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Trek Literature "...Good words. That's where ideas begin."

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Old November 15 2013, 06:41 PM   #16
Greg Cox
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Re: Writing questions

Beginnings are tricky. You want to give the reader what they need to know without bogging things down. I'm not sure there's a one-size-fits-all solution, but a couple of tips:

1) Consider what the reader needs to know NOW, in just this scene, as opposed to overloading the first scene with lots of elaborate backstory that may or may not be relevant at the moment. There's an old writers workshop cliche that most books can be improved by lopping off the first chapter or prologue and there's some truth to this. It is good that you, the author, know all about the culture and biology and personal history of your alien first officer, but don't feel obliged to try to cram it all in the first scene. Especially if the ship is on fire!

2) Consider what your Point-of-View (POV) character is going to be noticing at this moment. If the ship is under attack, chances are the captain isn't going to be rhapsodizing about the lustrous auburn hair of the beautiful yeoman, or musing about his troubled childhood on Alpha Centauri. That alien warship that's bearing down on them right now? That's probably got his full attention. Feel free to describe it in detail.

3) In general, start with broad strokes. You can fill in the details and nuances as the book goes on.

4) As a rule, I try to at least sketch in the setting by the second paragraph or so. I hate having bodiless voices talking in a void. Let us visualize where we are.

5) As a STAR TREK writer, you have the option of being able to quickly set up the basic situation via a quick Captain's Log entry. "Stardate 3284.4. We are responding to a distress signal from a Federation colony near the Klingon border . . . ." Just keep it short and to the point. Don't go overboard trying to explain 100 years of interplanetary politics. (My log entries are seldom more than one paragraph long.)

Hope that helps.
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Old November 15 2013, 08:38 PM   #17
Christopher
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Re: Writing questions

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
4) As a rule, I try to at least sketch in the setting by the second paragraph or so. I hate having bodiless voices talking in a void. Let us visualize where we are.
That's an area where I often fall short -- establishing the setting clearly. I was surprised when the Only Superhuman audiobook had background sounds suggesting a crowded restaurant in a scene that I'd envisioned as a private brunch in a character's home. Evidently I was too vague about the setting.


5) As a STAR TREK writer, you have the option of being able to quickly set up the basic situation via a quick Captain's Log entry. "Stardate 3284.4. We are responding to a distress signal from a Federation colony near the Klingon border . . . ."
I thought the editors these days preferred to avoid opening with a log entry, since it's become kind of a cliche.

Just keep it short and to the point. Don't go overboard trying to explain 100 years of interplanetary politics. (My log entries are seldom more than one paragraph long.)
I'm reminded of The Abode of Life by "Lee Correy" (G. Harry Stine). I may be exaggerating, but my memory of it is that virtually every chapter opened with a log entry that rambled on for a page or two and went into a lot more depth than we needed. It got to the point that when I re-read the book, I'd often just skip over the log entries.
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Old November 15 2013, 09:43 PM   #18
Greg Cox
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Re: Writing questions

Christopher wrote: View Post

5) As a STAR TREK writer, you have the option of being able to quickly set up the basic situation via a quick Captain's Log entry. "Stardate 3284.4. We are responding to a distress signal from a Federation colony near the Klingon border . . . ."
I thought the editors these days preferred to avoid opening with a log entry, since it's become kind of a cliche.
Really? I've begun almost every one of my Trek books that way, at least as soon as I check in with the Enterprise crew, and nobody has ever discouraged me from doing so.

Once the book is underway, however, I use them sparingly if at all, since books don't require you to recap things after commercial breaks.

(In The Weight of Worlds, I couldn't resist including at least one log entry from Uhura, since how often do you get to do that?)
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Old November 15 2013, 10:24 PM   #19
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Re: Writing questions

I won't presume to suggest I know more about writing ST than the actual published writers who've spoken up, but I suppose if you felt it was imperative to get some backstory out of the way but also wanted to open with action, you could start in the immediate aftermath of the action, get your backstory out of the way in an expeditious manner, then flashback to the action.

