Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: Star Trek

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Ah, it is National Novel Writing Month. Many of you are participating in NaNoWriMo (write 50,000 words in a month) and many are not. Either way is fine. Your call. I love doing Nano simply because I have to fast draft everything because I tend to nitpick stuff to death, especially fiction.

I fast draft all year, so November is the only time I have company and lots of immoral support.

Why do I love writing fast? So happy you asked!

Many new authors slog out that first book, editing every word to perfection, revising, reworking, redoing. When I used to be a part of critique groups, it was not at all uncommon to find writers who’d been working on the same book two, five, eight and even ten years. Still see them at conferences, shopping the same book, getting rejected, then rewriting, rewriting…..

Sigh.

Great, maybe Kathryn Stockett, the author of The Help took five years and 62 revisions to get her story published. Awesome for her. And yes, her book was a runaway success, but this isn’t the norm. It’s playing Literary Lottery with our careers.

For most writers, it will be hard to have a long-term successful career if our pace is a book or two a decade.

Most authors who’ve made legend status were all talented, yes. But many were (are) also prolific. 

Does Writing Quickly Produce Inferior Work?

As I mentioned in a post last week, I’m a huge fan of Fast Draft. Candy Havens teaches this technique, and it works. Write your novel in two weeks a month, whatever, but write fast and furious. No looking back. Always forward. You can fix stuff later.

I’ve heard some writers criticize this method, believing that writing at this increased pace somehow compromises quality. Many writers are afraid that picking up speed will somehow undermine craftsmanship, yet this isn’t necessarily so.

To prove my point, here are some interesting factoids about writing hard and fast, some taken from James Scott Bell’s WONDERFUL book The Art of War for Writers (pages 79-82):

  • William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks.
  • Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises in six weeks.
  • After being mocked by a fellow writer that writing so fast created junk, John D. MacDonald wrote The Executioners in a month. Simon & Schuster published it in hardback. It was also serialized in a magazine, selected by a book club, and turned into the movie Cape Fear TWICE.
  • Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in nine days on a rented typewriter.
  • Isaac Asimov was the author/editor of over 700 books over the course of his career.
  • Stephen King writes 1,500 words a day every day of the year except his birthday. He’s published over fifty novels, and I don’t even know how many short stories and novellas. Let’s just say he’s written a LOT. Could he have done this writing a book every three years? Every five?

NO.

Meet “Captain Kirk Brain” and “Spock Brain”

Here’s my explanation of why writing faster than we “are comfortable” can produce fiction just as good (if not better) than a work that’s been written slowly and deliberately. And, since all roads that don’t lead to Lord of the Rings lead to Star Trek…

When we write quickly, we get into The Zone and pass The Wall. We become part of the world we’re creating. Fatigue wears out the cerebral cortex (the “Inner Editor” which I will call our “Spock Brain”). Fatigue diverts us to the Limbic Brain (also known as the Reptilian or Primal Brain, or for today’s purposes—“The Captain Kirk Brain”).

When we get tired, we go into a fugue-like state and our reality shifts. The closest way non-writers can experience this is by licking strange frogs or chasing 20 Pixie Sticks with a bottle of NyQuil.

Anyway….

When we immerse ourselves and keep pressing and pushing we are there. Vested and present. We think about that place we’ve created and the people we’ve imagined non-stop. We eat, think, and dream about it.

If we slow down? We’re constantly having to reacclimatize ourselves and regain familiarity, which costs us time and makes us over think and second guess. We also end up making dumb mistakes.

I had one book I wrote many years ago and it took me so long to finish that I’d actually changed the NAME of a few of the key characters by the end of the book. How did Dave suddenly become Mark? That was how unfamiliar I was with my own story. I was letting Spock Brain put curb feelers on my cortex.

Kirk brain? Another story.

Kirk Brain is emotional, visceral and has no problem kissing hot, green alien women or cheating the Kobayashi Maru. He out-bluffs Klingons, outruns Romulans, starts brawls and throws the rulebook out the window. He’s pure instinct, raw emotion and all action. In short, Kirk is the stuff of great stories. No one ever got to the end of a book and said, “Wow, that book was riveting. The grammar was PERFECT!”

