Okay, true confession. Only a handful of you know my closet is crammed with Star Trek gadgets like my Borg Cube piggy bank, my Star Trek sound effects keychain, and plastic pointed ears. By the age of sixteen I had attended my first Star Trek Convention, and knew every classic Trek episode by name and by heart. When I left for college, Star Trek stayed home. Then life, career, and family caught up with me.
But Star Trek left its mark. As a kid I watched a lot of junk on TV, hardly noticing the difference between good and bad writing. Well, that’s not quite true. I knew all the writing on Gilligan’s Island stank, but watched it anyway. I was fourteen when I noticed that the Star Trek reruns I was watching ran the gamut in quality. Most were fine, some shone brilliantly and others fell flat. I began to compare and analyze each episode, from the trashy Turnabout Intruder to the exquisite City on the Edge of Forever.
Each show featured the same cast, and followed the same format. Each began with Red Shirts, those unfortunate crewmembers doomed to a cruel and unusual death before the first commercial break. Law of the Universe. I could live with that. Many resorted to technobabble to explain and/or justify that week’s dilemma and resolution. I could live with that too. So what made one episode a masterpiece and another an epic failure?
Strange new worlds, the aliens that populated them, killer epidemics, and intergalactic wars provided intriguing backdrops. That was enough for the action figure collectors. But it was the emotional complexity of the cast I found most compelling. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy were all so different from each other. What interested me was their reactions to problems, interactions with each other, and their internal struggles.
My favorite episodes were lighthearted, like The Trouble with Tribbles or A Piece of the Action. Other favorites, like Friday’s Child or Journey to Babel, gave us comic relief in between moments of high drama. Many episodes were thinly disguised commentary on our own society.
A few shows were obviously written by people who didn’t understand the characters or who sold them out to squeeze a plot from a limp and pale idea. The Galileo 7 was bad writing, and character assassination, pure and simple, of poor Mr. Spock.
From the simple exercise of comparison and analysis, I learned that I love humor, and use it now in whatever I do. I prefer character-driven fiction. I learned how to set up a story, and build tension, and be true to my characters.
I hope you will embrace whatever series, book, or show inspired and helped make you the writer you are today, be it Star Trek, Nancy Drew, Harry Potter or The Simpsons. Analyze it, explore it, own it!
Whatever works for you, may you live long and prosper
Was there a particular book, author, or television series that influenced or influences your writing?