ETA - Well that may be the longest sentence I've ever written.
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Old November 15 2013, 11:16 PM   #20
Greg Cox
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Re: Writing questions

There's also the trick TV shows do a lot these day. Begin with a tense, life-or-death situation,then flash back to "Twelve Hours Earlier" and proceed from there until you catch up with the opening teaser.

I've never personally attempted that in prose, but I've seen it done in suspense novels, sometimes by bestselling authors.
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Old November 15 2013, 11:18 PM   #21
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Re: Writing questions

Although in prose, you don't really need to do a TV style "N Hours Earlier" flashback. Since you're writing from a particular character's POV, you can have them think about how they got into the situation and have their reflections form, or at least preface, the flashback. Prose fiction isn't always written in linear time.
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Old November 15 2013, 11:26 PM   #22
Greg Cox
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Re: Writing questions

"As the angry aliens converged on the landing party, Kirk wondered how the hell things had gotten so out of control . . . ."

Although I'm talking less about seguing into a flashback and more about beginning the book with a flash-forward teaser.

In either case, my instinct would to be include a "Twelve Hours Later" header anyway, just in the interests of clarity and avoiding confusion. Sometimes the brute force approach is just what the job calls for. You don't want to be so subtle you confuse the reader . . . .
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Old November 15 2013, 11:29 PM   #23
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Re: Writing questions

Yeah, personally I do prefer to keep the chronology as clear as possible. But nonlinear chronology is a tool in the kit, one that other writers do use.

Heck, look at any book written by Margaret Wander Bonanno in the past decade. She tends to write in a stream-of-consciousness manner that jumps all over the timeline.
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Old November 16 2013, 12:14 AM   #24
Greg Cox
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Re: Writing questions

Christopher wrote: View Post
Yeah, personally I do prefer to keep the chronology as clear as possible. But nonlinear chronology is a tool in the kit, one that other writers do use.

Heck, look at any book written by Margaret Wander Bonanno in the past decade. She tends to write in a stream-of-consciousness manner that jumps all over the timeline.
I've edited Margaret. She keeps you on your toes. And I mean that in a good way!

And the book in question, Preternatural, ended up being a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, so obviously it can be done to great effect . . ..
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Old November 16 2013, 04:05 AM   #25
Tiberius
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Re: Writing questions

Oh, I've got a question.

When it comes to planning, how in-depth do you guys go? Do you just have a brief overview of the scene, or do you include things like neat ideas you might think of, lines of dialogue, etc?
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Old November 16 2013, 06:00 AM   #26
Greg Cox
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Re: Writing questions

Tiberius wrote: View Post
Oh, I've got a question.

When it comes to planning, how in-depth do you guys go? Do you just have a brief overview of the scene, or do you include things like neat ideas you might think of, lines of dialogue, etc?
Good question.

I start out with a twelve to fifteen page outline that gets run by CBS before I ever start writing the book. Ever after all these years, I still go back and forth on how much detail I should work out in advance. The more detailed the outline, the faster and easier the later writing goes, but, on the other hand, I don't want to spend days working out every beat of an elaborate action sequence only to get a note from the licensor saying "cut the snowmobile scene." Oops.

Later on, when the time comes, I may sit down and outline an individual chapter in more detail, especially if it's a complicated scene with lots of moving parts. I tend to do most of my plotting on index cards: I scribble down cool ideas and snatches of dialogue on the cards and shuffle them until I get them in an order that works. (Invariably there's one or two cards that get thrown out because they just don't fit with the rest.)

Also, I will often do a VERY rough draft just to get the structure down, then go back and flesh it out later. In general, I tend to write in layers, building the skeleton first, then adding the muscles, the skin, and the cute little freckles in that order.

My rough drafts often read something like this:

"Kirk beamed down into the alien temple, which was DESCRIBE. He turned to face NAME, who brandished a CRYSTAL/METAL/BONE scepter at him. Hordes of alien SOMETHINGS descended from the COLOR sky. (WEATHER? TIME OF DAY?). "Watch out!" Ensign REDSHIRT shouted, just before he was VERBED by a COLOR blast from the scepter."