Captain Kirk Brain can do it’s job better—write fiction—when Spock Brain isn’t there saying, “But Captain, you’re being illogical. It clearly states in Strunk & White….”

The BEST line in the last Star Trek movie was when Khan says to Spock, “You can’t even break rules, how can you expect to break bones?” So, I’m going to apply this to writing.

Are you breaking enough bones?

Many writers hold back emotionally when writing. Why? They aren’t going fast and hard and so Spock takes over and he wants us to use a seatbelt and our blinkers. He isn’t the guy you want in charge if you’re going for the GUTS and breaking bones.

Kirk is Great for Action and Spock is Better for Rules

Spock Brain is a perfectionist and wants us to take our time, make sure we follow all the rules and put the commas in the right spot. He’s seriously uncomfortable with “suspending disbelief” and he tries to explain everything so others don’t get confused. He doesn’t like risk-taking and he hates going big. Thus, he downplays things and that is poison for great fiction.

The trick is to hop on a cerebral crotch-rocket and outrun Spock. He is seriously uncomfortable with speeding and you can easily lose him in the school zones or the parking lot of Walmart. Don’t worry, Spock will yell at us later….at the appropriate time which is during revisions.

Thing is, Kirk and Spock make the perfect team, whether on The Enterprise or in our head. They balance each other, but they are also antagonists. Kirk wants to put phasers on KILL, and Spock wants to check and see if the rules for the Oxford Comma allows this.

Blogging and Writing Quickly Helps Us Learn to Shut off The Spock Brain

Blogging helps us ship and get comfortable with going FAST. No maybe every piece isn’t the quality of a New Yorker article, but who cares? It’s a BLOG. We aren’t looking to win the Pulitzer. We’re looking to get better riding a Cerebral Ducati and ignoring all of Spock’s protests that “This isn’t safe” and “Where is our helmet?” and “Clearly the speed limit forbids you going this fast.”

Kirk

When we get the stories out and on the screen faster, they’re more visceral. We get more practice with more stories since we aren’t letting Spock nit-pick for the next ten years…which he will do if Kirk doesn’t go running the other way despite Spock’s protests. So even if you don’t do Nano, try picking up speed. I know it’s scary but what do you have to lose?

What are your thoughts? Has your inner Vulcan taken over and edited all the life out of your story? Has Kirk been allowed too much sway and now you’ve got to let Spock whip it into structure shape? Does the idea of going faster scare you?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

I will announce OCTOBER’S WINNER later. Hubby has had the flu and I need more time to figure out who won.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Kirk
Original Image courtesy of David HT Flikr Creative Commons…

Many new authors slog out that first book, editing every word to perfection, revising, reworking, redoing. When I used to be a part of critique groups, it was not at all uncommon to find writers who’d been working on the same book two, five, eight and even ten years. Still see them at conferences, shopping the same book, getting rejected, then rewriting, rewriting…..

Sigh.

Great, maybe Kathryn Stockett, the author of The Help took five years and 62 revisions to get her story published. Awesome for her. And yes, her book was a runaway success, but this isn’t the norm. It’s playing Literary Lottery with our careers.

For most writers, it will be hard to have a long-term successful career if our pace is a book or two a decade.

Most authors who’ve made legend status were all talented, yes. But many were (are) also prolific. 

Does Writing Quickly Produce Inferior Work?

I’m a huge fan of Fast Draft. Candy Havens teaches this technique, and it works. Write your novel in two weeks a month, whatever, but write fast and furious. No looking back. Always forward. You can fix stuff later.

I’ve heard some writers criticize this method, believing that writing at this increased pace somehow compromises quality. Many writers are afraid that picking up speed will somehow undermine craftsmanship, yet this isn’t necessarily so.

