K/S 101: an essay on the techniques & tricks of writing K/S
|Title:||K/S 101: an essay on the techniques & tricks of writing K/S|
|Creator:||Alexis Fegan Black|
|Fandom:||Star Trek: TOS|
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First, let me say that I hope this essay will be taken in the spirit in which it's in tended — an attempt on my part to pass along some of the things I've learned during my years in fandom, and during my years of writing K/S.
- "Why Write K/S?"
- "Plotting the Dirty Deed, or going where no man has gone before"
- "It's Been Done Before"
- "Am I a Short-Story Writer or a Novelist?"
- "Oh, No! They Won't Get Into Bed..."
- "Technical Tricks of the Trade, or How To Keep Your Editor Happy"
- "Wrapping It All Up -- The End"
Some Topics Discussed
- Kirk/Spock (TOS) fanfiction
- the pro books by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath: The Price of the Phoenix and The Fate of the Phoenix
- discussion of and excerpts from the fics: This Deadly Innocence, Or The End of the Hurt/Comfort Syndrome by Leslie Fish, Shelter by Leslie Fish, Desert Heat by Gayle F, Mirrored Passion and Mirrored Passion Redux by Shelley Butler, The Darker Spirit by Natasha Solten, Hovering by Patricia Laurie Stephens, and Dreams of the Sleepers, The Fifth Hour of Night, Year of the Ram, and Taking Command by Alexis Fegan Black
- plagiarism and fans using similar ideas in fanfic, original characters
- the challenges of writing in a fanfiction universe
K/S is different than any other field of writing, including in my opinion, other multi-media /" writing. I've talked with other writers who delve into both K/S and multi-media "/", and the general consensus is that there's more of a background for K/S — i.e., there are more open precedents for it in aired Trek than in almost any other show, with the possible exception of Starsky & Hutch. Also, K/S has been around longer, and so it's just more established in the minds of most readers and writers alike. To my knowledge, the first published K/S story probably appeared around 1976-1977 — which has nothing to do with anything, except that it might possibly make your job as a writer somewhat easier. A lot of the work's already been done for you!
You're writing in an established universe — two established universes, as a matter of fact. First, you're writing in the Star Trek universe with characters who have been around for more than 25 years (longer than some of the folks currently writing K/S, as a matter of fact!). You have the universe established around you, as well as the majority of settings you'll use in your stories. Unlike writing professional fiction, you aren't burdened with the need to create a universe, describe it to the reader, and then people it with interesting characters. The vast majority of the hard work has already been done. Now, all you have to do is extrapolate on what already exists, and you're free to explore — characterization, plot, whatever....
As well as writing in the Star Trek universe, you're also writing in the established K/S universe. This doesn't mean that you need to have read every K/S story ever published, nor does it mean you have to conform to every other K/S writer's notions of Kirk, Spock, Vulcan, Earth, Starfleet, etc. The freedom of writing K/S is that it's a universe as vast as the one right outside your window. And it's your universe as much as it's anyone else's. Don't let your best friend tell you that "Kirk would never say that!"; or some editor tell you that "Spock never speaks in contractions. It's your universe with your rules, but... you have to make us believe it.
Which brings us back to the point of "why write K/S?" For me, it's been because I want to share my beliefs with other fans. I want you to believe that Spock could love Kirk, and that Kirk could give up his skirt-chasing ways for Spock. I don't want to tell you this is possible. I want to show you, and when you're done reading, I want you to believe. If you don't, I've failed — and it's a certainty that not everything I write and not everything you write is going to succeed in that area. There are going to be times when you're going to throw a zine across the room because you don't believe — or because you don't want to believe. There are, like it or not, going to be times when someone somewhere throws your story across the room, too. That's fine. In fact, that's great — if it's done for the right reasons.
The first K/S story I ever read was Shelter, by Leslie Fish. And believe me, I would have hurled the zine across the room if it been mine to hurl. Aha! But why would I have done it? Not because I didn't believe, but because I did. Before reading Shelter, my only exposure to the notion of K/S had come from the "Phoenix" books, by Sondra Marshak & Myrna Culbreath, and it wasn't the kind of "exposure" I wanted. In short, though I found the books enjoyable overall, I didn't believe what they were trying to tell me between those professionally-written lines. There was something in the Phoenix books that made me squirm — and not in the same way Shelter made me squirm. The Phoenix books made me uncomfortable, argumentative, and downright bitchy whenever I encountered the concept of K/S. Though, like I said, they're great books in and of themselves.
