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Characterization in the Legacy Series

A reader asks, "I was wondering how you and your co-writers discussed and agreed upon the characterization for SGA canon characters in the Legacy series. Specifically, the show gave five years of (occasionally inconsistent) personal canon to draw on. How do you work with what may appear to be set in stone versus what parts of the character you feel leave you room for interpretation? An example (and this may be a bad one): the majority of Sam's and John's interaction in the series that I recall at the moment was superior/subordinate based. You knew he respected her and she valued his input but you never saw them really interact off-duty. You gave them a very nice moment wherein John talks to Sam about his record when he comes aboard the Hammond."

That's a great question! First, we did a lot of talking -- by email, on the phone, and in person -- about what we thought of various points of characterization in order to get on the same page. That's the single most important thing when you're talking about nearly 3/4 of a MILLION words written by different people in a single storyline! The characterization has to be consistent. Ronon can't have one motivation on one page and a different one four chapters later, or Teyla seem to be an entirely different character in Allegiance than she was in The Lost. To the reader, this will just look crappy.

And so we had to make some decisions about things that were inconsistent in canon. For example, one of the big problems with Jennifer is that her backstory as presented in Trio seems entirely at odds with her backstory as presented in Quarantine. There are two different Jennifers with two sets of things that make her tick. We had to put those two pieces together and come out with a coherent interpretation of who she is, and then all write that.

Toward that end, we tended to give one person (generally the one who loved that character most) final say on what that character would or wouldn't do or say. That went as far as having that person write key scenes for them even when it wasn't her book and she wasn't getting cover credit. For example, Melissa wrote a couple of key Rodney scenes in The Furies even though it was my book! Also, Teyla was "my character" and the others checked with me on their Teyla scenes in Allegiance, "Would Teyla do that?"

In terms of what's "set in stone" in canon -- there are a lot of things we simply don't know. For example, we have no idea what Cadman's family background is. We have no idea what happened to John's mother. She's not there in Outcast. Surely if she were alive and married to John's father she'd be at the funeral and John would either be interacting with her, or it would be a big deal that he isn't speaking. That she's absent and never mentioned says a lot. If they're divorced, surely she'd still be there for her sons unless there were significant estrangement. If there were, surely Dave would say, "John, you've got to call mom. This is the first time you've been around in two and a half years, and you've got to talk to her." So my thought is that she's dead. That's the thing that makes the most sense with what canon gives us, and it also gives John a character point. He has no one on Earth, and at the beginning of the series there is nobody who is there for him. I think his mother would have been, but she's gone. But he is still her son, still the product of one loving and engaged parent.

Sam and John -- It's interesting from the beginning, because in general John is kind of suspicious of authority and of his superiors in the chain of command. But in Adrift he's clearly so glad to see Sam and clearly already trusts her that I think they must already know each other. When she comes to Atlantis, John is pleased rather than suspicious. Sam's already in his good books in a way that Woolsey isn't when he arrives. Our take on that is that he's met her in the course of the previous seasons, probably during The Return when he was at the SGC in what is season ten of SG-1. He could hardly be there long at his rank and not deal with Sam! In those weeks, offscreen and of no importance to the story being told in those episodes, John must have gotten to know her and formed a good opinion. Then, over the course of season 4, he reaches a level of professional comfort where in Search and Rescue he tells her that she's the best superior officer he's ever had (but he's about to disobey her order). And she lets him go. This is rising to a level of respect, the best boss level, but it's not truly personal friendship and it can't be because of the chain of command. So in the Legacy series, one thing that is developing and can give John yet another tie is the personal friendship. She has the Hammond and he works for Woolsey. They're colleagues rather than superior and subordinate. And Sam is beginning to see him as an actual friend -- which is why it's a big deal when she sideways tells him about her decision to get engaged to Pete apropos of Rodney's relationship catastrophe. When people have just been through something traumatic they sometimes make horrible relationship decisions. Sam got engaged to this guy she wasn't in love with and then dumped him dreadfully half a season later. John probably blew up his marriage with Nancy. Rodney looks like he's blowing up his relationship with Jennifer. They've reached the point where they can put their heads together as real friends about that, where this can tentatively grow beyond professional respect to actual friendship. (FRIENDSHIP! We certainly don't mean to imply anything more between John and Sam.)

