Spock is the Man. Yeah, Kirk is fun in that swashbuckley way and McCoy is just freakin' hilarious, but Spock is the Man. His cool detachment and otherworldly logic make for a fantastic character study. He is the perfect example of how reserve and quiet in a character can say so much.
Point the First: Spock is Scary. The blustering swagger of James T. Kirk lets us all know who's in charge of the U.S.S Enterprise. But guys like Kirk? You can take out guys like that. You know he's smart, you know he's clever, and you know he'll never go down without swinging, but, really, his bravado could be easily undone.
By contrast, there is Mr. Spock, who can, despite his wispy frame, military press a 300-pound boulder without so much as a quivering upper lip. And Spock, like the chess master he is, is one of those guys that you know will always be able to outthink you. But under all that are flashes of the savage Mr. Spock, whose barely contained human half is always close to tearing through his Vulcan logic.
And a scary thought occurs -- if you hit Spock hard enough in the right area of his brain, he would lose his ability to outthink the emotional cauldron that keeps his inferiority issues and personal distaste of human frailties at bay. Like most quiet guys, Spock is menacing because he isn't rattled by anything and because he doesn't talk about what he does or doesn't know. You know that he could pull your legs off and kick what's left of your ass with them and his heart rate will never increase.
In the John Wayne way, you could see getting into a fight with Kirk and then having a beer with him after. But I dare you to find anybody you know who would actually want to fuck with Mr. Spock.
Point the Second: Spock is Sexy. For all Kirk's womanizing, the indisputable truth of Star Trek's sex appeal is that Spock is just fucking sexy. And I'm a straight guy saying that, which should tell you something. Spock's quietly intense looks and gravel-scratched baritone voice, combined with his smoky dark eyes and hunter's patience, make him what in the parlance is known as "dangerous-sexy."
And Spock has the absolute most erotic moments of the entire series. Plato's Stepchildren, despite featuring Kirk's admittedly embarrassing impression of a show horse, and despite featuring the first interracial kiss on a network show, features Spock's lyre-based rendition of the song Bitter Dregs. In this he warns young ladies to value their, uh ... wine, against young men who will drink greedily and then leave nothing.
There is the moment in Amok Time when Nurse Chapel (who's got a groove-thang for the ship's resident Vulcan) cries, heartbroken over Spock's impending nuptials to the oh-my-GOD-she's hot T'Pring. And Spock tenderly wipes her tear with his finger and says in his dusky voice, "Your face is wet ..."
But the most erotic encounter in sci-fi history occurs in The Enterprise Incident, in which Spock cozies up to the sexy female commander of a Romulan ship while Kirk sneaks about in a bad disguise to steal a cloaking device. The commander woos Spock, offers him a command (and sex), and changes from her uniform into a form-fitting dress. She asks, "Is my attire now more approriate, Mr. Spock?" To which Spock answers, "Commander, your attire is not only more appropriate, it should actually stimulate our conversation." He follows this up by softly running his hand along hers.
Point the Third: Spock's detached calm sells his menace and his sex appeal. By being calm, quiet, and stoic, Spock is never out of control. And as the Romulan commander pants expectantly at his touch, Spock stares deep into her eyes, unfazed, and ready to roll.
The lesson we learn from this is that reserve makes for a great, intense character. At times when emotions run highest -- anger and sexual arousal -- Spock never loses his cool (Amok Time's freak-out aside, because that can be attributed to an ancient evolutionary biology that overrides all thinking). And by not losing his cool, the intensity of his actions becomes far more mysterious. And, therefore, dangerous. And sexy.
Write for the Jugular, folks. But stay in control.
This is a gross oversimplification, I know, but as I see it, actors and writers are the same people. The only difference is that actors tend to need people to love them and writers tend to need people to stay the hell away from them.
But actors and writers both live and thrive in alternate realities, where voices in the head are cause for celebration and not for witchcraft trials. And, really, writers are all actors, just without the applause.
To write great characters requires empathy and an understanding of emotions. And to write great stories requires great characters. Great actors know how to project themselves onto other people by creating empathy. It's no surprise that great writers know how to do the same thing.
The ability to act or write well demands the ability to put yourself in the shoes of others and to understand the universal emotions that we all feel. Most of us don't know, for example, what it feels like to be taken hostage and held at gunpoint, but we all know how it feels to be out of control and afraid for our lives. And maybe most of us don't know what it's like to do a standup comedy routine that bombs, but we've all experienced at least one moment of utter embarrassment or discomfort while under the scrutiny of judgmental eyes.
These feelings of fear or humiliation or shame or whatever are the universals. As much as specific experiences might change, feelings and emotions are always the same. Good actors and good writers create worlds and truths and realities by recognizing that a smile and a good laugh mean the same in Swahili as they mean in English, Urdu, and Russian.
