When I first set out to writing A 38 Day Education, my mission was that of making The Scope, a fictional newspaper based loosely on my own college newspaper, a character unto itself which could provide a sense of continuity for a story arc lasting several years – possibly up to a generation.
Now that I am fully into writing the finale of this series, Countdown to Eternity, I believe this mission is well on its way to being accomplished.
Strangely, I have one of my favorite science fiction series, Babylon 5, to thank for the inspiration for this arc. A 90s-era television drama, Babylon 5 redefined the whole concept of science fiction. For years, sci-fi had been the realm of Star Trek, Star Wars and myriad robo-action flicks, from Robocop, to Terminator, to Short Circuit. Despite being entertaining and often compelling stories, gimmickry was commonplace and, Star Wars and Star Trek aside, originality was often sorely lacking.
Then along came Babylon 5.
Never before had a television series taken on such an ambitious approach to storytelling; a time-limited, five year story arc which would have a definitive start and end. Never before had science-fiction explored, on television, concepts such as reincarnation, interstellar diplomacy, and the legends of ancient races considered god-like in such detail. It set the standard for future series (Star Trek: Enterprise), as well as some reboots (Battlestar Galactica).
How did J. Michael Straczynski succeed an arena in which so many others had failed? He did something remarkably unique – he reoriented the storytelling concept from an action-adventure style serial into a more soap opera-style model. Rather than using gimmicks to solve continuity problems, those gimmicks became conflicts themselves. One example, time-travel, was first used by Star Trek as a storytelling device, then frequently recycled, almost gimmick-like, to resolve continuity glitches. Babylon 5 did the reverse; in “Babylon Squared” and “War Without End, Parts 1&2,” rather than plot tool, time travel used almost as an antagonist itself; it was part and parcel to the conflict, rather than an actual means to a resolution.
Where this figures into my novel series is that the goal of my series is to redefine the way a media-based story is portrayed. Rather than take on the concept of a news anchor moonlighting in another job, a reporter turned superhero, or a radio host who is a psychiatrist or attorney by trade, The Scope series takes the newspaper itself and molds the characters to the organization, rather than mold the story to the character. While Jay Ferragamo, Anshana Davis, Layna Dearforth, Craig Johannson, Cassie Owinger, and the rest of the staff are central to the story, with The Scope newspaper itself is the true continuing character which experiences the story, with the staff expressing the will of the newspaper. Yet it is their lives which are affected by The Scope, and whose decisions actually allows for the newspaper’s evolution as a character.
The Scope series will redefine fiction set in the world of media by showing readers what life as a member of college media really is like – how some wash out and why, and the reason others excel and choose it as a passion. The mission of this series is not just to show the how of college media life, but why some journalists of today may have turned out as they have. Like Babylon 5, the characters each have their strengths and weaknesses. Jay’s reliance on his instinct and intuition is juxtaposed to his extreme insecurity and loneliness. Craig’s wisdom and experience is countered by his fiery disposition and near-plodding decision-making process. Anshana’s conservative politics are belied by her fear of being judged by not just fellow African-American students, but her family as well. Cassie Owinger and Layna Dearforth’s common strength, a gritty determination to tell the whole story, is often offset by the impulsive nature of their personalities, though Cassie is a bit more measured than Layna. While Andy Halston’s own laid-back attitude is offset by his somewhat indifferent attitude to important issues, it is his cohort, Kenny Strasburg, who experiences the truly relatable pain of the series, fighting a nascent battle with alcoholism while demonstrating a true desire to change his ways and attitude as the series progresses.
Even the antagonists are relatable. Dr. Earl Falconer, the President of South Central College, is a classic academic-turned-politician who is in over his head, and is frequently shown speaking out of both sides of his mouth. His successor, Dr. William J. Harting, will be revealed to be far, far worse, as well as egomaniacal. Danny Winters, President of Student Government, is a well-connected fraternity brother whose spine is weaker than the will he outwardly displays. His successor, Natasha Davidson, is a prototypical “old money” daughter in attitude and appearance, but whose family now must rely on their name for success rather than any real fortune, as the latter was destroyed in a long-running local legal dispute.
The Scope series will explore all sorts of issues, ranging from race relations to small-town politics, to the individual issues of lost love, depression, substance abuse, and bigotry. This series will be real as college can get, show the world was American university in the 1990s south was really like, and how, as the titles suggest, changes always rises, history always awaits, madness must be reflected upon, we must bid farewell to our memories at times and, in the end, it’s all about our countdown to our own personal eternity.
Like Babylon 5 was to science fiction, The Scope series is high literary risk, but the hope is that reading it will bring the reward of enlightenment and better understanding thanks to compelling stories with characters who personal twists and turns keep you turning the page.