To prove my point, here are some interesting factoids about writing hard and fast, some taken from James Scott Bell’s WONDERFUL book The Art of War for Writers (pages 79-82):

  • William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks.
  • Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises in six weeks.
  • After being mocked by a fellow writer that writing so fast created junk, John D. MacDonald wrote The Executioners in a month. Simon & Schuster published it in hardback. It was also serialized in a magazine, selected by a book club, and turned into the movie Cape Fear TWICE.
  • Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in nine days on a rented typewriter.
  • Isaac Asimov was the author/editor of over 700 books over the course of his career.
  • Stephen King writes 1,500 words a day every day of the year except his birthday. He’s published over fifty novels, and I don’t even know how many short stories and novellas. Let’s just say he’s written a LOT. Could he have done this writing a book every three years? Every five?

NO.

Meet “Captain Kirk Brain” and “Spock Brain”

Here’s my explanation of why writing faster than we “are comfortable” can produce fiction just as good (if not better) than a work that’s been written slowly and deliberately. And, since all roads lead back to Star Trek…

When we write quickly, we get into The Zone and pass The Wall. We become part of the world we’re creating. Fatigue wears out the cerebral cortex (the “Inner Editor” which I will call our “Spock Brain”). Fatigue diverts us to the Limbic Brain (also known as the Reptilian or Primal Brain, or for today’s purposes—“The Captain Kirk Brain”).

The Captain Kirk Brain is emotional, visceral and has no problem kissing hot, green alien women or cheating the Kobayashi Maru. He out-bluffs Klingons, outruns Romulans, starts brawls and throws the rulebook out the window. He’s pure instinct, raw emotion and all action. In short, Kirk is the stuff of great stories. No one ever got to the end of a book and said, “Wow, that book was riveting. The grammar was PERFECT!”

From original Star Trek
From original Star Trek

Captain Kirk Brain can do it’s job better—write fiction—when Spock Brain isn’t there saying, “But Captain, you’re being illogical. It clearly states in Strunk & White….”

The BEST line in the new Star Trek movie is when the villain of the story says to Spock, “You can’t even break rules, how can you expect to break bones?” So, I’m going to apply this to writing. Are you breaking enough bones?

Many writers hold back emotionally when writing. Why? They aren’t going fast and hard and so Spock takes over and he wants us to use a seatbelt and our blinkers. He isn’t the guy you want in charge if you’re going for the GUTS and breaking bones.

Kirk is Great for Action and Spock is Better for Rules

Spock Brain is a perfectionist and wants us to take our time, make sure we follow all the rules and put the commas in the right spot. He’s seriously uncomfortable with “suspending disbelief” and he tries to explain everything so others don’t get confused.

Author, you are being illogical.... (Via Star Trek)
Author, you are being illogical…. (Via Star Trek)

The trick is to hop on a cerebral crotch-rocket and outrun Spock. He is seriously uncomfortable with speeding and you can easily lose him in the school zones or the parking lot of Walmart. Don’t worry, Spock will yell at us later….at the appropriate time which is during revisions.

Thing is, Kirk and Spock make the perfect team, whether on The Enterprise or in our head. They balance each other, but they are also antagonists. Kirk wants to put phasers on KILL, and Spock wants to check and see if the rules for the Oxford Comma allows this.

Blogging and Writing Quickly Helps Us Learn to Shut off The Spock Brain

Blogging helps us ship and get comfortable with going FAST. No maybe every piece isn’t the quality of a New Yorker article, but who cares? It’s a BLOG. We aren’t looking to win the Pulitzer. We’re looking to get better riding a Cerebral Ducati and ignoring all of Spock’s protests that “This isn’t safe” and “Where is our helmet?” and “Clearly the speed limit forbids you going this fast.”

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Image via Star Trek (2009)

When we get the stories out faster, they’re more visceral. We get more practice with more stories since we aren’t letting Spock nit-pick for the next ten years…which he will do if Kirk doesn’t go running the other way despite Spock’s protests.

What are your thoughts? Has your inner Vulcan taken over and edited all the life out of your story? Has Kirk been allowed too much sway and now you’ve got to let Spock whip it into structure shape? Does the idea of going faster scare you?

