Writing questions

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by BrentMc, Nov 11, 2013.

  1. BrentMc

    BrentMc Commander Red Shirt

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    I know we are not supposed to post story ideas and I won't. I know about the fan-fiction forum and I post there. Forums are a voluntary participation thing, so my question is would it be okay to ask writing questions for authors who choose to respond?
     
  2. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    If you're talking general questions about technique, tips, or style, I don't see a problem, although I'll leave that for the moderators to decide.
     
  3. BrentMc

    BrentMc Commander Red Shirt

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    Thank you Greg. You know I have looked around the interweb for "How to write Star Trek" type documents and I haven't found a lot. I have one from Dean Wesley Smith that he wrote when he edited Strange New Worlds. Have you ever spent a long time writing a shuttle scene and realized using the transporter made more sense? It would be fun to talk about writing with those of you who have been published. Not that the people on the fan-fiction board aren't helpful too.
     
  4. trampledamage

    trampledamage Clone Moderator

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    So long as it stays general and people aren't asking the authors to review specific pieces of writing it shouldn't cause a problem. You can continue in this thread.

    Bear two points in mind though
    1) this is an open forum, so anyone is allowed to answer the questions - people can ask it to the writers, and hopefully they will reply but I'm not going to restrict responses to writers only.

    2) the published Trek writers are here voluntarily because they like it here. If a question is asked that doesn't get replies, or doesn't get replies in the detail that the asker wanted, it doesn't not give the asker the right to complain about it. There is no requirement on any of the published Trek authors to answer any question posted in this forum.


    Let's see how it goes :)
     
  5. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    Sorry not to reply quickly. I was a little swamped yesterday. Deadlines, etc.

    Anyway the transporter is usually my default, although sometimes I want to have visiting diplomats or scientists arrived by shuttle, as in "Journey in Babel." But then I need to come up with a reason for not using the transporter, so sometimes it's just easier to beam them aboard . . . .

    In an upcoming book, Kirk does need to have Sulu come pick up him in the shuttle, but that's because there's a (hopefully plausible) problem with the transporter.

    Hope this answers your question!
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2013
  6. Sho

    Sho Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Preface: I'm not a professional writer. This is an amateur opinion based on amateur experience.

    I think when it comes to picking a mode of transportation in scifi stories in general, or when thinking about the mechanics of transportation in a setting, it's worth thinking about the implications for the characters. Travel duration, for example, affects how long characters spend together en route, which depending on the conditions during travel, can affect their relationships in one way or another. Whether a transportation route is one-way or a return trip is an option, or whether there are any abort modes before reaching a destination, can also tell you something about who might chose to go on a journey and who might not.

    So I think you can approach it from several angles: If you're not sure yet who your characters are, thinking about transportation can help you flesh them out. In turn, it's also an opportunity to communicate aspects of characterization to the reader. You can also use it to evolve relationships between characters in a justified way, and so on.

    All that gives you a decision matrix for how picking different means of transportation can factor into your plot (balanced against other concerns, of course).

    (This is in turn is why I'm so disappointed by how inconsistently and lazily transportation is handled in the scripts of the NuTrek films. By not giving viewers reliable ideas about distance, speed and range in the setting, they're missing opportunities to enhance the story and future stories. Star Trek has often done poorly here, but the last two films are perhaps a new low.)
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2013
  7. BrentMc

    BrentMc Commander Red Shirt

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    In the question about transporters I just meant have you ever spent a lot of time on a scene in a shuttle and then realized there was no reason they couldn't just beam over?

    In my first post I didn't pose my main question because I wanted to wait and see what the mods said about writing questions on this forum.

    Here is the main question I have right now:

    I am writing my first Star Trek story. (Just for fun)
    I came up with my own ship and crew, so that I could be creative and do whatever I want with them.
    I read that you shuold start things off exciting to grab the readers attention, especially with a new crew from a first time writer.
    In order to do that I started in a battle scene.
    My question is how would you handle character descriptions in an opening with entirely new characters? I don't want to slow down the action, but I think I need to mention gender, position, species.

    Could I do it like this? (not from my story. Made up for example.)

    "Return fire," ordered the Betazoid Captain Rov Anul, sitting in the center seat.
    "Aye Captain," replied the Bajoran Chief of Security Jev Goni, operating the phaser controls at a blistering pace.

    Should I be brief with the character description like this in the opening?
     
  8. Sho

    Sho Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    ^ I think you should try to integrate your descriptions better with the action, and build on the familiarity your readers are likely to have with the setting. Star Trek fans know the key traits associated with the prominent species, and tapping into that can put readers at ease, while simultaneously suggesting how characters may be experiencing the action at hand, furthering your characterization instead of reciting mere facts.

