Midweek Muse: What Star Trek and The Help have in common

STIntoDarkness

I admit it: I’m a Trekkie. I was drawn into the franchise in the late 80s, with The Next Generation, when I was first out of college and living with my dear friend Michelle in a little apartment in Somerville, MA. She persuaded me to go to a Star Trek convention at the Hynes Convention Center, although I refused to go in costume, which, ironically, ended up making me feel like the outsider. It was quite something, all these Klingons and Vulcans mingling with humans in full Enterprise garb. Marina Sirtis was there as well, though I didn’t give her the pleasure of empathically sizing me up.

I also admit to enjoying a wide range of story-telling quality out of the ST franchise. Hey, let’s be honest, it’s not all Shakespeare, but still it is fun. The story – whether on the big screen or in one of the many TV iterations – isn’t always what matters most (thankfully), so much as the spectacle and the sense of being in the ST universe with all those familiar aliens.

But lately, story is the thing for me. Maybe that’s because I’m trying to write one (gulp… only one page in so far) and I want to learn from the good stuff. This has been a banner week for me in that regard, as not one but two different (VERY different) stories have presented themselves to me as excellent benchmarks: Star Trek – Into Darkness (saw in movie theater on opening night) and The Help (listened to audiobook during commute).

TheHelpI know, can I stretch the connections any further? What does the plight of domestic help in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960s have to do with genetically engineered super-humans, angry Klingons, and an intergalactic assembly of Federation officers in the way distant future?

Well, turns out, quite a bit, at least having to do with good story-telling. Here’s my shortlist of “how to tell a good story” (or “how to tell a story that Kelly really likes”) from these two delightful works of fiction:

  1. Create complex characters. Give your protagonists some character flaws and your bad guys some things to like about them (you know, like how in real life people are multidimensional). OK, maybe there wasn’t much to like about Hilly in The Help, but there was plenty to pity.
  2. Include both humor and sadness. Again, like real life. With both Star Trek and The Help, I laughed out loud and cried like a baby. Well done, author author!
  3. Put your characters in risky situations. A little danger is exciting and keeps you wondering what’s going to happen next. These two stories had risk to spare for all the main characters.
  4. Add the unexpected. There were a few times in both stories when I found myself thinking, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.”
  5. A touch of nostalgia (just a touch) doesn’t hurt. Whether it’s the passing references to Bob Dylan and bouffant hairdos in The Help, or the tip of the hat to the original ST, the stories included just enough touch points to make the audience feel a sense of belonging and connection.
  6. Give us something beautiful to look at (or read or hear). With ST, the cinematic spectacle was splendid. With The Help, the writing – each line – was delicious.
  7. Leave the reader/watcher/listener wanting more. Is Skeeter going to be successful in New York City? What will Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew find in deep space? Now that the writers have made me care about these characters, I really want to know.
  8. Leave the reader/watcher/listener with hope. In both stories, the ending is a new beginning. There is a sense that anything is possible. And as the reader, I choose to continue the stories in my mind, stories of bravery, discovery, and possibility.

(And now breathe a sigh of satisfaction as you hear in your mind’s ear that familiar soaring music – Oo ooooh da da da da dooooo – and the credits roll…)

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