Kirk and McCoy–Let’s Get Real

Over the years since it premiered in the mid-1960’s, Star Trek has been on TV almost continuously.  (I’m talking about the original series, not one of the spin-offs.)  I’ve seen it everywhere I’ve lived since that time and have always enjoyed it.  I watch it over and over.  It seems timeless, and except for the limited budget sets and cheap special effects, it is still as relevant today as then.  But recently, now as I am learning to write novels and stories and becoming acquainted with the techniques and processes of writing, I find myself looking beyond what the writers put into the script, that is, into the reasons behind their choices of words and actions.

Most of what the writers did I have no quarrel with.  They made a good sci-fi TV series, and I’m not here to critique it to death.  But I do have one point to comment on, a point which arises in novel writing, and even in short-story writing.  This is the idea that there must be “conflict on every page.”

I’m somewhat against that notion, though not totally opposed to it.  In order for a novel or story or drama to capture and hold an audience, conflict, or at least some sort of tension or disagreement or contention must be going on, if not out in the open at least simmering under the surface.  Otherwise the story is too dull to be interesting and readers will put it down and not care.  But what the writers of Star Trek did goes well beyond the “conflict on every page” routine.  So often, I’ve noticed as I watch many of the episodes for the umpteenth time, Dr. McCoy and Captain Kirk are involved in a yelling match (usually it’s McCoy who starts the argument because of an order that Kirk has given) for no real reason.  I get the distinct feeling that the writers put the argument in because they were expected to produce some sort of tension or conflict to keep the audience’s attention during what ordinarily would be a low point in the script.  Many of the arguments are obviously forced; the order that Kirk gives which sends McCoy into a spasm of distemper is so often a small decision which frequently follows Starfleet’s SOP and isn’t something to get indignant about in the first place.  I’m frequently nonplussed by McCoy.

This is why I don’t subscribe to the “conflict on every page” theorem.  Not because it’s not a good idea, but because it can result in forced conflict, placed there simply to follow the dictum.  Conflict, if it exists in a novel, should flow naturally from the story; a good story will generate its own conflict and it won’t require the author to find something for the characters to argue about simply to make sure there’s conflict on the page.  I’ve tried to follow this procedure as much as possible in my writing.  I’ve got two novels finished (but not published–stick around) and I’ve tried to make any conflict logical and reasonable and arising from within the plot.  Not easy to do all the time; it results in some low points every now and then.

Then again, maybe that’s why my novels haven’t been published.  Any agents reading this?  What do you think?

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