Remember -- good writing is action. It lives and breathes and feels. Good writing touches all our senses, just as good acting does. When you write well, you act. You inspire. And you connect.
Write for the Jugular, folks.
A few weeks ago, I read a post at New Media Expo that compared building anticipation in one’s audience to the anticipation Starbucks builds for its pumpkin lattes. Starbucks builds anticipation by sharing news about the lattes several months before the drinks are available for consumption. The chain then offers deals or some sort of special the day the lattes become available.
It’s a great way to build anticipation. The audience - the consumer - knows that the lattes only are available for a certain period of time. Because of that, the consumer watches for the promotional materials. They mark the dates on their calendars. The become excited about the promise of a pumpkin latte. They imagine how it will taste. They put aside an extra five dollars. They make plans to visit the nearest Starbucks as soon as the latte is available. They stand in line and chit-chat with all the other people who are equally excited about the lattes. They become part of a movement, an experience.
I suppose I have a similar mindset when I start to build anticipation in my audience for an upcoming book release, a new comic, or some new project. My tactics are a little different; I view the projects and comics as something I give to my audience. While the audience may have to pay for some of those things, I still treat those things as gifts. I am giving a gift to the people in my audience. How can I not be excited?
The truth is that I can’t. I’m one of those people who will buy or plan Christmas presents or birthday presents months in advance, then share the news that I have bought or planned the presents. When I tell people I have a present for them, their response is a typical one; they ask what the present is, or they ask what I’m planning. They know I won’t say anything. The point, after all, is to build anticipation and excitement about the gift.
For instance, I have a plan for a November Write Right comic. I draw a new one every month, but November is a little different. I didn’t want to draw something about Thanksgiving, so I thought. I kept thinking until I thought of a marvelous idea. Once I decided upon the idea, I let my audience know about it. I made no mention of what the idea was; I simply stated I had settled upon one. My audience - dear people that they are - remarked I was a tease, which is true. I did tease them with the comic. It’s the way I run things when it comes to new Write Right drawings, posts, projects, and events. I create teaser campaigns. I then notify specific people who might be more interested in the comic or project than others. In this case, I spoke with one or two people and told them they would like the comic if I could translate the idea in my head onto paper. When I publish the comic, I will contact those people on Twitter or via email and let them know that the comic is ready to be viewed.
That’s how I build anticipation. How do you build it?
Please visit Erin at Write Right
Ah, the secondary character. The many names we call you ... The sidekick. The girl…
Umm… OK, I guess it’s just those two. The point is, secondary characters in fiction are important to the primary characters and to the unfolding of a story. They exist as vehicles for exposition.
In other words, secondary characters are us. The ones with all the questions. The ones who need to know things only the protagonist can tell us.
You see, in any story, the protagonist knows something ---- a process or an answer maybe. A story. A person. The truth about an artifact. Whatever it is, he knows something that we don’t, and we need him to say it out loud.
But without someone asking questions, the protagonist has little reason to talk. In The Da Vinci Code, for example, Sophie (the girl, and the sidekick) asks questions about the Holy Grail that allow Robert (the protagonist) to explain important things. Without Sophie, Robert wouldn’t sit around pontificating about how much he knows about the Grail. Who would he be trying to inform?
Good. Get back to work. And as always, Write for the Jugular.
OK, so for the both of you out there who were planning to attend my September webinar on creativity, only to find out that it got cancelled, I apologize. I botched it bad. K?
One thing I do regret is not getting a chance to tell you about the exercise I was going to give you to help stir up your creativity:
You write down 10 things or people, then put them aside. Then 10 actions. Then 10 places or events.
Then pick, randomly, from pot A, then pot B, then pot C. Then write one of those (or all of those) story ideas you just generated.
My list was surprisingly legible. And, in most cases, doable. Be on the lookout for any of the following stories from yours truly:
- My uncle Bill/catapults a rock/into my closet
- The teacher/took my socks/to a clock tower
- Weights/file for bankruptcy/at a cafe in Toronto
- Ten cats/learn to play guitar/at a baseball game
- That guy in the hat/saves money for a trip/to a drag club
- A 3-piece suit/joins the Navy and goes to/Miami
- Sorority sisters/felt up my sister/in a piano tuner's studio ( I swear that was totally random)
- A shark/survives a nuclear meltdown/under the bleachers
- A bowling ball/runs up a huge bar tab/at a fabric store
- A guy eating a burger/buys food stamps/in the sewer.
I'd love to hear some of yours ... I know nobody will actually do it, but if you'd like to prove me wrong, I'm waiting.
Until next time, Write for the Jugular, folks.