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

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Old April 16 2014, 12:33 AM   #106
BrentMc
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Re: Writing questions

In an earlier question I asked how to introduce characters when your story has all new characters and opens in a battle scene. I read that is good to hook a readers attention and open in action. In further reading the other day I read that if you enter people into action and you don't know them then the reader won't care about them. This made me change my mind about my opening.

What do you guys think of an opening in a scene where they are socializing? Could I have a new crew member being introduced to the others as a way of introducing the crew, or does that sound lame?

What do you think of dramatic action-oriented openings that turn out to be a holo-program?
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Old April 16 2014, 12:36 AM   #107
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Re: Writing questions

I'm not a writer, but I'm (even by this forums standards, I think) an unusually voracious reader, and from a reader's perspective I think any or all of those things could be good openings if done well. I've read Trek novels and original novels that start in action sequences; I've read Trek novels and original novels that start with conversations. And some of each of those work, and some of each of those don't.

Especially if you're just starting out, I'd say don't stress about it. Write a scene that you like to the best of your ability and just roll with it from there. You'll learn more about your strengths and weaknesses as you go.
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Old April 16 2014, 01:18 AM   #108
Stevil2001
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Re: Writing questions

Not every novel needs to start with an action sequence, but it does need to start with a hook. A well-written social interaction can be a good hook, and a poorly written action sequence can be a bad hook. I think it's important that the action sequence reveal some of the underlying character dynamics, or themes, or something-- if it could be lopped off and the reader loses nothing, then you need a better action opener. (This is, I guess, why I would be wary of the holodeck action sequence.)

Incidentally, I have been rereading The New Jedi Order recently, and I've decided that the largest sin a Star Wars novel can commit is not opening with an action sequence. The first four books in the series all open with politics or strategic planning... blah blah blah blah. Get to the fighting!
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Old April 16 2014, 01:47 AM   #109
Christopher
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Re: Writing questions

BrentMc wrote: View Post
In an earlier question I asked how to introduce characters when your story has all new characters and opens in a battle scene. I read that is good to hook a readers attention and open in action. In further reading the other day I read that if you enter people into action and you don't know them then the reader won't care about them. This made me change my mind about my opening.

What do you guys think of an opening in a scene where they are socializing? Could I have a new crew member being introduced to the others as a way of introducing the crew, or does that sound lame?
You don't want to "walk to the plot," i.e. start out with slow preliminaries before getting to the meat of the story. You want to start with something important or striking (the hook). Yes, you want to establish characters too, but the best way to do that is to show how they react to a crisis -- get inside their heads and explore how they choose to deal with it, how well or poorly they cope with it, what their priorities are in the face of it, how and why they got into it in the first place, etc.

So don't think of action and character-building as separate things that you have to choose between. Think of action as a means of exploring and revealing character.


What do you think of dramatic action-oriented openings that turn out to be a holo-program?
It's been done, but I'm wary of using that kind of misleading opening; it can easily come off as a cheat. Especially if its only purpose is to throw in some action purely for the sake of action. If it doesn't serve the story and the characters, it shouldn't be there.
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Old April 16 2014, 02:04 AM   #110
BrentMc
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Re: Writing questions

I wouldn't say I think of action and character building as separate things. When I read that people won't care what happens to your characters in an action scene if they don't know them I started to think of a new way to start the story, so that you get to know them first, and then have the action scene that was my opening before.

I suppose I could start that scene earlier and introduce them, but I was looking for advice on a good way to start things off and introduce them. I want to consider my options.

I could have them get a distress signal and head to the fight, be doing something off the bridge when they get called to the bridge etc. Any opinions? Anything overdone? Any other options you would like to suggest?

To non-pro writers
Don't apologize for not being pro writers. I welcome all opinions. The only reason I posted this on here, as supposed to the fan-fiction forum, was because I thought maybe the pros might want to join in too. I didn't mean to seem like I only wanted advice from the pros.

as for the pro writers:
I am enjoying learning about your craft. By no means did I want you to feel obligated, or nagged into to replying. I know you are busy people.