In all fairness, of course, perhaps the Phoenix books would have affected me in the same way Shelter did had they been done as fanzines, without the need to write between the lines rather than on the lines. All I know is that reading the Phoenix books originally turned me into what's known nowadays as a "rabid anti-K/Ser". You see, the Phoenix books didn't convince me that Kirk and Spock might be lovers, or at the very least, were involved in some pretty kinky pastimes in the privacy of their own thoughts. Shelter, on the other hand, more than convinced me. And I, a stubborn, starry-eyed, 22-year-old girl, didn't want to be convinced. I kicked and I screamed and I yowled — my heroes wouldn't do this! But... Leslie made me believe they would. She made me know they would by showing me how it was possible - which is the mark of a good writer. (And when I got through kicking, screaming and yowling, I went straight to my friend's zine collection and promptly devoured all the K/S I could get my hands on — which, back in those days, wasn't a lot. But it was enough to get me started on the way to delightful perversion, where I've lived happily ever since...)
So the key word here is "believability". First and foremost, it's what any good K/S story needs. Believability of plot, believability of actions and, most of all, believability of character. Because we are writing in an established universe, believability can be both easier and harder to transmit into your writing. Easier because, as I've already said, the universe and its people are already there. Harder because those established characters do not have an established relationship. Indeed, if Kirk and Spock had been acknowledged as "lovers" in aired Trek, perhaps some of the thrill of writing K/S would be gone.
... the joy of writing in the established K/S universe (as opposed to the established Star Trek universe): In short, most K/S readers these days don't need to be convinced that Kirk and Spock love each other and that, with little provocation, they will even climb into bed together.  (Though that's no excuse for laziness on the part of the writer. Every time you write a K/S story, you still have to make us believe that your characters can and will and do fall in love — in addition to whatever else you may decide to add to your story.) Too many K/S stories fail when the writer doesn't bother to do this. Too many times, it's too easy to fall back on the excuse of, "Oh, we all know how they feel about each other, so I'll just cut to the chase".
Er... unless you have the succinct yet poetic style of someone like [Gayle F]; unless you can convince us with an economy of words that Kirk and Spock are already in love, "cutting to the chase" isn't necessarily a good idea. If you only want to write a "fuck story" (more on this later), that's all fine and good. But if you're trying to write a love story, or a story wherein the love of Kirk and Spock is vital to your plot's importance, "cutting to the chase" can slit your throat as a writer.
This isn't to say that you can't do a grandiose story in a few pages. I've seen it done and I've seen it work wonderfully — the story that immediately comes to mind is Desert Heat, by [Gayle F] Even though this is a first-time story, and a pon farr story at that, Gayle has the ability to tell us in a few words what would have taken other writers an entire novel's worth of writing to convey. Example:
- Damn, Kirk thought. Damn dead metallurgists, and damn their precious samples, damn transporter fuck-ups, ion storms, and outbreaks
of Charybiam speckled plague. And damn every other fucking thing that got us stuck in the middle of this god forsaken desert.In one paragraph, we learn exactly how and why Kirk and Spock are stranded on a deserted planet when Spock goes into pon farr. There's no need to start the story at the beginning.
It's been done before.
Yes, I'm sure it has. But you can do it differently. Maybe you can even do it better. Too many times, I've heard would-be writers use the excuse of "I can't write that. So-and-so already wrote a story like that".
That's okay. Meaning that it's okay so long as you do take a different slant and find a new angle to explore. As any writer will tell you, there's no feeling worse than being plagiarised, and though this is almost non-existent in K/S circles, it has happened in the past. I'm not talking about two different writers each writing a pon farr story that takes place on an uninhabited desert planet. It's when K/S writers start borrowing more than the core idea of a story. Let's face it, in any genre of writing and K/S in particular, there are only so many stories we can tell. And what I would caution writers about is telling the story in a manner almost exact to how it's been done before.
For example, shortly after I published The End of the Hurt/Comfort Syndrome, I began receiving lots of stories that took [that same] idea and ran with it.