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

Happy Monday! Last week, we picked on the poor Star Wars prequels. What went wrong? Better yet, what lessons can we, as writers, take away from some serious storytelling blunders? If you missed this discussion, go here, and check out the comments. Some people way smarter than me stopped by, that’s for certain. So, this week, I decided that this piece I wrote about STAR TREK last year might be a nice follow-up to the Star Wars piece from last week.

I love the new J.J. Abrams rendition of Star Trek. As a writer, stories are my business, so I study them in all forms. Film is a favorite in that it takes far less time and allows me to study the written form in a visual way (tactic I learned from great writing teacher and NY Times BSA Bob Mayer).

Anyway, I don’t watch movies like most people, much to my husband’s chagrin (he would put tape over my mouth if he could get away with it). This most recent version of Star Trek did very well at the box office and resonated with audiences in a way that other high-budget fast-paced sci-fi movies had failed. Why? I believe Star Trek was a wild success because Abrams adhered to some very fundamental storytelling basics too often forgotten in Hollywood and even in writing.

Yes, movies and novels have more in common than you might think. Today’s blog especially applies to sci-fi and fantasy, but I believe all genres can benefit from these lessons I’ve plucked from the silver screen. Today I will address some of my favorite points, because this movie is such a fantastic tool for understanding great storytelling that I couldn’t possibly address all the lessons in one sitting.

Star Trek proved that imperfect characters resonate with audiences.

Audiences LOVE flawed characters. James T. Kirk was deliciously flawed at the beginning. He was on a road to self-destruction believing he could never stand in the shadow of his father’s greatness. He demonstrated how character strengths of a great leader, when not harnessed properly, are tools of great mischief and mayhem. Did the plot really serve to change Kirk? Not really. His attributes were very similar, just refocused in a productive way. The inciting incident really just put Kirk on a path that would make better use of his buccaneer ways.

Time and time again I see new writers become far too fascinated with the too-perfect protagonist (been there and got the T-shirt, myself). The problem with the too-perfect protagonist is that audiences find it difficult to relate. While it might seem counterintuitive, flawed is often better. Want an illustration from the fiction world? I believe that Twilight is a great example. Bella was deeply flawed and thus readers could easily slip into her shoes. They, too, could look at Edward and long to know what it would be like to be one of the beautiful people.

I think that is why a lot of movies flop. Who can relate to Angelina Jolie? In Tomb Raider she was fun to watch, but we have absolutely no way of connecting with Lara Croft. She is beautiful, insanely rich and lives a life of adventure. The movies would have done better had the writers/directors done something to make Lara Croft real. The first movie did well simply because fans of the video game. Yet, audiences couldn’t connect to this super perfect (and not really likable) character, so the second movie bombed big time. And I am not alone in this assessment. Read Save the Cat by the late screenwriting genius Blake Snyder, which is a great book for all writers to read anyway.

Writers. Can we cast über perfect characters? Sure. But we do so at a risk. Perfect characters easily become one-dimensional and boring. As in movies, we need to connect with a reader, and most of us didn’t sit at that table in high school.

Star Trek perfected showing, not telling. Star Trek did an unsurpassed job of showing, not telling. Yes, they can info-dump in movies. I gutted through Deadline with the late Brittany Murphy and there were convenient camcorder tapes along the way to info dump back story. There were all kinds of scenes dedicated for the sole purpose of characters discussing a third-party. No, no, no, no, no! Bad writer! Had the screenwriter been in my workshop, he would have gotten zinged.

Virtually everything in Star Trek happened real time. The director didn’t dedicate entire scenes to Spock and Uhura explaining how Kirk was a reckless pain in the tush. Abrams employed scenes that showed Kirk crashing through their lives like a bull in a china shop. There was ONE flashback and it was information critical to understanding the plot.

Star Trek employed parsimony. One element of showing and not telling is to make the most of your story. Employ setting, symbol and action economy. If a scene can do more than one thing…let it. In the beginning (prologue) Kirk’s mother is pregnant (with him). Bad guys appear, and Dad is left on board as acting captain of the ship. He must sacrifice to save them all.