    Say, "He held on to the armrests tightly. As the ship continued to shake violently, even his Vulcan strength was tested to its limits."

    Now, my prose is fairly clumsy - I'm not even a native English speaker - but note the principle. This tells the reader:

    - The character is Vulcan. With a nice hook, not the look of "you're being asked to memorize this information now".
    - Something about the violence of the situation, because they know Vulcans are stronger than humans. (Or even if they don't, they just need to know that a Vulcan is a different species -- they can automatically infer the rest, because you wouldn't have pointed it out otherwise.)
    - The character is experiencing great strain.

    I guess I should probably shut up though, since I'm not technically being asked to begin with - but maybe one of the real writers can build on that or critique it.
     
  9. BrentMc

    BrentMc Commander Red Shirt

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    Sho I like your suggestions. I have no problem with non-professional writers joining in. Thanks for taking the time. Thanks also to Greg Cox.

    What you said reminds me of something I read in a lot of the books and websites I have been looking to for advice. They say: show me, don't tell me.

    As a follow-up, do you think that species, position and gender would be enough in the opening battle scene? I think I should leave further details to slower scenes that follow.
     
  10. Sho

    Sho Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    ^ I think so, especially if by position you mean their job/function. I think you don't need to specify their location on the bridge unless it's relevant to the action ("the next jolt was hard enough to send him flying out of his seat towards the front of the bridge"), and make sure you're tapping into the ideas your readers already have about the layout of a ship's bridge (or inform them otherwise -- "The layout of the bridge was that of a narrow canal lined by stations on either side, very different from the Starfleet designs he was used to. The captain's chair sat on a raised platform at the opposite end, facing a large viewscreen. The lower-ranking officers were situated in their commander's back.").

    Unless you're David Mack, then you need to make sure to point out which characters in the scene have salt-and-pepper hair.

    (Just teasing, Mr. Mack - that old tropes thread was just too amusing. Love your books. :p)
     
  11. BrentMc

    BrentMc Commander Red Shirt

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    I'm sorry I wasn't more clear. By position I meant function such as helmsman or chief of security. In my story I also need to mention that my ship has the layout we are familiar with from the series.

    As for David Mack I find his books to be the most exciting. I just read his entry into "The Fall" series. I read it while looking to see how he described things without getting boring. He doesn't do boring.

    As for the earlier example you made about Vulcan strength etc. I am thinking of my crew-members and how I might show without telling. I am uncertain as to how much dialogue and narration is right.

    I wonder if there is a good example of new crew first appearing in a battle scene. I have thought about writing a prologue and describing the characters, but I think it would be more exciting to open it in action. That is the way I wrote it.
     
  12. Sho

    Sho Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I find Mr. Mack to be generally excellent at putting effective action on paper and his plotting is usually well-paced, so I agree there's lots to learn from his books.

    For example, do you have Harbinger on hand, the first book in the Vanguard series? It features a very exciting battle scene that the rest of the story pivots around and that's also featuring a crew unknown to the reader. That might make a good case study.
     
  13. BrentMc

    BrentMc Commander Red Shirt

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    Good idea. I'll take a look at that as soon as I get a chance.
     
  14. JD

    JD Admiral Admiral

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    I'm another amature here, but like Sho said, I think the biggest thing is to keep things flowing, especially in something like a battle scene that is supposed to be fast paced and exciting. Personally, instead of just giving a straight description of a character, I like try to work the description of the person into some kind of an action. For example, in the story I'm writing (just for fun) one of the characters has a tattoo on her arm, but instead of just saying she has a tattoo on her arm, my lead character "poked her in her heavily tattooed arm".
     
  15. Desert Kris

    Desert Kris Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    I'm not a pro by any stretch, some thoughts occurred to me while reading my way through this. Starting the characters off in the middle of an action sequence is a good idea. It is in keeping with the "show, don't tell" philosophy. Action sequence doesn't have to mean battle sequence, just a series of dangerous events or a challenging hazard to overcome or there's an urgent countdown the characters are racing to beat.

    Depending on if you are writing for an audience or just for yourself, you might consider that you don't have to introduce all the major characters at once, in a single scene. Particularly with the introductory story. Consider the two newest ST movies. ST Into Darkness does have an opening sequence that catches us up with all the characters, but the better example is how we see all those characters trickle into the positions we're familiar with throughout the first film. The first 20-30 minutes we get heavy emphasis on Kirk and Spock, then characters are added little by little. Build up a new cast gradually, if you intend to have it available to readers. It's a kindness to your reader to not overwhelm them with too much all at once.
     
  16. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    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.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2013
  17. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    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.


    I thought the editors these days preferred to avoid opening with a log entry, since it's become kind of a cliche.

    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.
     
  18. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    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?)
     
  19. DonIago

    DonIago Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    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. :p
     
  20. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    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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