Thanks to everyone for participating!
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Old April 16 2014, 02:23 AM   #111
JD
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Re: Writing questions

Since this thread is active again, I'm going to post a little update.
A while back I posted about wanting to include a deaf character in a story I'm writing, but after trying to write it and doing more research, it proved to be adding to much extra challenge to what I was trying to write, so I decided to just have the character able to hear. This has a lot of sword fighting and horseback riding, and it was hard to have the characters trying to sign while on a horse swinging a sword without it seeming awkward.
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Old April 16 2014, 02:34 AM   #112
BrentMc
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Re: Writing questions

JD wrote: View Post
Since this thread is active again, I'm going to post a little update.
A while back I posted about wanting to include a deaf character in a story I'm writing, but after trying to write it and doing more research, it proved to be adding to much extra challenge to what I was trying to write, so I decided to just have the character able to hear. This has a lot of sword fighting and horseback riding, and it was hard to have the characters trying to sign while on a horse swinging a sword without it seeming awkward.
Don't forget this is Star Trek and this is the future. I would say that even with today's experimental computers that could be controlled by your brain, it would be logical that in the Star Trek universe that they have better ways for deaf people to communicate. Maybe they can wear a device that senses their thoughts, from the speech center of the brain, and sends them to the communicator. Then the other people hear from their communicator.

Maybe this requires some training, so that you don't accidentally say something you are thinking, but didn't mean to say. That could add humor to the story.

On the other hand medical science is much more advanced and so maybe they could wear something in their ear like Geordi's VISOR.
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Old April 16 2014, 02:37 AM   #113
JD
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Re: Writing questions

My story's a contemporary urban fantasy, not Star Trek.
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Old April 16 2014, 02:47 AM   #114
BrentMc
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Re: Writing questions

JD wrote: View Post
My story's a contemporary urban fantasy, not Star Trek.
Oh OK. I missed that part.
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Old April 16 2014, 03:54 AM   #115
JD
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Re: Writing questions

Not a problem. This is a Trek board, so I can see where the confusion came in.
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Old April 16 2014, 04:46 AM   #116
Christopher
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Re: Writing questions

BrentMc wrote: View Post
I wouldn't say I think of action and character building as separate things. When I read that people won't care what happens to your characters in an action scene if they don't know them I started to think of a new way to start the story, so that you get to know them first, and then have the action scene that was my opening before.

I suppose I could start that scene earlier and introduce them, but I was looking for advice on a good way to start things off and introduce them. I want to consider my options.
I think you're taking that instruction too literally. It's not about whether your audience has prior familiarity with the characters; it's about whether the action scene has emotional stakes for the reader, whether they care about what's happening to the characters. Sure, it's easier to care about characters they already know, but it's possible to make them care about a new character right off the bat, if you establish that character in a vivid and engaging way or give the audience something about them to identify with.

For instance, just as an example: If you open a scene with a character in a gun battle, don't have her think about locating her opponent and planning her next move or whatever -- have her worry about whether she'll miss her son's piano recital that evening. Or have her be annoyed that she can't get the melody of the enemy's propaganda jingle out of her head. Big or little, give her a concern that the reader can identify with, a goal that she's frustrated in reaching. Everyone can identify with wanting something and being afraid you won't get it. As long as there's something about the character that the reader can connect to and feel empathy for, it doesn't matter whether they knew the character beforehand. They can discover the character in the scene itself as it unfolds.

Often it's not a good idea to put an introduction at the beginning. It can be good to throw the reader in at the deep end and give them bits and pieces of information as they go. If you can make them curious, raise questions that they want to know the answers to, then that's a good hook, because they'll want to keep reading.


I could have them get a distress signal and head to the fight, be doing something off the bridge when they get called to the bridge etc. Any opinions? Anything overdone? Any other options you would like to suggest?
Again, the important thing is to start with something that's relevant to the plot or the character arcs. It doesn't have to be an action scene, but it should be something that has meaning and that gets the audience interested in the characters and their situation.