It is no accident that the director did two things. First, all the battle noises fade away and symphony music rises. Then, the scenes cut from Mom giving birth to Dad giving his life. Birth and death, hope and sacrifice are suddenly in perfect harmony. That was done for a reason. In your novel, do all things on purpose.

Look at your scenes. Can they do more than one task? For some ideas, read my blog Setting—More than Just a Backdrop. Setting can be used for more reasons than to give readers a weather report. Lehane proves my point in Shutter Island (discussed in blog), which is a tremendous example of narrative parsimony.

Star Trek showed character via relativity. In the beginning we see Kirk as this crazy guy power drinking and zooming around on a crotch rocket. Yet, the director knew he could have a problem. He needed Kirk to be a maverick risk-taker…but he also needed to prove to the audience that his protagonist wasn’t a foolhardy idiot. No one wants to follow a raging moron with a death wish into battle. The director needed to show us someone who cared deeply about others and who was willing to risk everything for his men.

How did he do this?

There is an early scene where they have to do a space jump (think HALO jump). Kirk and Sulu go with a Red Shirt—which means Red Shirt dude is going to die for those who are not Trekkies. Red Shirt guys always bite it. The interesting thing is that the Red Shirt guy is hooping and hollering all the way down like some idiot out of a Mountain Dew commercial. Kirk pulls his chute and begs the guy to open his. Red Shirt is too busy being a thrill-seeking idiot and ends up vaporized. Now we the audience can see Kirk takes huge risks, but we also understand that he cares about others and is not stupid.

Star Trek relied on character and story. This is the single most important lesson for those writing sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal or horror. Tell us a story about people first. Relying on gadgets and gimmicks is not storytelling (if you ever need a reminder, just go check out last week’s post about the Star Wars prequels). There are all kinds of space movies that had far better special effects than the original Star Wars (the GOOD ones), yet Star Wars endures and will endure to future generations. Why? Because it told a story about people first. I believe this Star Trek did the same and that is why it is a movie that will endure for generations.

I never could get through the newest Star Wars prequels. Why? Because there was so much CGI (computer generated imagery) that I felt like I was trapped at Chuck E. Cheeses and having a bad LSD trip. I felt the computer images were far too distracting. From the comments on last week’s post, I finally realize I am not alone.

Star Trek, on the other hand, used CGI, but not at the expense of the real focus . . . the stories about the people.

I edit a lot of writers who want to write YA, fantasy, paranormal, etc. and too often they allow world-building to take over. The reader is so bogged down in gimmick that she cannot see the characters or the story. Frequently there isn’t a story.

World-building is something a writer must employ to assist or accentuate the core conflict. Our goal as writers must be to get a reader to relate and connect. People connect with people, not worlds. Conflict drives stories, not gizmos. Thus, all the magic and myth must be ancillary to the root story. If you have done a good job of plotting, that root story will be very simple and timeless and could take place in Kansas or on Planet Doom.

For those of you who haven’t watched the new Star Trek, I highly recommend it (duh :D) even if you aren’t a fan of sci-fi.

What are some of your favorite movies and why? How did the story capture you? Why does it resonate? What are your thoughts on the new Star Trek? What did you like? What fell short?

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of June I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Important Announcements

Join us for the BIGGEST PARTY EVER!!!! Tomorrow is the launch party for NY Times mega-author James Rollins’ new book The Devil Colony and you are invited to hang out with some of the biggest names in publishing as well as the coolest people  on Twitter. Read this for more details.

Winner for June Week Three is Virginia Ripple

Please send 1250 words in a Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org :D

Make sure you join our LOVE REVOLUTION over on Twitter by following and participating in the #MyWANA Twibe. Read this post to understand how this #MyWANA will totally transform your life and your author platform.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

Today is Free-for-All-Friday, and thus is my choice. I was skimming through some earlier posts and came across this one…that cracks me up even now. So, I thought I would post again for the benefit of the newbies and to give my loyal followers a good laugh. Come on, you know this still makes you laugh. “Easily amused” falls in the writer job description, right?

