Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mr. Spock's Tips for Writers

Last week, while over at a friend's house, I noticed the intriguing title, I Am Spock, on the spine of a book. Of course I'd heard of Leonard Nimoy's previous book, I Am Not Spock. Sure enough, this book was another Nimoy memoir, published twenty years after the first one. I wondered what had made him change his mind.

I asked to borrow the book, and as I read it I learned that Nimoy now considers his previous title something of a mistake. He was only trying to be clever, not denounce his role as one of the best-loved science-fiction characters of all time. Nimoy cares deeply about the character of Mr. Spock, and has fiercely defended him against script writers and directors that just didn't understand the half-Vulcan, half-human Starfleet officer.

Which brings up two invaluable things I learned about storytelling as I read this book.

First of all, the audience will not always understand what you're trying to do. The title, I Am Not Spock, for instance. Fans were furious. It haunted Leonard Nimoy for years. In fact, he almost lost the chance to direct Star Trek IV because the producer erroneously thought Nimoy had written a whole book about how much he hated Spock. That's not what the book was about at all. Few had bothered to read it, apparently. They'd only looked at the title and jumped to a conclusion.

What to do? Beware ambiguity. When misunderstood, move on to your next project.

Sub-point: Being misunderstood can be agonizing, but it won't necessarily ruin your career.

Now for Mr. Spock's second tip for writers. This one is about character. It took a  few episodes of the original Star Trek series for Leonard Nimoy to get a firm grasp on who Spock was, on what made him tick. But once he knew, he was ready to defend his concept of Spock. Time after time, a script-writer would come along who wanted to have Spock lose his temper, or be violent, or let down his Vulcan dignity in some other way, and Nimoy would have to go in and say, "I can't play this scene." He got some writers mad at him, especially since most of them had two other scripts to finish yesterday and they didn't want to re-write some scene for this pointy-eared alien. But because Nimoy insisted, and because Mr. Spock was so true to his character on the show, the fans responded. They loved him. They believed in him.

Know your characters. Then be willing to fight for them. Don't let anything compromise the integrity of their personality. If they wouldn't do something, it doesn't belong in the story. Rewrite!

Subpoint: Audiences love a character with a powerful internal conflict. But don't make the character constantly swing between one side and the other. That makes the character seem wishy-washy. Mr. Spock succeeds as a character because he almost always goes with his Vulcan side, though there are enough glimpses of the human side to let the audience know what a pressure-cooker is going on inside.

Thanks for the tips, Mr. Spock.

1 comment:

Maria said...

Hi, Rebecca! Great tips...I love the Spock Character too! Still working my my fairy day. I saw your harp site with the tunes for download. I was looking for What Child is this in the key of C...which is also Greensleeves. Your arrangement looked nice! I haven't blogged much lately but I will leave you one of my blog links. Thanks!