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Old February 19 2014, 10:30 AM   #183
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Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

New subject...


I've been mulling on this for a while, but the recent "Duty Bound" episode of Potemkin reminded me of this topic so I thought it worth bringing up. Apologies to Dave Eversole (the credited writer) but the script opens on two of the most overused lines in Trek; lines which blandly go where everyone has gone before.

Here are a few candidates and why:

"Shields are down to nobodycares percent."
Roger Ebert said it back in 2002:
...I've also had it with the force shield that protects the Enterprise. The power on this thing is always going down. In movie after movie after movie I have to sit through sequences during which the captain is tersely informed that the front shield is down to 60 percent, or the back shield is down to 10 percent, or the side shield is leaking energy, and the captain tersely orders that power be shifted from the back to the sides or all put in the front, or whatever, and I'm thinking, life is too short to sit through 10 movies in which the power is shifted around on these shields...
"Reroute power from life support."
I presume this is supposed to communicate to us how dire the situation is if we're reduced to tapping the energy from the systems that keep us alive. But not only is it a overused contrivance, it's fundamentally stupid. How can the power needed to control the temperature, clean the air and maintain the (apparently indestructible) gravity generators possibly begin to compare to a power system which can move an aircraft carrier sized vehicle at 1000c? It would be like rerouting the power from charging your mobile phone to supplement the power it takes to run a laundromat full of industrial driers.

It's bad because it's trite, meaningless, technically illiterate, and people only use it because they've heard it so often they think it's just what you write in that situation.
"Admiral/Commodore Gueststar, how can the YetAnotherShip be of service?"
Several issues with this one...

The line and its variants are a cliché, but worse is what these lines invariably lead to.

First, this gimmick is most often done by popping up some guest star as top brass on a viewscreen. Its an easy way to get actors shot in different places and different times together in the same scene, but it's so overdone it's become not so much a Star Trek cliché but a Star Trek fanfilm cliché.

Second, these conversations are frequently overly chummy. Not everyone knows everyone else in the service, certainly not on a friendly basis.

Finally, and worst of all, it's dull. Watching people sit at desks Skypeing is visually inert.

It's usually far more dramatic to have the characters in the situation discuss their orders and the implications thereof than having the Captain argue back and forth with the Guest Brass and still inevitably be told "You have your orders."
"Damage to secondary hull/starboard power coupling/whatever"
Unless the damage specifically affects the story in a meaningful way (say, weapons knocked out so they can't fight their way out, forcing the Captain to take a different sort of risk), it's just noise.

Yes, there are fine scripts which have used all of these, but the occasional exception doesn't change the fact that in most cases every one of these could be replaced with something else and not be missed at all. When dialog is interchangeable, it's filler.

And therein lies the big problem with them: they're Mad Libs. Instead of writing lines which actually advance the story or tells us about the characters, many fan writers end up just recycling these prefabricated dialog packing peanuts which fill the scene with words but don't actually say anything.

Truman Capote's flip dismissal of Kerouac, "That's not writing, that's typing," could easily apply to these pernicious little banalities.

My challenge to fanfilm writers is to make an effort to not use these and their ilk. If you can quote a half dozen Trek segments where the line was used (unless it's some standard operating procedure like "Kirk to Enterprise,") then you should probably think of something else the characters should be saying. Your scenes may actually become better because you're actually writing conversation rather than just parroting stock lines, and when that happens then you truly are writing, not typing.
* * *
Well, I've been to one world fair, a picnic, and a rodeo, and that's the stupidest thing I ever heard come over a set of earphones."
—Major T. J. "King" Kong

Last edited by Maurice; February 20 2014 at 09:01 AM.
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