I do admit to being a bit of a sci-fi geek. I saw the original Star Wars trilogy twice a week every week throughout my entire childhood. Modern sci-fi just can’t compare, with one exception: the short-lived series Firefly. I stumbled across reruns of this show and was so depressed to discover that it only ran for the one season, but I’ve learned so much from it. I understand why the fans of the show, known as Browncoats, are so dedicated. Firefly is, in essence, a sci-fi western. Some hi-tech, lots of low-tech, and no aliens. This show was very character-driven, and boy did they have some characters! The young, spoiled doctor. His schizophrenic yet brilliant younger sister. The much less brilliant and trigger-happy fighter. The list goes on, but the character that has influenced my writing the most was the main character, brilliantly portrayed by Nathan Fillion, Captain Malcolm Reynolds. Reynolds had fought on the losing side of an interplanetary civil war, and now he just wants to take his cargo ship and stay as far away from the central government as he can. He can be very witty and charming, then turn right around and be violent and insulting. As one of the passengers on his vessel once said, she never knew which personality she was going to have to deal with.
I learned something important from Captain Reynolds and Firefly: you don’t have to make people love, or even agree with your main character in order to have them cheer for them. I’m fairly certain that if Captain Reynolds and I had met in real life, he probably would have shot me, or at least hit me with a pool cue. I doubt we would have seen eye to eye on much. Even so, I cheered for that character throughout the show and the follow-up movie, Serenity. He was a character you would follow anywhere just because you felt that you should. I try to remember this whenever I am writing a new character. No character is perfect, so put a little bit of a bad side in them. They will be more real to the readers and they will still cheer for them. As Captain Reynolds once said, aim to misbehave!
Christopher Slater is a middle school history teacher, the inaugural winner of the AuthorsFirst novel writing contest, and one of the most distinctive voices we’ve seen. His debut novel PUP, is out June 16, 2015. Visit his website for more.