I still remember the day I told my family I was leaving corporate sales to become a writer. I think what they heard was something akin to, “Leaving any feasible way to make a living and feed myself. Joining a cult. Cool-Aid.” Or something close to that.

If you are a writer, then you know we share this collective pain.

People ask, “So what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a writer.”

“No, I mean what do you really do? What’s your job?”

Sigh.

So, to repay you for your pain, here’s a laugh at our collective expense.

Top Ten Reasons to Become a Writer

10. Therapy is getting too expensive

When you become a writer, the first thing that becomes clear is that if you are at all interesting enough to be able to write good fiction, then you are seriously screwed up. As in years of expensive therapy screwed up. Writers are not normal.

So why not take all those notebooks filled with letters to your Inner Child and turn those babies into cold hard cash? I say, it is time for us to demand Inner Child Labor. Instead of letting that ungrateful punk float around in our limbic brain, it is high time we make the little twerp pull his weight.

Have anger issues coupled with violent fantasies? You are a born horror author.

Attend sex therapy to deal with a porn addiction? Erotica author.

Have “Mommy” issues? Write guest posts for Top Ten Blogs.

9. Revenge, Duh

What better way to get back at that jerk who stood you up for the big dance? Or the toad who slept with your best friend? You got it. Become a writer. Surely you can think of a story that is in need of a pathetic cross-dressing hermaphrodite who gets killed by an inflatable doll. Slap the ex’s name on him. Just change the first letter of his last name. Heck, use your newfound power to help out your friends. Surely they can give you lists. Find a need for a character who has a tragically small penis or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Become a writer and no one will cross you again lest they be found wearing hot pants while soliciting prostitution from sheep at the petting zoo in your next story. And hey, with the Internet, EVERYONE can be published.

8. High School Reunion Coming Up

So maybe you have done nothing with your life in the past 20 years. Who cares? All you have to do is find some out of print author and borrow his name for a bit. Hey, not like he is using it. Just tell those jerks you wanted to impress that you write under a pseudonym, and now you are “in between books.” Think of it this way, you can hold your head high that “you” accomplished something they never did, and, since you won’t have to see those wankers for another 5-10 years, no one will be the wiser. If you do get found out, it is just free publicity for the struggling dope you impersonated.

7. You drink a lot and it was either become a writer or attend AA

Enough said…

6. Can hang out with our friends somewhere other than the Renaissance festival

Renaissance festivals and Trekkie conventions can get expensive, especially when you work at a doughnut shop. And while living with Mom does help off-set the cost of rent, World of Warcraft isn’t exactly free. Form a critique group with your pals and all vow to become famous writers. Hey, you still get to hang out and talk about elves and wizards and what you would do if you were a vampire, only now it is considered “work.”

5. Because what other job comes with a dress code of thrift store jeans and juvenile T-shirts?

Do you just love Superman, Mickey Mouse, or even Mr. T? I pity the fool! Feel like expressing yourself on 100% pre-shrunk cotton? Hey, if you were a 37 year old accountant or airline pilot, others might think that an entire wardrobe comprised of Xena, Firefly and Battlestar Galactica T-Shirts meant you were emotionally immature or “touched in the head.” Now that you’re a writer, you can be…eccentric. Hell, throw in a beret just to be extra annoying.

4. Because “writer” sounds so much more glamorous than “unemployed” or “Starbucks Hot Beverage Consultant”

Refer to Number 8.

3. Because it is the next best thing to having your own reality show

Have a whacked out family or embarrassing habit? Write about it. The great thing is that now EVERYTHING is a tax write-off. Have an insatiable coffee, book and movie addiction? Then you are writer material. So go ahead and collect action figures, souvenir shot glasses and rare comic books. Do a “Tour of Pubs” and get plastered as you sample every beer under the sun. Or take that trip to Texas and ride the mechanical bull at Billy Bob’s. Just make sure you write about it, and then it is all deductable “research”…and the pictures your so-called friends post on their Facebook page of you being hauled away for Drunk and Disorderly Conduct are less “mortally embarrassing” and more “priceless promotion.” Just make sure you ask Denny’s for a reciept before they throw you out.