But if the story per se begins with responding to a distress call, then that's probably where you want to start, unless the initial off-the-bridge scene sets up something about the characters or the backstory (or even just the theme) that will be important in the story ahead. If you look at a lot of the best stories, moments that seem to be just incidental at the start can turn out to be of great significance later on. One of the most perfectly structured scripts of all time is Back to the Future, because every single thing that happens in it, even the most casual-seeming moments like Elizabeth writing her note on the clock-tower flyer, has a payoff later in the film. Not one line is wasted.
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Old April 16 2014, 01:38 PM   #117
Greg Cox
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Re: Writing questions

Christopher wrote: View Post
BrentMc wrote: View Post
I wouldn't say I think of action and character building as separate things. When I read that people won't care what happens to your characters in an action scene if they don't know them I started to think of a new way to start the story, so that you get to know them first, and then have the action scene that was my opening before.

I suppose I could start that scene earlier and introduce them, but I was looking for advice on a good way to start things off and introduce them. I want to consider my options.
I think you're taking that instruction too literally. It's not about whether your audience has prior familiarity with the characters; it's about whether the action scene has emotional stakes for the reader, whether they care about what's happening to the characters. Sure, it's easier to care about characters they already know, but it's possible to make them care about a new character right off the bat, if you establish that character in a vivid and engaging way or give the audience something about them to identify with..
Check out, for instance, the first page of Christopher's original novel, Only Superhuman. The book begins with a genetically-engineered cat-woman, in disguise, on a secret terrorist mission on a space station orbiting Earth. We don't know anything about this character, or what exactly her mission is, or the politics of this future setting, but the character is vivid and interesting and the situation is tense, so that's enough to keep you reading.

I also recently edited a western novel that begins with a young man and his horse trying to cross a pitiless desert. We don't know who this young man is, or why he's on the run from the law, but the situation is dire enough, and the kid's concern for his horse is emotionally gripping enough to keep you reading.

You can always fill in the backstory later.
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Old April 16 2014, 02:27 PM   #118
Christopher
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Re: Writing questions

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
Check out, for instance, the first page of Christopher's original novel, Only Superhuman. The book begins with a genetically-engineered cat-woman, in disguise, on a secret terrorist mission on space station orbiting Earth. We don't know anything about this character, or what exactly her mission is, or the politics of this future setting, but the character is vivid and interesting and the situation is tense, so that's enough to keep you reading.
And that was trimmed down from the initial opening, which a prospective agent told me was too slow-paced. I originally opened with the lead character and her mentor en route to the site of the terrorist attack, giving exposition about who they were and what they looked like and where they were going and why and why Earth was reluctant to let them into its airspace and so on. But it was all just walking to the plot. I eventually realized it was better to set up what the villains were doing, then reveal my heroine from their perspective, and then cut to her POV and establish her basic personality through her thoughts and reactions during the fight. That helped because it let me build up to her and give her a grand, superheroic entrance with a dramatic opening line -- and then add humor and texture by cutting to her POV and deflating that entrance line somewhat by having her reflect on other entrance lines that hadn't worked so well in the past (like "Hey, look over there!").
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Old April 16 2014, 02:52 PM   #119
Greg Cox
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Re: Writing questions

There's an old writing-workshop cliche that most novels can be improved by lopping off the first chapter.That's not always the case, but there's a reason that advice persists. There's a tendency, especially for beginning authors, to gradually feel their way into the story, or to think that the reader needs all the backstory and exposition up front.

Here's the thing: It is good that you, the author, know your character's bios backwards and forwards, and that you have worked out the history of your universe going back six generation, because you will be able to write about them with confidence, but the reader doesn't need to know all that stuff in your notebooks, at least not right away.

I still remember a cover letter that was attached to a submission years ago, explaining that the book started slowly, but got really good around Chapter Five. To which my response was, "Well, if you know the first four chapters aren't very interesting, why didn't you fix that before submitting the manuscript? Or maybe just start with Chapter Five?"
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Old April 16 2014, 06:43 PM   #120
JarodRussell
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Re: Writing questions

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
I still remember a cover letter that was attached to a submission years ago, explaining that the book started slowly, but got really good around Chapter Five. To which my response was, "Well, if you know the first four chapters aren't very interesting, why didn't you fix that before submitting the manuscript? Or maybe just start with Chapter Five?"
Hm, but does "slowly" really mean "not very interesting"?

Maybe he/she wanted a slow start, but at the same time knew that it isn't for everyone.
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