So I suppose the answer to your question is that we hashed out all the inconsistent canon and had to decide what we thought. Each of us had characters we loved best that we were the final say on. I had Teyla and Sam, Melissa had Rodney and Guide, and Amy had Ronon and Jennifer. We all sort of split John. And I think it came out pretty well in terms of being consistent for nearly 700,000 words!

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( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
whatthefaith
Feb. 4th, 2013 01:13 pm (UTC)
Well, shoot! Didn't expect my question to end up here but thanks :). Awesome answer and I really appreciate the glimpse into how you guys worked on characterization. (and it's pretty darn seamless from my end :)).
jo_graham
Feb. 5th, 2013 05:48 pm (UTC)
That's where the questions come from! :)

I'm glad you find it seamless, thank you!
glaucon2063
Feb. 4th, 2013 06:10 pm (UTC)
Interesting stuff! I was wondering about the characters' backgrounds a while ago actually, and how you and your co-authors had worked everything out, so it's really nice to get some insight into the writing process like this. Was there any particular way you went about choosing which colleges the characters attended? I mean, canon establishes that Sam and Cam went to the Academy, but unless I'm mistaken Legacy is the first source that establishes that John (and Mel) went to UCLA, and that Cadman went to Florida State and Ford went to Georgia Tech rather than Annapolis. Did you or any of your co-authors have links with those colleges, or were they just random picks?
jo_graham
Feb. 5th, 2013 05:59 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you think it's interesting.

The place I started with John's school is his accent. John clearly has a western accent. He's not from the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast or South or Midwest -- his accent is really clearly Western, and not the southwest either. Oklahoma, for example, is entirely different. He sounds like California or Nevada. So I started with California. Only one major school in the California state university system had Air Force ROTC in 1988 -- UCLA. Other schools had Navy or something, but UCLA was the only one with Air Force. UCLA fit with his accent and with what we know about him academically -- John is smart but not academic. He's the kind of kid who got into a top state school. Which UCLA is. So all those pieces fit together.

With Laura Cadman I started with the accent again. She sounds like Florida, just as Ford's accent said Atlanta to me. When John visited his sister, his sister's accent and bearing said Atlanta, a smart girl who's probably AKA or a Delta. Georgia Tech has a really strong Marine ROTC contingent that turns out exemplary officers, and I could see Ford being part of that. I thought Cadman seemed more like Florida State, a second tier school rather than top tier or the Academy because she's not confident and pressured enough to be coming from there. She strikes me as someone who's had a less rarified life, a working class kid who went to a state school and has gotten here entirely on her own merit rather than on expectations, if that makes sense?
glaucon2063
Feb. 5th, 2013 07:54 pm (UTC)
Well I'm a Brit who's never actually been to America, so I have a bit of difficulty identifying and placing some of the American accents on the show, but what you say totally makes sense! Also, it really shows just how much research you and your co-authors have done to help make Legacy that much better! Thanks for that. Character backgrounds on TV and in literature can sometimes be quite inconsistent, so it's really nice to see that someone's given serious thought to it all in Legacy!

By the way, I can't remember if it's ever mentioned where Major Lorne went to college? His command style seems an interesting mix of by-the-book and flexible, which is probably what you need to be a senior officer in Pegasus! That said Lorne does strike me as more formal than John, and Caldwell seems to be less wary around him than he is with John - but I'm not sure if that's because Lorne might have gone to the Academy or perhaps more because of Sheppard's past in Afghanistan. What do you think?
jo_graham
Feb. 6th, 2013 03:01 pm (UTC)
I think that's how it rolls -- I know when I watch British TV that I'm supposed to be able to tell something about the characters by the way they speak, but I can't actually hear the nuances or know what they mean. I'm sure to you it's perfectly clear whether the detective is from Scotland or London, from a posh public school background or working class! But I can't tell the difference between Cockney and Cornish! :)

On Stargate the accents are really pretty telling and are a fairly good cross section of who you'd actually meet in the service. The only accent I can't hear at all, the one that sounds "normal" to me, is Cameron Mitchell's because it's my own accent! I'm from a few miles from Ben Browder's hometown, and apparently in real life I sound just like Cam.

