(last edited December 6, 2010)

Writing Battlestar Galactica

The following is a collection of quotes and paraphrases from the header writer and executive producer, Ronald D. Moore, of Battlestar Galactica, during his podcasts of the mini-series and Season Two episodes.

This is a work-in-progress.

  1. Reality
  2. Characters
    1. Number Six
    2. Gaius Baltar
    3. Lee Adama
    4. Bill Adama
    5. Colonel Tigh
  3. Story Structure
  4. Science Fiction Genre
  5. Do the opposite of what the audience expects
  6. Influential Movies
    1. Touchstones
    2. Other
  7. Structure
  8. Not yet categorized
  9. Episode Story Outlines


Docu-style approach -- Star Trek distanced the audeince from reality. Battlestar Galactica runs by the rule that everything must be real. The rule that the audience should never be aware of the camera does not entirely apply for this show.

Behavior of people. Find human bits of business to flesh out -- texture. Disordered mess gives a difference science fiction.

Much of science fiction has sex but mostly it's innuendo and fetischism, but when real characters have real sex in science fiction, people are alarmed.

Fate of humanity and weakness of sin.

Story doesn't have a lot of futurism. Their culture is a sister culture of Earth. This strips away the artifice that distances the audience from the drama. The nature of the story is that it's the end of the world. Everyone has lived through the trauma of 9/11 -- it's a wolf from the blue. Play as truthful as you can.

The text of the story is realistic -- it takes the opera out of space opera.

Let them get to the truth of it. Sometimes the actors can find the truth more than the writer.

When there is trauma, you are looking for ways out -- this is how people behave. People are shocked when they participate in trauma; they are disoriented.

If you say someone has cancer, you immediately become grounded -- people are chilled and scared. You can't be afraid of photon torpedos.

Iconography of nuclear war -- images of mushroom clouds reinforce fear. A photon torpedo reinforces an artificial world.

The focus is on the people. The texture of the people. There's something human about looking at someone who is running from a mushroom cloud while carrying books and not understanding why that's important.

The drama shows real jeapordy -- not tv jeapordy.

The audience knows we're capable of killing main characters. The jeapordy is real.

Show people dying.

This isn't a video game. People die. There are consequences to our decisions.

Don't avert your eyes.

Everything is visceral. Guns have real bullets. When they hit someone you see real blood and body parts.

While it would be cool to see some extravaganza, the more human the performace says more than 100 explosions.

Many of the character beats add humanity. Good writing emphasizes reactions, not false heroics.

There are consequences to every decision. The hero might say we have to leave all people behind to die in a nuclear blast. Then intercut that with the characters who are left behind to see the effects of the decisions that you make.

Things don't always go well for real people.

Characters have emotions.

The note to the fleet informing them that they're under attack is based on a real note: "Air raid. Pearl Harbor. This is no joke."


All about human relationships.

Plug the actors into the role and let them get to know their character.

You want heros to be in control, but real life is messy. Characters can't react perfectly on every script.

The character must sell it.

Unusual characters that you don't often see in the science fiction genre or in television in general.

Thinking about relationship -- texture. Put the characters in akward positions. Break the archetypes as much as possible. education degree* engineering degree * art degree * business management degree* criminal justice school Textures and characters.

The story is about the character and the choices they make.

Family relationships work because they have baggage and they know each other and it colors their choices.

Put characters together with opposite traits and let them deal with the human problems naturally.

Be willing to let your characters change, shift, and roll with the situations.

Provide more humanity and expand language of characters.

Number Six

Number Six's presence builds menace. Reminds you of the shark in the water. She is not a contrived purient thing -- she envies humans and wants to destroy them at the same time. Six's presence isn't logical. The audience applies meaning.

Number Six is a robot who is needy, emotional, and in love.

Gaius Baltar

Balthar, the villain is not inherentrly evil -- he's not malevolent -- he's narcissistic and pathologically full of himself.

Balthar is ambiguous on the page. He was blind to his weakness, at the top of his game scientifically, and good on camera. But he's also funny and likeable.

Lee Adama

Actor plays role of Lee Adama with a bit of unlikeability.

