Writing questions

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

  1. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    My first thought was, someone who doesn't know the science and needs it explained, e.g. Captain Brass. But then I remembered that CSI often annoyed me with its abundance of "As you know, Bob" speeches where the scientists explained basic science to other scientists who already know it. That's kind of unavoidable in TV, but in a book you have internal-viewpoint narration so you don't need the stilted lecturing. So maybe it's better to be in the head of the scientist performing the test, so it can be explained through their thoughts.
     
  2. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

    Joined:
    May 12, 2004
    Location:
    Oxford, PA
    On the other hand, I found the lab scenes worked better if there were two people in the room, so you could at least have some dialogue and character interaction going, instead of just describing a single character carrying out a procedure and making a discovery, which could come off as dry and textbooky.

    On the show, of course, you've got the snazzy montages and visuals and music to make spinning test tubes visually exciting to watch, but you don't really have that option in prose! :)

    Dialogue at least helped dramatize the lab scenes.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2014
  3. David Mack

    David Mack Writer Commodore

    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2003
    Location:
    New York, NY
    Y'know, it's strange. On the one hand, I've internalized many lessons about narrative structure and prose styling over the years. But I'm at a point where if I think too much about the nuts and bolts of a story, I'll paralyze myself into inertia. At this stage of my career, I have to simply write towards what feels "true" or "honest" about a character or story. Somehow, my subconscious has a knack for steering me in the right direction most of the time.

    The rest of the time … is why we have beta readers and editors. :)
     
  4. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    Well, sure, it's good to have character interaction so the scene isn't just about the technicalities, but their conversation should be about more personal stuff or their emotional reaction to the case rather than lecturing each other about the science that they both already know. Instead of:

    "Hey, look, there are twelve common alleles. As you know, Wendy, that means they must share a common parent."
    "Wow! That means her gardener is actually her brother!"

    It would be more like:

    "Hey, look, there are twelve common alleles."
    "Wow," Wendy said, instantly recognizing the significance: they shared a common parent. "That means her gardener is actually her brother!"


    I've often thought that CSI had a lot in common with Mission: Impossible (the show, not the movies): They're both heavily procedural shows in which extended sequences of characters wordlessly performing technical work are livened with a heavy emphasis on musical accompaniment, albeit with profoundly different musical and editorial styles. I think there were some M:I novels back in the day; I wonder how they handled the long technical/procedural stuff.
     
  5. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

    Joined:
    May 12, 2004
    Location:
    Oxford, PA
    Christopher: Yes, the second version is definitely the way to go!
     
  6. BrentMc

    BrentMc Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2006
    Location:
    California U.S.A.
    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?
     
  7. Thrawn

    Thrawn Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Jun 15, 2008
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    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.
     
  8. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2001
    Location:
    2010
    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!
     
  9. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    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.


    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.
     
  10. BrentMc

    BrentMc Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2006
    Location:
    California U.S.A.
    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!
     
  11. JD

    JD Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2004
    Location:
    Arizona, USA
    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.
     
  12. BrentMc

    BrentMc Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2006
    Location:
    California U.S.A.
    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.
     
  13. JD

    JD Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2004
    Location:
    Arizona, USA
    My story's a contemporary urban fantasy, not Star Trek.
     
  14. BrentMc

    BrentMc Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2006
    Location:
    California U.S.A.
    Oh OK. I missed that part.
     
  15. JD

    JD Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2004
    Location:
    Arizona, USA
    Not a problem. This is a Trek board, so I can see where the confusion came in.
     
  16. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    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.


    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.
     
  17. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

    Joined:
    May 12, 2004
    Location:
    Oxford, PA
    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.
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2014
  18. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    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!").
     
  19. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

    Joined:
    May 12, 2004
    Location:
    Oxford, PA
    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?"
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2014
  20. JarodRussell

    JarodRussell Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2009
    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.