Thursday, August 7, 2008

You Ruined Everything for Me, Lt. Worf

I blame all of my shortcomings as a writer on Lieutenant Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Okay, maybe not all of them. But a significant shortcoming, which is this: I find it hard to give characters a “voice” that differs greatly from my own, and I find it hard to create characters who make predictable, inappropriate choices, even though many people in real life behave that way.

And it's Mr. Worf's fault. You remember Worf, right? The Klingon whose answer to everything was “attack it immediately,” whose motivation was some loosely-defined code of honor that made you wonder if Klingons weren't susceptible to that brain parasite that makes mice unafraid of cats so the parasite can reproduce in a feline digestive tract.

Because it was always the same damn thing, wasn't it? Picard would ask for suggestions and everyone—everyone, even Troi, another dreadful character—would be allowed by the writers to put forth interesting suggestions and solutions, but no, not Mr. Worf, for our Klingon friend it was always “Let's attack immediately.” I watched all seven years of TNG when I was a little kid and this never changed. Not once, not ever. For every situation, you could predict exactly what Worf was going to say. He was like Leonard Nimoy's poetry. And he'd never surprise you, not even within his milieu; he'd never say “The best military tactic—since I am the military-minded guy, I guess, because that's how the writers have weak-ass stereotyped me—is to stall for time in pointless negotiations until backup arrives and we can kill them easily.” No, it was always “Suggestions,” and Mr. Worf would be like “Let me float outside the hull and punch the enemy ship, Captain! Klingon fists are mighty!”

And it screwed me up, because I'm always looking to avoid a Mr. Worf; I always pore over my writing and make sure there's not some guy whose answer is always the same thing—or if it is the same thing, that it's not always stupid and inappropriate. It was like Worf was that chevalier kid from the D&D cartoon, written in to teach the viewer a valuable lesson about not being an artificially constructed dipshit with no character depth. And now I keep reacting against Worf, and I'm worried that I'm stripping the archetypal weight away from my characters. And avoiding stereotypes is good, but turning every character into a fully rational actor is terrible even in hard science fiction, and I don't write anything close to hard science fiction. So now I'm going the other way with my work, going back through it and making sure that all my characters have unique voices and approach situations from their unique point of view, because I spent so many years making sure I didn't produce another Mr. Worf that I inadvertently went too far in the opposite direction.

So my writing is worse because of you, Mr. Worf. Thanks.