2. Because your family told you that you should be a doctor.

Don’t get along with your parents? Hey, go big or go home. What better way to insure your status as black sheep of the family than announce that you are giving up everything to become a writer? Short of announcing that you just converted to Scientology or that you sold all your stuff and are moving to a commune in New Mexico, telling the folks that you want to be a writer is guaranteed to make you the definitive pariah. And the plus side is that there is no studying chemistry or staying up all night to memorize Kreb’s Cycle. Just think of it this way, they will forgive you once you’re published anyway.

1. Because you can be….GOD!

Yeah, now you get a glimpse of how it feels to be the Big Guy. What other job, short of an IRS agent or a meter maid gives the raw power of being able to make or destroy lives with ….a pen?

Did I miss something? Do you guys have a reason you would like to add? Put it in the comments! Just think of this as group therapy without the privacy :D. What’s your favorite of the top ten posted? Can you relate? Share and we promise to laugh at yo-….um, be compassionate and supportive.

Happy writing!

Until next time….

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Kristen Lamb, Star Trek, What Star Trek Can Teach About Great Writing, What went wrong with the Star Wars Prequels, Kristen Lamb, novel structure, storytelling

Last night I watched the new Star Trek movie directed by J.J. Abrams for the second time. As a writer, stories are my business, so I study them in all forms. Film is a favorite in that it takes far less time and allows me to study the written form in a visual way. I don’t watch movies like most people, much to my husband’s chagrin (he would put tape over my mouth if he could get away with it).

This recent version of Star Trek did very well at the box office and resonated with audiences in a way that other high-budget fast-paced sci-fi movies had failed. Why? I believe Star Trek was a wild success because Abrams adhered to some very fundamental storytelling basics too often forgotten in Hollywood and even in writing.

Yes, movies and novels have more in common than you might think. Today’s blog especially applies to sci-fi and fantasy, but I believe all genres can benefit from these lessons I plucked from the screen last night. Today I will address some of my favorite points, because this movie is such a fantastic tool for understanding great storytelling that I couldn’t possibly address all the lessons in one sitting.

Star Trek proved that imperfect characters resonate with audiences.

Audiences LOVE flawed characters. James T. Kirk was deliciously flawed at the beginning. He was on a road to self-destruction believing he could never stand in the shadow of his father’s greatness. He demonstrated how character strengths of a great leader, when not harnessed properly, are tools of great mischief and mayhem.

Did the plot really serve to change Kirk? Not really. His attributes were very similar, just refocused in a productive way. The inciting incident really just put Kirk on a path that would make better use of his buccaneer ways.

Time and time again I see new writers become far too fascinated with the too-perfect protagonist (been there and got the T-shirt, myself). The problem with the too-perfect protagonist is that audiences find it difficult to relate. While it might seem counterintuitive…

Flawed is often better.

Want an illustration from the fiction world? I believe that Twilight is a great example. Bella was deeply flawed and thus readers could easily slip into her shoes. They, too, could look at Edward and long to know what it would be like to be one of the beautiful people.

I think that is why a lot of movies flop. Who can relate to Angelina Jolie? In Tomb Raider she was fun to watch, but we have absolutely no way of connecting with Lara Croft. She is beautiful, insanely rich and lives a life of adventure. The movies would have done better had the writers/directors done something to make Lara Croft real.

The first movie did well simply because fans of the video game. Yet, audiences couldn’t connect to this super perfect (and not really likable) character, so the second movie bombed big time. And I am not alone in this assessment. Read Save the Cat by the late screenwriting genius Blake Snyder, which is a great book for all writers to read anyway.

Writers. Can we cast über perfect characters? Sure. But we do so at a risk. Perfect characters easily become one-dimensional and boring. As in movies, we need to connect with a reader, and most of us didn’t sit at that table in high school.

Star Trek perfected showing, not telling.