Okay — what's the difference between taking a similar idea and outright plagiarism? Well, for starters, even though direct plagiarism is considered to be a word-for-word copying by strict definition, it can also cover such things as the deliberate "borrowing" of too many ideas from the same source. Some of the stories I received after publishing Leslie's story ran with the idea of K & S moving forward from their hurt/comfort phase into a phase of expressed love and love-making. Close, but not plagiarism — since these writers didn't set their characters on a Gulliver's Travels type of world, didn't involve the bees, and didn't have McCoy responsible. But there were a few stories that went a little too far. One, for example, was nothing more than a re-telling of Leslie's story — and it wasn't done nearly as well anyway. All this writer did was to reword Leslie's work and try to pass it off as her own; and though I didn't find any word-for-word copying, to publish the story would have been ludicrous as well as unethical. When I confronted the writer about this, I discovered that her plagiarism was deliberate, but nonetheless somewhat "innocent". She simply loved Leslie's story so much that she wanted to "write her own version". Unfortunately, that's not what happened. She only rewrote what already existed. Same setting. Same plot. Same dilemmas. Same outcome.
One personal experience I had occurred when a friend of mine showed me a new zine listing, which read: "When Kirk and Spock are captured by the government and frozen, their spirits rise up to learn of the love that sleeps with them". Er -sound familiar? At that time, Dreams of the Sleepers had been in print for approximately a year, and The Fifth Hour of Night had been in print for a few months. Quite clearly, I'd been plagiarised. At first, it occurred to me to get mad, write the editor a nasty letter, and then sulk for awhile. Dreams of the Sleepers was a well-known zine, and the writer who had plagiarised me had ordered a copy, so there weren't any doubts. But ultimately, when I saw a copy of this other zine, I could only feel sorry for the author. It was meant as flattery, and even though there were lots of word-for-word passages copied from Dreams of the Sleepers and passed off as her own work, I doubt she sold more than 10 copies. In the end, I wrote her a polite letter thanking her for the flattery, but suggesting that perhaps she choose a more original "theme" for her next zine. Of course, I never heard from her again.
The point is that the whole thing could have been avoided. If this writer were inspired by Dreams of the Sleepers, why not write a different story using the same theme? For example, it wouldn't have been plagiarism had she written a story about K & S being placed in life suspension chambers at Starfleet to undergo some peculiar long-term experiment. Their astral forms could even have partied together and learned of love. It was when nearly every element of Dreams of the Sleepers was incorporated into this author's work that it became outright plagiarism. You can be inspired by other writers' work, but know the boundaries. Usually, it's just common sense.
Mainly, if you're worried about it, it probably means you have the conscience and the presence of mind not to do it. If you really love someone's story and want to tell your own version, sometimes it's a good idea to contact that author via her editor and discuss it. Or collaborate. Or, if you're confident of yourself, go ahead and write your own version of the same idea, but make sure it is your version and not a clever re-write. After all, how many stranded-in-the-woods pon farr stories have been written, and no two are really the same? How many first time stories have been written, and no two tell the exact same story?
We write K/S in a microcosm of sorts, and as such, I include this section mainly to answer questions that have been asked over the years by other writers who are afraid of doing something because "it's already been done".
Everything has already been done — now it's up to you to improve on the mousetrap while avoiding setting it off in the process.
Mainly, if you only want to explore the sexual side of Kirk and Spock, the easiest (and usually best) way to do this is to either l)make them an established couple; or 2) eliminate the normal reticence by making one or both of the characters more aggressive. After all, Kirk ain't exactly a wall-flower when it comes to his sexuality, and when he's written as one, my personal opinion is that he's rarely believable.
Back in the "good old days" of K/S, it was common practice to write Kirk as almost a mental virgin of sorts — someone who was a complete womanizer, but who had never given even a thought to sex with a man. There were even some stories wherein Kirk and/or Spock were downright bigoted against homosexuality in general — and, for obvious reasons, these stories failed miserably in most cases.After all, we have to remember that we're writing in the 23rd century. It's not fair of us as writers to place 20th century morality onto 23rd century characters. We have to remember that Starfleet is a progressive organization, and that the likelihood of regulations forbidding homosexual contact is remote. (Look at current politics! I can't believe we'll still be fighting over "gays in the military" by the time the 23rd century rolls around.) So, in other words, if you are going to have Kirk or Spock bigoted or prejudiced against homosexuality, you'd better give them a reason other than the way they were raised. (A bad past experience works well, or simply an aversion to the idea of sex with a man — not because he's a man).
- This is an intentional or unintentional reference to The Wave Theory of Slash which had been in fan circulation for about four months.