Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ten Lessons That Star Trek Can Teach You About Writing

Michael LaRocca is not only an extremely talented editor at Mocha Memoirs Press. He's also an extremely talented author. Check out his latest release, Lazarus: A Gary Drake Mystery. It's availabe in print and e-book formats. Get a copy today and see how Michael uses these 10 lessons himself.

Michael describes below how Star Trek can teach you a lot about writing.

1) Readers Matter
In the first STAR TREK film, Gene Roddenberry finally had the budget to create all the footage he wanted of ENTERPRISE just sitting there, looking real purty, and by gum he was gonna use it all. I personally don’t mind watching all those minutes, 22 or 187 or whatever it was, but most folks think that’s too much. If most of your readers say something needs to be changed or added or deleted, listen to them.

2) Characters Matter
 When the second pilot was filmed, it was already pre-ordained that William Shatner was the star. Since Spock was the only character from the first pilot to also appear in the second pilot, it was safe to assume Leonard Nimoy was a costar. Who else? Well, McCoy and the chemistry just kinda happened.

When I write, character comes first, and plot etc. unfold from there. Even if you start from some other place, character always matters. In the end, nothing happens unless it happens to somebody, and that somebody is who your reader cares about regardless of species.

When you write, have some sort of plan, and have some control, but be flexible. If your story’s telling you to go in a certain direction, listen to it. That might be your characters talking to you. (And yes, I know you made them all up. Don’t bother me with details.)

3) Turn Weaknesses into Strengths
 I can’t remember if I wrote about this in CONUNDRUM or ENIGMA, so be safe and read both. Why did ENTERPRISE have a transporter? Because it wasn’t in the TV show’s budget to film launch and landing sequences for shuttlecraft on various and sundry new planets every week. This forced the writers to invent the transporter, and that’s some seriously cool shit. STAR TREK wouldn’t be STAR TREK without it.

4) Fuck Grammar
Okay, not really. Speaking as your editor, please don’t fuck grammar. But you can break any rule you want if you have a good reason. Try to never break a rule from ignorance. But if you’ve got a reason, go for it. That’s how we as authors change the language.

Why did Shakespeare invent 10% of the words he used? Because if he’d invented 20% or 50% he’d have confused too many of his viewers.

Meanwhile, the “rule” about splitting infinitives is totally bogus. “To boldly go” is a perfectly good English phrase. In Latin, it isn’t possible to split an infinitive because “to go” (for example) is one word. You can’t write “to boldly go” in Latin because “to go” is only one word. Someone decided English grammar should follow Latin grammar — that sounds like some of Noah Webster’s shit — and was soundly shouted down for being too stupid to live. Feel free to boldly split infinitives like James Brown split tight pants. Then jump back and kiss yourself.

5) Wishful Thinking Is Allowed
In the STAR TREK future, everybody quotes long passages of Shakespeare from memory. If I say it like that, it might sound hard to believe, but in the context of the STAR TREK world, it fits. It’s allowed. Dammit, people should quote Shakespeare from memory, just like that cockatiel I taught when his humans were away. I never could teach him context, though.

6) It’s Not About The Money
Okay, sometimes it was about the money. But in roughly two years of the original show and roughly ten years of Next Generation, it wasn’t about the money. In some of the films, including some of the stinkers, it wasn’t about the money.

I’ve always said that you should write what you’d like to read, then find readers who share your interests. Yep, that’s what Gene Roddenberry did. He believed in world peace, racial and gender integration, trying to shake off old prejudices to the best of our limited abilities, freedom of religion and non-religion, gay rights, cooperation rather than killing, the Prime Directive of non-interference in viable developing cultures, war as a last and not a first resort, and seeing just how much political and religious commentary he could slip past the censors, who weren’t as bright as the average STAR TREK viewer.

Did he really believe in the cashless society? If a “credit” or a “quatloo” walks like a dollar bill and quacks like a dollar bill… oh, wait, that’s not Roddenberry, that’s Terrell Owens. Never mind.

7) YOU Are The WriterRemember when I said to listen to your readers? That doesn’t mean you have to always agree with them. When Gene Roddenberry’s vision put him at odds with the majority, he went with his vision. We should all do that. Such judgment calls are what separate the great writers from the merely ordinary. And to pull all that off within the confines of a 1960s TV show is nothing short of extraordinary. You could do far worse than to follow his example.

8 ) Choose Your Battles
That’s what Roddenberry had to do every time he butted heads with TV executives. It’s what I do as an author when I disagree with my editor, and what I expect an author to do when I’m his or her editor. “I’ll say Starfleet pays its officers in credits if you let the white guy kiss the black girl.” Or whatever.

9) Too Many Sequels Can Sour Anything
I shouldn’t end on such a downer, should I? Too bad. But at least Paramount waited for Roddenberry to die before they destroyed what he created.

10) Posterity Matters
How long has it been since Captain Kirk first flexed those biceps and paused in funny places during his speechifying? It’s been over 40 or 45 years since Roddenberry started writing STAR TREK, and we’re still talking about it. That’s what we write for. I don’t want you to love my shit now and forget it tomorrow. A novel is not a damn blog or a tweet. Write something timeless. Something to piss off future generations the way it does your immediately family, something teachers can torture students with, something that just will not fucking die.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, especially #4 and #6. I love that Shakespeare invented 10% of the words he used! Know the rules, follow them, and know when to break them. Here's my fave, ostensibly from Winston Churchill: Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will never put (paraphrasing). Another silly rule...