Bill Adama

Adama is monastic but pines for home and hearth. For Adama you have the real cost of that unlike Capt. Picard or Kirk where you know they could never suffer from accepting Captain. Adama is working on retirement and disengaging himself from the fleet -- this is his great dilemma.

Colonel Tigh

The XO is deeply flawed. He's a functional drunk. He's a hard-ass. Adama is not.

Story Structure

The scenes are structured and tight. The story is very traditional. The characters go from A to B to C and you can really grab onto that. In this series it is compressed -- father and son relationship of Lee and Bill includes death/mourning/regret/and revenge.

The shark attack -- audience is waiting for the other shoe to drop. Technique named after "Jaws" where a dead body shows up on the beach in the beginning. Audience wants to know why.

Beginning was behaviorial -- leads into a traditional story.

Don't cut things in an MTV way and have an hour of writing a cause and effect essay story on the cutting-room floor.

Let action happen backstage -- not everything has to happen on the page.

Don't make things clear. Don't make things logical. The audience will apply meaning.

The story is told from Galactica's point-of-view.

Write out beats, physically, what is happening.

Tie up everyone's stories.

Violate logic and give it texture.

Science Fiction Genre

Don't get trapped by the genre.

The show is refreshingly analog. Weapons lifted from Blade Runner.

When the ship listens to the crackling pilots while fighting, this is lifted from Star Wars.

Break away from the Star Trek model. The choices of how you make Star Trek in the 1969s is how everyone did it thereafter. For BG, that is not the way it works.

Battlestar Galactica has no "Scottie" moment where someone explains everything away with technobabble. The audience will see someone do something tactical to solve a problem.

The goal was to make it different than other space operas. The network (Sci-Fi Channel) wanted a new creative approach from their other space shows.

Cut against traditional space opera.

Don't make it look like any other sci-fi on television.

Not a standard television sequence.

Do the opposite of what the audience expects

When the audiences expects the hero to be in a dogfight, kill him in a huge slaughter.

When Laura gets power, it's because those who you least expect to have power, achieve it. She steps up to the challenge and we see her making it up as she goes along.

Laura as command of the civilians and Adama as command of the military creates conflict where one person cannot have major trauma. When you expect one point-of-view, you will probably see another.

Influential Movies


Black Hawk Down Aliens Blade Runner


Crimson Tide Mutiny on the Bounty Star Wars Star Trek Silent Running Das Boote Jaws Hornblower Full Metal Jacket Apocalypse Now


A and B storylines.

The "A" story.

Following specific characters POV.

Add more texture, pathos, and humanity: moody, interesting, insight, struggle.

Pushes the mythos forward.

Anti-ethical textures. The subtext. At the end they simply take a rest -- heros take a rest.

You have to care about the scene and ask the hard questions.

What is the nature of the crisis and when should it begin?

Satisfy the audience but challenge them. Keep them guessing, interested, and wanting to know what will happen next.

The character must sell himself to the audience.

Pulling against expectations.

The audience expects Kara and Lee to grow together and become lovers. Instead, they grow farther apart.

Not yet categorized

Villains behave heroicially in crisis moments. Balthar calls his lawyer in a crisis.

An important beat is when Adama asks who are we really?

The resonance reading post-9/11. A deepening of the American experience -- loss -- was Al Quaeda right about us?

The show is a comment on humanity, escapist sometimes, it's about something, it's about us.

The show comes down to the characters that you care about, events and twists that make you want to turn the page.

See the civil and military world in collision. Civilian control of the military is important.

Take a breath and hold each other.

We never answered the question: Is Number Six a chip in his head or not?

Indication of the irony.

A lot of things that we setup are now being resolved.

People develop justifications by free essay writing ideas.

That's a delicate line -- While the hero, Adama, is being tricked by Balthar and trusts him, the audeince knows that he is being played. Keeping it so that Adama does not look stupid because of that is not easy to accomplish.

Story prevails.

Pacific Battles, WWII.

Not go too downbeat.

Episode Story Outlines

Two-part episode from Season Three (episodes 11 and 12)

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Edited December 6, 2010 (diff)