Okay, that's probably a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. I want to get a solid foundation laid before I start sweating the details . . . .
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Old November 16 2013, 06:16 AM   #27
Christopher
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Re: Writing questions

^Hmm, that's very different from the way I work. I operate at the detail level from the start. I often get stuck for quite a while trying to figure out the details of one sentence or paragraph before I can move onto the next. There's a scene in The Buried Age that starts with a very technically detailed sentence from Data's POV, and it took me 20 minutes of online research and contemplation to write that single sentence (which, actually, was over 75 words long) before I could move on to the rest of the scene.

Just in general, I'm very linear in my approach. I usually have to plod through from start to finish, both on the scene level and the whole-work level, although I will go back and add or rearrange things later. Sometimes, in recent works, I've written subplots out of order as a timesaving measure -- get through the stuff I'm ready to tackle before going back to sort out the trickier parts -- but it doesn't come naturally to me. Oddly, when I was just beginning to write back in high school and college, I routinely wrote scenes out of order just as the inspiration took me, but since then I've gotten far more linear.
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Old November 16 2013, 06:41 AM   #28
DonIago
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Re: Writing questions

This begs the question...what was the sentence?
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Old November 16 2013, 12:34 PM   #29
Tiberius
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Re: Writing questions

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
Tiberius wrote: View Post
Oh, I've got a question.

When it comes to planning, how in-depth do you guys go? Do you just have a brief overview of the scene, or do you include things like neat ideas you might think of, lines of dialogue, etc?
Good question.

I start out with a twelve to fifteen page outline that gets run by CBS before I ever start writing the book. Ever after all these years, I still go back and forth on how much detail I should work out in advance. The more detailed the outline, the faster and easier the later writing goes, but, on the other hand, I don't want to spend days working out every beat of an elaborate action sequence only to get a note from the licensor saying "cut the snowmobile scene." Oops.

Later on, when the time comes, I may sit down and outline an individual chapter in more detail, especially if it's a complicated scene with lots of moving parts. I tend to do most of my plotting on index cards: I scribble down cool ideas and snatches of dialogue on the cards and shuffle them until I get them in an order that works. (Invariably there's one or two cards that get thrown out because they just don't fit with the rest.)

Also, I will often do a VERY rough draft just to get the structure down, then go back and flesh it out later. In general, I tend to write in layers, building the skeleton first, then adding the muscles, the skin, and the cute little freckles in that order.

My rough drafts often read something like this:

"Kirk beamed down into the alien temple, which was DESCRIBE. He turned to face NAME, who brandished a CRYSTAL/METAL/BONE scepter at him. Hordes of alien SOMETHINGS descended from the COLOR sky. (WEATHER? TIME OF DAY?). "Watch out!" Ensign REDSHIRT shouted, just before he was VERBED by a COLOR blast from the scepter."

Okay, that's probably a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. I want to get a solid foundation laid before I start sweating the details . . . .
Cool, thanks for this. I had a bit of a giggle thinking about sentences such as, "Man, Ensign Ricky got verbed by that Klingon so adjectively!"

But another serious question to follow on...

When you have your outline set, do you right it from beginning to end, or do you write out of order. Maybe a bit in the middle first, then a bit towards the end, then the beginning... And if you do it that way, do you find opportunities to set up a payoff so you can put the lead up to it? For example, you might decide it would be a good idea to have Chekov shoot a gun to save the day (I know, original), and then when writing earlier scenes include a bit about Chekov training at the phaser range, even though your original outline for the earlier scene might not have included any mention of Chekov's practice?
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Old November 16 2013, 03:52 PM   #30
Greg Cox
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Re: Writing questions

In general, I prefer to write in a linear fashion from start to finish. Unless . . . .

Sometimes, if I'm cutting back and forth between two parallel plots (the away team on the planet and a concurrent crisis on the ship, for instance), I may decide to just stick with one set of characters and focus on them for the time being, rather than mentally switching gears every other scene. You don't want to lose momentum, especially if the away team scenes are going well and you're making steady progress on them.

Then you go back and do the shipboard scenes later . . . .

(I did this a lot with my DC Comics novelizations, which involved a zillion characters and subplots and settings. "Okay, today I'll do all the bits with Wonder Woman on Paradise Island, and put off all the outer-space scenes with Green Lantern until next week.")
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