Apr 4, 2016

Plotting and Story Structure: Babylon 5

I've been watching Babylon 5 again, and I'm in awe of J. M. Straczynski's plot arcs and character arcs. I've been trying to learn about story structure, so I thought I'd try to study it in a bit more detail.

!Probably needless to say, but major spoilers ahead!

My first attempt looked like this:

So way too complicated. There are many overlapping story arcs here, so I decided to focus on the Shadow War one. Here's what I think the structure looks like:

The Shadow War: 

Morden appears: What do you want?-> Londo takes the bait-> The attack on the Narn outpost-> The Narn/Centauri war-> The Shadows have Anna Sheridan-> Bomb goes off and John Sheridan almost dies, is rescued by Kosh. Revelation: Vorlons look like angels -> Death of Kosh # 1 at the hands of the Shadows-> forging of the alliance-> Shadows attack openly-> Sheridan goes to Z'Ha'dum, blows up the Shadow city,  and dies-> Sheridan's resurrection-> Revelation: Lords of Order vs. Lords of Chaos-> The Vorlons start destroying Shadow influenced worlds, not caring for civilian casualties -> Final Battle, Sheridan refuses to choose between Shadows/Vorlons "Get the hell out of our galaxy!"-> the First Ones leave

That doesn't look too complicated, but you have to remember, there are lots of other story arcs running parallel to that one. We have:

The War against Earth:

Murder of President Santiago by VP Clark -> Nightwatch, the Political Office-> propaganda and terror->  B5 breaks away ->  Sheridan frees the colonies-> goes to free Earth-> betrayal by Garibaldi-> tortured-> Freed by Garibaldi, Lyta, and Franklin ->Sheridan's forces takes back Earth-> Clark kills himself-> Sheridan is forced to resign from Earthforce-> becomes Alliance president

Londo's Fall into Darkness and his Redemption:

Agrees to work with Morden to bring back the glory days of the Centauri Republic-> the war against the Narns, the death of the old emperor raises madman Cartagia to the Centauri throne-> distances himself from the Shadows-> the death of Adira -> Kills Refa -> makes deal with G'Kar to kill the mad emperor-> kicks the Shadows off Centauri Prime -> becomes Emperor-> ruled over by the Shadows' allies -> Let's Sheridan and Delenn go -> asks G'Kar to kill him and dies for his people

G'Kar's quest to free Narn

Narns lose the war-> tries to gather military support/diplomatic support -> anger at Mollari , but controls himself-> ready to sacrifice himself for his people-> convinced to stay on B5-> religious epiphany "Some must be sacrificed if all are to be saved" -> admitted to the war council -> helps with war effort/sacrifices Narn forces for the common good -> becomes religious leader-> makes deal with Mollari to kill the emperor in exchange for Mollari freeing Narn, loses his eye in the process and suffers greatly -> frees his people

Sinclair and the First Shadow War

Revelation that Minbari souls are being born into humans makes the Minbari surrender after taking Sinclair onboard-> Delenn's transformation to human-> Babylon 4 is lost in time-> becomes First Ranger, lives on Minbar ->  gets letter from himself from the past-> second visit to Babylon 4 ->  goes back in time with the station, changes into a Minbari and becomes Valen -> helps win the first Shadow War

Delenn and the Minbari Civil War

The Religious Caste orders the surrender to the humans because Minbari souls are being born into human bodies, don't tell the Warrior Caste why-> transformation into human-> dismissed from the Grey Council->  The Shadow War/breaking of the Grey Council -> The Religious Caste fights, trouble with the leadership of the Rangers-> Civil War -> goes to Minbar, is ready to die for her people, but Neroon sacrifices himself for her->ends the war

Bester and the Telepaths

Hunts for rogue telepaths-> the underground railroad-> "weapons parts," the Shadows are vulnerable to telepaths, Bester's lover is among the modified telepaths-> brainwashes Garibaldi into betraying Sheridan so he can seize the virus that be used to turn telepaths into a slave race-> frees Garibaldi-> the Telepath War

There's also the Nightwatch storyline, Franklin's drug problem, Garibaldi's betrayal of Sheridan and his redemption, the Sheridan/Delenn love affair, Ivanova's struggle to cope with her mother's death and her relationship with Talia, Vir running an underground railroad to save Narns, and so much more.

The series has amazing depth, and weaves the side plots effortlessly into the main plot.  In addition to this masterful plot, the characters are fascinating and likeable, and the world-building is intricate and detailed.

To write a novel, one should probably be able to handle a similar construction. There's a lot to learn here. Luckily, it's a fun lesson.

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