I finished the last episode of Firefly last night, and then watched the special features in which Joss Whedon discussed the making of the series, the putting together of the cast and characters and designing of the universe and ship.
Very interesting. Fascinating, actually, in that it was a compelling and tremendously engaging and enjoyable show, and that listening to Whedon provided me with some tantalizing insight into how to go about putting together such a group of characters.
For one, he originally meant to have a crew of five, but after further reflection decided to up the crew to nine members. The larger group allowed him to develop greater dynamics and complexities that were crucial in trying to keep a small group interesting while trapped in a spaceship for long periods of time. Had he limited himself to five he would have set himself up for the writer’s version of claustrophobia, something I can definitely emphasize with in terms of what I went through with Crude Sunlight: after a couple of hundred pages with just Buck, Julia, and Thomas I wanted to scream. Enough! Give me greater variety!
Second, he viewed certain characters as performing basic functions within the group, exemplifying certain qualities. Kaylee was earthy, open, loving and served to enforce the group’s sense of family; in effect she was that urge, that bond made manifest. Book the Shepherd was the group’s conscience, while Jayne was the more visceral id, the group’s direct, crude force.
You can’t shoehorn each character neatly into such categories, but some of them worked in such manner and as a result you developed a compelling group dynamic. Whedon is sufficiently talented that each character seems to be at once a stereotype and yet completely original at the same time. One could say that he creates stereotypes.
Is there a formula to be gleamed from all this? I thought so until I reflected further and realized that the maxims only held up if I was looking to build a crew for a small spaceship. The whole seems simple and obvious and yet perfect only for that specific scenario. Gives one a good idea as to Joss Whedon’s talent.