Also the costumers do a generally excellent job of showing social class in really subtle ways. For example, in Outcast all the men at John's father's funeral are wearing really expensive DC suits. You can see from the tailoring and the conservative style that this is actually posh, actually real money. John's suit stands out like a sore thumb! It's off the rack, a couple of hundred dollars, a department store suit that a middle class man would buy to wear to church or funerals. John's suit completely underscores and points out the theme of the episode, how out of place he is in this world.

I'm not sure about Lorne. I don't think he quite has the Academy polish, if you know what I mean? I would guess he also went to a very good state school, possibly also UCLA. But unlike John, Lorne spent those years at the SGC under intense scrutiny, and I think he's learned to present himself in a way that inspires confidence. Think about the SG-1 episode Avalon part 1, the way Cam comes in. That's Academy grad all the way. Not just that he's gotten his uniform tailored (which he clearly has), but the bearing and the posture and the demeanor in dealing with a general. Landry's trying to shake him, and he can't quite. Sheppard would not play it that way. Lorne could, at this point in his career, but Lorne wouldn't have his uniform tailored.

Interesting discussion! Does this all make sense?
whatthefaith
Feb. 6th, 2013 03:21 pm (UTC)
Those are some really interesting observations about accent, style of dress, etc. I like where you went with Lorne.

I am originally from SoCal but have lived in various places around the South for almost 15 years now and have been told my accent is now a bizarre mix of "dude" and "y'all" :). Plus, the verb "fixin'" seems to have crept into my vocabulary (!) but I still hear SoCal when I talk even if others don't.

I went back and watched Outcast again after reading one of your earlier posts about the difference in suits and did see it. I think I also remember John fixing his tie or buttoning his suit coat in front of his father's casket and it struck me as a throwback to how his father might have insisted on the proper "look" when John was younger; it almost seemed a subconscious act. There were a whole series of rules that seemed to be just under the surface in those scenes at the wake and John appeared to be caught kind of in between. He hasn't followed them for years yet they are such a part of his make-up that it's difficult to resist some of the more seemingly innocuous of them.
jo_graham
Feb. 6th, 2013 08:59 pm (UTC)
Yeah, accents definitely creep! Apparently in real life I sound just like Ben Browder, though I don't hear any accent at all when he talks! :)

Yes, that! John's gestures, his rules under the surface as you put it. I definitely see that.

I think the costumers did a fantastic job using the nuances to convey so much.
glaucon2063
Feb. 6th, 2013 06:37 pm (UTC)
Very interesting! And yes, it all makes sense. The accents thing is totally right.

You're right about the costumes as well - I hadn't noticed that attention to detail the first time I watched 'Outcast' but on second viewing it's clear they did a great job.

Same thing with the Class-A uniforms - Mitchell is definitely wearing a tailored uniform in 'Avalon'. I think the only time we see Sheppard and Lorne in dress uniform is in 'Sunday', at Carson's funeral, but we don't get a very good look at them. In fact, I tried to get a look at their service ribbons one time, but there was never a close-up shot as far as I recall.

Speaking of that episode, a while back I stumbled upon a tag to 'Sunday' on another LJ that I think might be yours, where the guys visit a bar in Colorado Springs and get into some trouble. Obviously I won't mention where it is, but am I right in thinking that it's yours?

I think you're right that Lorne's time at the SGC did stand him in good stead for later life - his CO in 'Enemy Mine', Colonel Edwards, seemed like a total hardass, kind of like Caldwell actually. Oh, and by the way, Lorne's back story in 'Death Game' is total genius - of course Michael and Jenny from '1969' are his parents!

