. . .and check out the article written by Thomas Smith at the Writer’s Digest website. 4 THINGS STAR TREK CAN TEACH US ABOUT WRITING
This is one of those articles I wish I had written. Not only is the advice great, but the author’s writing style made me giggle. And we all know how much I love to giggle.
I may be a junior officer, but I’d like to add to Captain Thomas Smith’s advice.
Lesson 5: The Trouble with Tribbles
In my vernacular, Weasel Words. These are words that weasel their way into our writing. They are weak, passive words that lend nothing to the meaning of the sentence. The standards among many are: that, just, really, very, suddenly, actually, extremely, literally. You get the point. They can also be your favorite phrases. Mine could vary from book to book. My critique partners are always quick to point out when my characters have “forked” their dinner too many times. Or when they “laugh/smile/blink/nod” too much. Don’t get me wrong, the tribble episode was my favorite, but when those cuddly chirping fur balls created havoc as they showed up in the Enterprise’s mechanical system, even I could see why they had to go.
Three excellent articles on Weasel Words:
Lesson 6: The Vulcan Mind-Meld
I could do an entire lesson on the Vulcan himself. From when and when not to show emotion to when it’s okay to break the rules. Those Vulcans! So disciplined! On to the Mind-Meld. Wikipedia defines it as, “a technique for sharing thoughts, experiences, memories, and knowledge with another individual, essentially a limited form of telepathy.” Okay. This is a personal problem for me. Mind-melds can only be done person to person/alien/whale. I am sometimes so intent on figuring out what my characters are thinking that I fail to share what I learn with the rest of the reading audience. Cue the critique partners. “But what is she thinking, Kathy?” My answer: “Isn’t it obvious?” The looks on their faces: Um, no. Fine. I rewrite to show a vein in my character’s jawline darken, or to show his shoulder blades turn to concrete blocks upon mention of his mother. Note, during the mind-meld process there is no explaining. Spock: “I’m going to do this weird thing to your face and then you’re going to tell me how you feel.” No, it’s all done without words. Telepathy, if you will, but I and my Christian community will ignore that idea. My point is, don’t expect your readers to know what your character is feeling. You must show us.
Lesson 7: Take Command of the Situation
Every commander in the Star Trek fleet over the years have had the unique ability to command under pressure. Even in the parody, Galaxy Quest, Commander Jason Nesmith was able to lead his rag-tag team of actors to defeat the evil grasshopper/locust/katydid alien Sarris. If any crew member refused to do their job and stomp off set…er, I mean command deck, the captain would simply order him to the brig and replace him, or do the job himself. Sometimes, our characters want to take over. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a new writer say, “I don’t know what to do with Emmie May. She wants all the attention. Now I don’t know who my main character is.” My advice? I wouldn’t order Emmie to the brig, but I would give her a stern talking to. In my first published book, Merely Players, my heroine’s best friend was so fun she kept stealing all of the scenes. I had to bring her down a notch. Yes, I had to cut some fun stuff, but none of that was lending to the development of my main character. And that is, ladies and gentlemen, the point of the story. Yes, we want to get know Emmie. She’s a great gal who lets us see how even greater our protagonist is. And who knows, if you plan it right, Emmie May could have her own story some day.
Lesson 8: He’s Dead, Jim
No, I’m not talking about killing off your characters, although some may deserve to die. I want to address those favorite scenes that have no place in your story. William Faulkner called it, “Killing off your darlings.” They may be funny, dramatic, or pithy. (I’ve been waiting throughout this entire article to say pithy.) But they don’t carry the story forward. Remember, your job as an author is to move the plot forward. If you find a scene in your political thriller that takes place in a trailer park in Hoboken, New Jersey, it had better be where the terrorist is hanging out. If it’s about the bum on the street who got shot in the crossfire and has now gone back to his family to tell them about the million dollar settlement he just received, well, it has to go.
I started out with this blog post to simply share a cool link on things Star Trek can teach us in writing, but it looked so fun I had to try it myself. Now, I have to come up out of the blogosphere to deal with the real world of writing, namely, preparing for a workshop and writing my own novel. So, in the iconic words of Captain Kirk: