Lately I’ve been putting a bit of thought into the role names serve in fiction, about how they give a first impression of a character, place or culture.
One of the Star Trek franchise’s major alien races are the Ferengi, who began as accidentally comical characters in The Next Generation, developing into overtly comic characters who played a major part in Deep Space Nine. I was surprised to encounter a variation of the word ‘feringhee’ several years after first hearing it in Star Trek, in George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman, set in 19th century India. The alien species’ name came from a derogatory word used by Indians for foreigners, apparently particularly directed at white foreigners.
Production staff on the show have confirmed that this was the genesis of the word, with producer Robert Hewitt Wolfe stating that “Ferengi is, after all, the Persian word for foreigner, particularly for European.”
It’s difficult to work out the reasoning behind making this choice (particularly as not many of the target audience, in 1980s America, probably would have been aware of the meaning of the word) but it was a conscious choice to reference this meaning.
This is my entry for July’s Insecure Writers’ Support Group, a monthly ‘blog hop’ with the intent of giving each other feedback and encouragement. The full list of participants can be found at the Insecure Writers’ home site.
A trope, essentially, is an idea or concept – whether that’s a joke, a situation or a plot twist – that’s recognisable as something that’s been used elsewhere.
The reason I’ve started doing this series is that, although tropes are often interpreted as clichés, it’s possible to breathe new life into familiar ideas, whether by using them in a fresh way or subverting them.
Tropes are, in a basic sense, the building blocks of stories. These can be character archetypes (Rogue Cop, Magical Negro); plot devices (The Catch-22 Dilemma, Ticking Bomb); types of joke (Inside Joke, Call-Back). More or less anything that goes into a story.
For those with only a superficial understanding of the Star Trek franchise, the first 6 films followed the original characters – Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty and all. There were then 4 film starring the The Next Generation cast – Picard, Data, Worf. The 11th film, directed by JJ Abrams has a time-travel/history-changing central idea, and stars the original characters at a younger age, played by different actors.
Into Darkness is the 12th film in the Star Trek franchise overall, following directly on from the 11th.
Star Trek Into Darkness is exciting, fast-paced, filled with obvious references to previous parts of the franchise, but there were a few times that made me laugh at how little skill the material was handled with.
I didn’t find Final Frontier, a notorious mess, as bad as Into Darkness. I’m pretty certain I laughed more at The Voyage Home, but that’s actually meant to be a comedy.
I’ve been thinking about what I liked and didn’t like in each, and have come up with 4 components to doing Star Trek right. It should be
Have strong character definition and interaction
Have meaty moral or philosophical arguments
Take place in a well-structured universe with understandable scientific and political rules, even if the science differs from what we know to be true.
Most versions of Star Trek don’t meet all four – for example the first film (The Motion Picture) is incredibly slow, failing the first requirement. First Contact doesn’t have much in the way or moral arguments, and there are notorious episodes that fail all four, even from the classic series, such as Spock’s Brain, where aliens steal… Spock’s brain. Into Darkness certainly meets the first requirement – being up there with the best of Star Trek in excitement, and achieves a pass on the second requirement, even though it’s a mixed success.
The third and fourth it fails miserably.
I’ve been thinking, both while watching and reviewing the first 7 films, and after seeing Into Darkness, about what I like and dislike about Into Darkness. I’m going to put a few thoughts down.
As a warning, the following is going to be absolutely packed with spoilers for Star Trek Into Darkness. Read on at your own peril.
A while back, I posted what was intended to be the first in a series of analyses of films using Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet.
I’ve put off doing more since. Among the reasons are the fact that the second film I tried to apply the formula to was Cowboys and Aliens, which I found difficult to classify at a crucial part, and Casino Royale, which I thought did some interesting things with its structure when I looked at it analytically. (I intend to analyse Casino Royale, but want to do a few more examples of the ‘classic’ style of beat sheet first.)
The next film I analyse will be a comedy – Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy.
When writing I felt like I was being a bit humourless looking at a comedy in this way, particularly one with a style so OTT. But the structure is still there, and is quite easy to spot, which I think proves that even bold, silly films like this need to have a decent structure to function as a story.
Spoilers for the last issue of Amazing Spiderman – #700.
The most recent issue of Amazing Spiderman, #700 was released on Boxing Day, and had caused controversy beforehand when the contents were leaked.
At the beginning of the current story arc, Doctor Octopus was close to dying from cancer. (Which I think is a good thing itself – I think it gives a sense of heft to a fantastical world.) This doesn’t stop him from being a menace to Spiderman, however, managing to switch bodies with Peter Parker, planning to steal his life.
Switching bodies is a relatively common trope in long-running sci-fi/fantasy/comics, with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stargate SG1, Red Dwarf, The X-Files and four of the five Star Treks having used the idea.
As commonly happens with this type of story, the hero spends the majority of the story trying to get back to his own life, while the villain causes chaos in the hero’s life. But this time there was a very uncommon twist – Peter Parker fails to get back into his body, and dies in Doc Ock’s body.