Looking back to Mitchell, at the start of 'Avalon' Cam is definitely a total Academy grad! Still, it's pretty funny to contrast how poised he is with Landry there with how awkward he is when they have to spend time together at Jack's cabin in 'Uninvited'!
jo_graham
Feb. 7th, 2013 05:46 pm (UTC)
Yeah, we don't get a good look at Sheppard and Lorne's uniforms in Sunday. Sam's is tailored when she arrives in Atlantis, as it didn't used to be in early seasons of SG-1, like Secrets. I think that makes sense -- she didn't have the money then and most young captains don't afford a tailor for obvious reasons!

Heh. Yes, I think you're thinking of a story that's mine. Certainly I wrote one where Lorne, Sheppard, Ronon and Zelenka go to a bar in Colorado Springs and get into trouble! Thanks for not linking, as that's my fannish identity.

Cam is very much the golden boy in Avalon! I love Cam and haven't gotten to write him very much, though I feel like he moved into my brain and stayed there. (See Lost Things....) Heh.
jetnova16
Feb. 4th, 2013 06:30 pm (UTC)
It still seems that John and Teyla are very good for each other and should be together.
jo_graham
Feb. 5th, 2013 06:00 pm (UTC)
You will have to wait and see what happens! I'm not spoiling that! :)
jetnova16
Feb. 5th, 2013 08:04 pm (UTC)
I know, I just hope I will be happy with the out come, lol. :P
I know what I'd like to see, just got to wait and see!

********

I know I didn't like the whole Trip and T'Pol thing in Star Trek Enterprise, hate how it's relaunch books don't realize the events of the series final are set 10 years after the Enterprise NX-01 first launched in 2151 and is like 5-6 years after the episode before the series final. They don't get that by the last episode the Earth-Romulan War is over, Trip is really dead then, can't be a hoax, and that Trip and T'Pol mutually ended their relationship years prior to the series final.

Captain Jonathan Archer and Commander T'Pol SHOULD be together and since it hadn't happened on screen, I made my own fan fiction relaunch novel and they are together happily married with a daughter!
sekiharatae
Feb. 7th, 2013 01:15 am (UTC)
Hi there!

I'm not sure where would be a good place to leave this question... but it sort of borderlines characterization (in this case, how the Wraith are characterized) so I thought I'd slip it in here. Hope you don't mind! ^^;

I really like how you portray elements of Atlantis as viewed through the Wraith-lens: How Carter, Weir, Keller and Teyla become Queens, and John Consort. What I'm wondering, though, is if this is specific to Atlantis, or if they view all human interaction this way? I can see how arguments could possibly be made for both. I tend to think it's more the former than the latter in Legacy, though... and if that is the case, if you didn't mind sharing your reasoning, I think it would be really interesting to read.

I apologize if this is already explained elsewhere. I only just purchased volumes four and five and it's been, well, over a year since Allegience, so my recollection may be fuzzy.

As a last note, I just wanted to thank you for this blog, and the chance to talk with you and ask questions like these. That's wonderful!

Edited at 2013-02-07 01:15 am (UTC)
jo_graham
Feb. 7th, 2013 05:55 pm (UTC)
Wow, that's an interesting question! I think different hives have different degrees of contact with different human societies, and so there's a wide range of interaction. On top of that, I think some groups of worshippers that spend a lot of time with the Wraith have designed their social structures on a Wraith model, either in imitation or because that's how the Wraith prefer it. For example, the worshippers who keep the Wraith shipyards are mostly male with a female overlady.

One thing that struck us early on was how much respect all the Wraith accord Elizabeth and Sam rather than John and the other men. Often they more or less dismiss the men or ignore them. I think that's part of a pervasive cultural bias that of course the women are the ones with the real authority -- which is reinforced by their dealings with Elizabeth and Sam! Elizabeth and Sam are John's bosses. That's true.

I think the key scene for me is the one in The Seer when, despite Woolsey's skepticism, Sam hands Todd his orders. He gives her no trouble at all. She behaves like a Wraith queen, and he treats her like one. (even flirting a little) Which leaves Woolsey speechless and ignored! Later on, chasing the Attero Device, Todd ignores Woolsey and addresses Jennifer. I think it's their underlying cultural assumption.

And thank you for asking!
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )