1986, and I see a better way of doing something from those notes...do I go with what's there, or do I strike off and do the better approach, PROVIDED that it still takes me where I want to go in the arc? To ignore it is to be inflexible.

I've stayed fluid. It's the same way I write a novel. You're just seeing the *process* acted out right in front of you, a process which normally the public never gets to see. That, I think, is some part of what you're reacting to.

[Text removed to avoid spoilers -- see the original message]

It's not just a matter of "living in interesting times." What makes a story is *causality*. A sequence of linked events. "The king died, and then the queen died" is not a story. "The king died, and then the queen died of grief" is a story. It is an arc, however small.

Finally, I'd just note the posts -- public and private -- from folks who have sat down and watched the *whole show* as a unit, once per day, or several per day...and the linked aspect, the real *arc* of the show, becomes far more apparent when watched that way right now. It's there.

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Last update: May 12, 1996