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Old October 4 2013, 06:04 PM   #1
David.Blue
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What Makes Good Writing?

Since folks want to discuss this, I thought an actual thread devoted to same made some sense.

Just to make it clear, I'm a playwright and reviewer as well as having worked on a five year "virtual spinoff" online (of Buffy).

Personally, and this is my own way of approaching things, good writing seems to me to boil down to character and rhythm.

By character I mean the specifics of how the lead characters as complex individuals react to the world around them. Please note how I worded that. Not "what they are like" and "how they look at things" but "how they react." Partially this comes from my theatre training. The people who play the parts are called actors not feelers or thinkers or be-ers (beings?). As in "to act." Said action can be subtle, may well consist of listening, but it needs to be a genuine reaction to what is happening.

Which brings me to rhythm. Consider breath. No one can breathe by exhaling all the time. You need to inhale. And you need the pauses between each. So too in terms of storytelling. The most compelling stories consist of an interplay between rising and falling action, between different levels and styles of energy to make a whole.

On of the best examples of how character interplays with action in Star Trek is in WOK when Kirk talks to people before the action suddenly picks up. When he discusses his age with Bones, the concept of humor with Saavik, taking command with Spock, how to meet a crisis with Carol Marcus and David and Saavik--all these create tension by leaving some question unresolved. More, they begin with something unsaid or some situation that increases tension. And each precede a period of rising action, when things get "exciting." Sometimes that is humorous (like Saavik taking the helm) or uplifting (Kirk taking command of Enterprise again) or thrilling (the windup to the final confrontation with Khan and Reliant).

What a writer should aim for is to integrate all this together without striking a lot of wrong notes. Character and rhythm need to work hand-in-hand.

For example, I've many problems with STID but the emotions of Kirk after seeing Pike die seemed totally clear-cut. His eagerness to break the rules out of revenge, to seize upon the excuse Admiral Marcus gives him seems totally spot on. What I don't quite like is how rushed the scenes seemed. Kirk came across as nothing but a fairly stupid hothead. Instead of someone with a genuine boiling fury, he looked and acted like someone perpetually on the edge, flying by the seat of his pants. The whole "letting Scotty go" felt rushed and frankly make subsequent actions scenes less effective. Nothing wrong with the idea, not at all. But the rhythm indicated a far less interesting and less identifiable character, while going for an explosion when a burning fuse seemed more appropriate.

It still worked. But IMHO a slight alteration would have worked better, by buidling tension rather than just another firecracker going off.

Now in the first Abrams Trek the meeting of Kirk and Bones worked very well indeed. The hectic getting onto the shuttles, the last minute decision by Kirk, the interaction between these two men who are both taking a big plunge into a new life--all that was like this lovely haiku of screenwriting. It really was very very good! And it was preceded by Kirk reacting without words to all sorts of things, including Pike's words to him and the sight of a starship under construction. Nice!

But look at how awkwardly it could be handled, this idea of dialogue setting things up. At its worst, all you get is exposition where someone shares facts and/or says how they feel. Frankly, this was a chronic problem in TNG, sooner or later showing up in the other Berman-Treks. I still cringe at Picard saying to Riker "Can you imagine--hating each other because of different economic systems?"

But that's my couple of pennies. Seems to me perfectly rational well-meaning folks can disagree. I for one hope to learn something from replies to this.
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