Star Trek did an unsurpassed job of showing, not telling. Yes, they can info-dump in movies. I gutted through Deadline with the late Brittany Murphy and there were convenient camcorder tapes along the way to info dump back story.

There were all kinds of scenes dedicated for the sole purpose of characters discussing a third-party. No, no, no, no, no! Bad writer! Had the screenwriter been in my workshop, he would have gotten zinged. Virtually everything in Star Trek happened real time.

The director didn’t dedicate entire scenes to Spock and Uhura explaining how Kirk was a reckless pain in the tush. Abrams employed scenes that showed Kirk crashing through their lives like a bull in a china shop. There was ONE flashback and it was information critical to understanding the plot.

Star Trek employed parsimony.

One element of showing and not telling is to make the most of your story. Employ setting, symbol and action economy. If a scene can do more than one thing…let it. In the beginning (prologue) Kirk’s mother is pregnant (with him). Bad guys appear, and Dad is left on board as acting captain of the ship.

He must sacrifice to save them all. It is no accident that the director did two things. First, all the battle noises fade away and symphony music rises. Then, the scenes cut from Mom giving birth to Dad giving his life. Birth and death, hope and sacrifice are suddenly in perfect harmony. That was done for a reason. In your novel, do all things on purpose.

Look at your scenes. Can they do more than one task? For some ideas, read my blog Setting—More than Just a Backdrop. Setting can be used for more reasons than to give readers a weather report. Lehane proves my point in Shutter Island (discussed in blog), which is a tremendous example of narrative parsimony.

Star Trek showed character via relativity.

In the beginning we see Kirk as this crazy guy power drinking and zooming around on a crotch rocket. Yet, the director knew he could have a problem. He needed Kirk to be a maverick risk-taker…but he also needed to prove to the audience that his protagonist wasn’t a foolhardy idiot.

No one wants to follow a raging moron with a death wish into battle. The director needed to show us someone who cared deeply about others and who was willing to risk everything for his men.

How did he do this?

There is an early scene where they have to do a space jump (think HALO jump). Kirk and Sulu go with a Red Shirt—which means Red Shirt dude is going to die for those who are not Trekkies. Red Shirt guys always bite it.

The interesting thing is that the Red Shirt guy is hooping and hollering all the way down like some idiot out of a Mountain Dew commercial. Kirk pulls his chute and begs the guy to open his. Red Shirt is too busy being a thrill-seeking idiot and ends up vaporized. Now we the audience can see Kirk takes huge risks, but we also understand that he cares about others and is not stupid.

Star Trek relied on character and story.

This is the single most important lesson for those writing sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal or horror. Tell us a story about people first. Relying on gadgets and gimmicks is not storytelling. There are all kinds of space movies that had far better special effects than the original Star Wars, yet Star Wars endures and will endure to future generations.

Why? Because it told a story about people first. I believe this Star Trek will do the same.

I know I risk making some die-hard fans angry at me, but I never could get through the newest Star Wars trilogy. Why? Because there was so much CGI (computer generated imagery) that I felt like I was trapped at Chuck E. Cheeses and having a bad LSD trip. I felt the computer images were far too distracting.

Star Trek used CGI, but not at the expense of the real focus . . .

The stories about the people.

I edit a lot of writers who want to write YA, fantasy, paranormal, etc. and too often they allow world-building to take over. The reader is so bogged down in gimmick that she cannot see the characters or the story. Frequently there isn’t a story.

World-building is something a writer must employ to assist or accentuate the core conflict. Our goal as writers must be to get a reader to relate and connect. People connect with people, not worlds. Conflict drives stories, not gizmos. Thus, all the magic and myth must be ancillary to the root story. If you have done a good job of plotting, that root story will be very simple and timeless and could take place in Kansas or on Planet Doom.

For those of you who haven’t watched the new Star Trek, I highly recommend it (duh :D) even if you aren’t a fan of sci-fi.

Are there some movies you guys would recommend to help us grow in our craft? Put them in the comments and help us out.

Happy writing!

Until next time…