Tag Archives: short stories

Lesson from Star Trek: Multiple Story Threads

Like many other people, I’ve been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation from the beginning now that it’s available for streaming on Netflix.  Now that I’m far older and have some stories under my belt, I saw an interesting pattern in what the writers decided to do with their story lines.

So far, they fall into two basic structures.  I’ll call them the parallel structure and the nested structure.

The parallel structure is two separate story threads blended together that they then cut back and forth between during the course of the episode.  Usually, one of the two threads involves the “problem on the planet” type stuff.  Solve the dilemma, save the other spaceship, and so forth.  The second story thread is the one that the writer(s) can play with to achieve a different feel.  It could be humor-based, such as when Data is trying to learn how to be funny.  Or it can be character-based, such as when they investigate Worf’s background or the interaction between sets of characters.

The variations, of course, are nearly infinite.  What’s important is the idea of the two parallel threads: you can create tension by cutting back and forth between the two, and you can also get away with more when you use them together than if you were to use each separately.  The “Crisis on the planet” schtick might get stale faster if it’s not interwoven with something else.  There’s also something to be said for allowing a story some room and giving the viewer/reader a chance to breath before the tension cranks up again.  A whole episode of nothing but character background / investigation / fan service can get boring quick, too, especially if that character doesn’t happen to be the viewer’s favorite.  It also exhausts the pool that represents that character’s background story potential much faster.  Want to ensure a reader comes along for the entire ride?  Dribble the background, the stuff they want to know, in small bits throughout the entire arc.

In the nested structure, one story thread complicates another.  One of the best examples of this so far is in the Season 1 episode “The Big Goodbye,” where Picard and others get trapped in the holodeck right as the ship is supposed to make important diplomatic contact that only the captain can handle.  Either story thread could have been an episode by itself, but would have felt a bit anemic.  By complicating one situation with another situation, the tension rises.  After all, things are seldom easy or go as planned–especially if the writer has anything to say about it.

Within the nested structure is the reminder to not let things be easy on characters.  If the ship breaks down, and the crew just says, “oh, okay, then we’ll stop until it’s fixed,” there’s no episode, no conflict, nothing interesting going on.

The use of these two ideas, or vehicles, in a TV show makes me think they’d work well in short fiction.  I’ve added these to my writer’s toolbox and will try to pull them out every now and again.

Nova Now Making Its Rounds

Codename: Nova is now making itself at home in the inbox of the first publisher on my list for that story. With any luck, it’ll be the first/last/only publisher, but that’s mere wishful thinking on my part.

The important thing is that I’ve called it done and begun trying to find a home for it.

Slowly But Surely

A WIP update.

Codename: Pipes

I finished my first edit on codename: Pipes this evening.  Cleaned up some dialog and smoothed out some transitions that were rough. That’s the awesome thing about writing: it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time.

My planned word limit on the story when I sat down to write it was 1000 words.  The original clocked in somewhere around 950 or so, depending on the program doing the counting.  This puts a little pressure on me. A little squeeze to ensure I don’t add too much.  The story can be told in that amount of words.  I just need to spend some time with it to make sure it shines.

I’ll do one more edit and then I’ll hand it off to close readers for their feedback.

Codename: Morocco and Codename: Nova

These stories are still with my close readers. It’s sometimes difficult to wait on feedback. The stories loom large in my life and I have to remember that they don’t necessarily do so in the lives of my close readers. I want to make them better and then get them out into the world, but these things take time.

I’ve tried to get a good rotation going so that I’m busy working on other stories in various stages while waiting for initial feedback on other works.

Some Works In Progress

I’ve added a new page under “Writing” that lists some of my current works-in-progress (WIP), along with their code names (that I’ll also use in tags in subsequent entries).  Want to know what’s up-and-coming?  That’s the place to look.

Did some editing of a second rough draft of Nova this morning and am feeling very good about the story.  It came out strong in the first place, and that made me happy.  Once I can get some feedback from my advanced readers to test the water, this thing is ready to send out and get off my writing plate.