Warning: Minor spoilers for season one
It’s the year 2046, and Judy, the Robinson’s eldest daughter, is trapped inside a capsule, in the depths of a rapidly-freezing ocean… on a planet that is billions of light-years away from Earth.
Lost In Space follows the story of the Robinsons, a family of five who think they will find a better life in Alpha Centauri, and so join the journey of a group of colonists in the Resolute ship. But evidently, things go sideways (and with “things” I mean an alien robot attack), and they must evacuate. They crash land on an unidentified planet, where they will face the threats of an unknown environment and try to contact the Resolute, knowing fully well that they have their seconds counted.
Not to mention, the youngest member, Will, befriends an alien robot.
This reboot of 1965’s popular show is a Netflix series that just concluded its third and last season in 2021, and was written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. If you write science fiction (YA in particular), you might not only find this show entertaining but learn a thing or two as well.
I am a visual writer. I like to create boards for settings and characters. I need to have a scene fully fleshed out in my mind before typing it down, to a level in which I know how characters are moving and what the windows in the back look like.
The visual effects and CGI of Lost In Space are said to be fantastic, and even though I am no film expert, I can assure you that I found the exploration of new planets, the shots of outer space, and even the way the robot moves captivating. This show is a great source of inspiration, and therefore a good place to start thinking about worldbuilding. It expands its limits to the furthest places in the universe, which shows the viewer a fascinating diversity and new ecosystems, plus how humans react and adapt to them —even if for some miraculous reason most planets they visit are habitable.
Character Development & Relationships
Parents Maureen and Jhon were having a rocky period before leaving. Judy feels the pressure of people’s expectations to be responsible, confident, and perfect. Penny misses a life she knows she will never get back, and Will develops a peculiar bond with Robot. Plus, there is an unlikely character who gets stuck with the Robinsons. She is determined to survive and reach Alpha Centauri, no matter what she has to do to get there: Dr. Smith. Oh, and did I mention there is a smuggler who adopts a chicken?
Family dynamics are tricky to develop, and even more so if they are constantly under alien threats. I think there are three main things the series does right. First, it shows every character’s backstory through flashbacks now and then, and it connects it back to the narrative present through a certain phrase or object. Apart from showing the viewer the insights of a character, this technique helps us realize how they have changed over time. Second, each character has a different way of reacting to the new atmospheres, which are linked to their backstories. This would be included in the individual development of the characters. However, Lost In Space also allows the characters to develop together. Their situation demands that they work with each other, sometimes in smaller groups, sometimes with everyone. Their decisions will have an almost tangible impact on each other’s life.
What is at stake
This show does a great job reminding the viewers of the stakes just often enough for them to feel the pressure and root for the characters, but not be jaded by it. There is a general goal (getting to Alpha Centauri), but each episode will have the character facing a new challenge. There is barely an episode that is laid back, but that is what has kept viewers engaged. First, it presents the problem and allows the characters to make a plan. It balances out heavy fight-that-robot, pilot-that-ship moments with scenes that show backstory, dialogue between the characters, and scenes in which they explore on their own. It is the two latter ones that will show the viewer glimpses of what is at stake, and remind them of the limitations the characters have (oxygen running low, ship malfunctioning, lost communication, stubbornness, you name it). They show how badly they want to reach their destination, which will give them the motivation to survive those fight scenes.
There are two other things that this show does to remind us of the stakes. First, there is a fun, sarcastic character, that casually makes a witty comment about the consequences their failure might have. It is enough to give a reminder to the viewers without distracting them from the current action. Second, they make sure that every episode ends with a cliffhanger. A reveal, a menace, a detail a character overlooked and might cost their life. The viewer automatically knows how messed up things have just become, and wants to watch the next episode.
Prompt: Try giving your characters a time limit to accomplish a task, then have a character look at the timer once or twice while completing an action.
Being Realistic Enough
As I have explained above, each character has their own way of adapting to a problem. Every character has a different type of intelligence and has different expertise. This helps them solve problems, but it is also a way to explain the “scientific” part of your WIP to your readers. Oftentimes, the show would pair two characters that know different areas. Say, geology and engineering. When they face a challenge, one of them will explain a possible solution to the other. Character A isn’t expected to know a lot about B’s field, but neither is the viewer. Explanations aren’t hard for them to follow, which also means less research on the writer’s side. And, even if they get a bit too technical, the focus is on the dynamics of the characters rather than on the science behind it all. This allows the writer to craft a scene thinking about their character’s type of intelligence, and create the perfect circumstances to use a particular piece of information.
Note: More about the last point in Brandon Sanderson’s How do I write someone who’s smarter than I am?
However, Lost In Space does not always follow strictly scientifical foundations. It tends to travel into a “sense of wonder” zone, in which some events take time to be explained (and with that I mean three seasons), or do not get explained at all. However, it doesn’t conflict with the narrative, because the characters are discovering these mysteries with the readers.
Lost In Space might not be for everyone. I won’t say it is perfect. It gets a little repetitive and follows a similar plotline between episodes. But I enjoyed it for the visual effects, the exploration of new worlds, the character dynamics, and the fact that I was understanding what was going on most of the time (which is not that common in science fiction). I would recommend Lost In Space for YA science fiction writers who want to gain knowledge in the characteristics mentioned above, are looking for a source of inspiration, and are curious about what would befriending a robot feel like.
is a young planster with too much passion and too little time on a day. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, whether they are thoroughly researched flash fiction pieces or improvised bedtime stories.
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