How Star Trek improved my confidence in my writing skills

Seymour and I have been rewatching all things Star Trek since we were dating; we’ve taken care of the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and all the movies (although we’re not big fans of the reboot and I haven’t yet seen Into Darkness).  We’re halfway through our Enterprise rewatch at the moment (which is great because it means I’m that much closer to a rewatch of my beloved Voyager), having started Season 3 the other night.  Seymour’s been telling me about how awful the third season is; he’s not a big fan of the temporal cold war story arc or the Xindi story arc and frankly, I kind of agree with him on the temporal cold war thing.

Anyway, the point of this is that the season premiere of Season 3 had me laughing.  And facepalming.  The words, “What the hell?!” kept running through my head.  Sure, it started off okay – recap of the season finale, Xindi council meeting, theme song (which sucks now – they completely ruined it by jazzing it up).  But then they unveil the new command center, and that’s where it all went wrong:

Captain Archer: How long till we get there?

Subcommander T’Pol: Another three hours.

Lt. Reed: Did the freighter captain say who we’re supposed to contact?

CA: The foreman of the north mine.  He’s expecting us.

ST: What makes this captain so certain one of the miners is Xindi?

CA: He’s not.  He just said he thinks there was a Xindi aboard a transport he took there a few years ago.

LR: And it is safe to enter orbit?  There are no security considerations?

CA: He didn’t mention any.

LR: With all due respect, sir, we should approach with caution.  The freighter captain was of questionable character.

CA: Where are we, Malcolm?

LR: Sir?

CA: This room.  What did it used to be?

LR: A storage bay, sir.  Conduit housings, I believe.

CA: But it got retrofitted.  Starfleet went to a lot of trouble to turn it into our new command center.  Why is that, Malcolm?

LR: Because of our mission, sir.

CA: To find the Xindi, right?

LR: Right.

CA: So this state-of-the-art equipment was put in here to help us gather all the pieces of the puzzle.  Figure out who’s trying to destroy Earth.

LR: Right.

CA: Six weeks.  We’ve been in this expanse for six weeks.  What data have we gathered?  What pieces of the puzzle have we started to put together?  Not a single one.  We don’t have the luxury of being safe or cautious anymore.  And if the only lead we can find comes from a freighter captain of questionable character, then that’s good enough for me.  Understood?

LR: Understood.

Transcribed by Kay Kauffman.  Watch the video here.

Seymour had to pause the show so I could calm myself.  Then he asked what was so darn funny.  “It was Info Dump City,” I replied, trying to reign in my giggles.  “That was terrible writing!  They let that on TV?”

“The whole season is like that,” he said with a sigh.

“That was like reading the first draft of The Lokana Chronicles!  I suddenly feel a lot better about my writing.”

That whole scene was like being slapped in the face with a book.  One of my books, specifically.  I finally understand what all those commenters on authonomy meant about the first scene of the second chapter of The Lokana Chronicles.  Of course, I was still writing the story when I posted it there.  And my skin has gotten a lot thicker since then.  I’m more used to criticism now, and I’m better able to see the good in what is often initially painful.  My writing has greatly improved as a result, and I hope it will continue to do so.

But this?  This hurt to watch, and I really hate to say that about something I love.

So, what did Star Trek teach me about writing?  That sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, something dreadful will slip through the cracks and find a large audience (I didn’t think the rest of the episode was all that bad, but this was just awful).  There had to have been a better way to write this so that it wasn’t Captain Archer telling Malcolm and T’Pol things they already knew.  His whole speech was meant for the benefit of the viewers, not the benefit of his crew because they already knew what he was saying.  After all, they were in space dock together.

Actually, now that I think about it, most of Archer’s lines from this scene could have been cut without losing a whole lot.  At the end of Season 2, Enterprise had been recalled to Earth.  The ship underwent extensive repairs and upgrades, and viewers knew it.  So this scene could have played out like this:

Captain Archer: How long till we get there?

Subcommander T’Pol: Another three hours.

Lt. Reed: Did the freighter captain say who we’re supposed to contact?

CA: The foreman of the north mine.  He’s expecting us.

ST: What makes this captain so certain one of the miners is Xindi?

CA: He’s not.  He just said he thinks there was a Xindi aboard a transport he took there a few years ago.

LR: And it is safe to enter orbit?  There are no security considerations?

CA: He didn’t mention any.

LR: With all due respect, sir, we should approach with caution.  The freighter captain was of questionable character.

CA: We don’t have the luxury of being safe or cautious anymore.  Six weeks.  We’ve been in this expanse for six weeks and haven’t learned a damn thing.  So if the only lead we can find comes from a freighter captain of questionable character, then that’s good enough for me.  Understood?

LR: Understood.

Or something like that.  If he hadn’t mentioned any of the upgrades the storage bay received, I for one would have just assumed they were in a part of the ship we didn’t see in the first two seasons, or that the room they were in had been upgraded while they were in space dock.  The new equipment didn’t really warrant a mention, in my opinion.  Instead, it pulled me out of the story faster than a ship jumping to warp.  (I remain hopeful that the rest of the season won’t be quite as bad as I’ve been led to believe.)

This is the sort of thing I need to keep an eye out for in my own writing.  My revisions on The Lokana Chronicles have become a rewrite, something that I hope I can finish quicker than the first draft of the book, which took me five years.  But there’s a lot of stuff like this Enterprise scene still in there, I’m sure, and I hope that I’ll be able to fix it all (or at least most of it).  If you want to read more about the connection between Star Trek and writing (what not to do, show vs. tell, etc.), Kristen Lamb has written several posts on what the best show ever can teach us about writing, and they’re all pretty awesome.

Now, then – back to the revision cave! 😀

How about you?  Have you ever learned anything about a passion from one of your favorite shows?  Or have missteps in a show or movie ever pulled you out of the story?

(c) 2014.  All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “How Star Trek improved my confidence in my writing skills

  1. Laura says:

    I think this when I read really bad fiction. I read a book years ago called The Dandelion Killer. It was one of the worst books I’ve ever read: Info-dumps, flat characters, plot holes, and constant “telling” instead of “showing.” When I start to bemoan my terrible first draft, I just think back to that book and say to myself, “If THAT got published, your chances are amazing.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kay Kauffman says:

      Yes! If dreck can make it (and make it to the bestseller lists), then our chances are fantastic. We just have to keep telling ourselves that, and then it will happen!

      Right? Right? 😀

      Like

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