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Fade In: How I Learned To Write What I Know

All writers face the same thing in the beginning. The blank page...


The Final Frontier.....

I should write that down...

There can sometimes be nothing more daunting or more frightening to a writer than empty space on a page.

Like warping through space without stars

Just a blinking cursor on a screen. (Or an empty page in a typewriter if you're old school)

I legitimately do not know if this counts as old school given the context of the episode...

As many writers will tell you, writing out scenes and dialogue and plot points is only half the battle. The real first part of the journey is discovering what the hell you are going to write about.

But let's take it back a second and think about why we tell stories. After all, what is a story?

Merriam-Webster defines it as:

1) an account of incidents or events

So basically incidents or events being related in some form to another person. Like that beginning scene in STAR TREK VI!

Ah yes... the ultimate storyteller

But from the days of campfire tales to now, stories have existed for a multitude of reasons:







All of these exist in connection with one another and are the very building blocks that connect us as humans. Writers, your stories can do many things, but consider at their base, what are you trying to accomplish? What do you want your words to do?

And how do you want to get your story across?

Spoken words?

Ink on paper?


A giant probe that traverses the vast universe, hoping to somehow come across a species compatible with its memory sharing technology before the data degrades just so you can mindscrew the person who comes into contact with it making them live a lifetime on a dying planet in the span of an hour?

The Inner Light is more of a traumatic musical lesson than all the events in the movie WHIPLASH.

Ah well. No matter the medium, once you have your chosen purpose for telling the story, the question becomes what kind of story do you want to tell? What do you want the response of the audience to be?

To make people laugh, you'd probably tell a comedy story.

To make people afraid, you'd probably delve into horror.

To make them cry, something sad or emotionally moving.

What kind of story you want to tell influences the genre you write in. And vice-versa.

Let's take Science Fiction for instance. Science Fiction, and Star Trek especially, has always been about the human condition. A reflection on humanity along with the hope that humans can grow past what they are and work for the betterment of themselves.

Good science fiction tells human stories.

And don't take it from me. Take it from Isaac Asimov, one of the genre's most influential authors.

(Disclaimer: This video is a character quoting him, and not the real person, of course. But I get chills from this clip each time. If you haven't had a chance to yet, check out STARGATE SG-1)

In short, Science Fiction works to explore the human condition and tell stories about ourselves and our humanity.

Okay, so back to the initial problem. What to write about? You want to write a story. Perhaps a science fiction story.

But where do you even begin?

Michael Piller found himself in the same scenario when writing the ninth Star Trek film, STAR TREK: INSURRECTION.

He knew the genre, the medium, and even the characters. But what eluded him was the theme or what he wanted to explore in his writing.

Michael was a character based writer, and always sought to find meaning behind the stories. And indeed, he spearheaded many seasons of Star Trek which were highlighted for their character based stories. Stories that made audiences feel.

In an interview with, Michael once wrote:

<MichaelPiller> I don't know how a writer ignores characters. I feel that too often in movies and television shows these days, that we see thrills and SFX take the place of stories about characters.
As a viewer I find it impossible to care about "stuff." As a producer, the first question I always ask a writer is "What is this story about?' And if it's about space battles then I'm not going to be interested. I feel as a writer a terrible obligation to reach out every time I sit down no matter what kind of script I'm writing and try to inspire in my audience the same feelings that I had watching movies and good TV shows growing up.
I find it impossible to settle for superficial thrills, even though there are many people willing to pay me money to write those kind of scripts. But what am I adding to this life by doing that? I'm a writer, and I have a responsibility to say something about the world we live in. (, 1997)

So the previous film, Star Trek VIII was FIRST CONTACT, about Picard fighting the Borg. And Michael knew he didn't want to tell that same story again.

The Trek movies have all had funny or original beginnings.

STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN came from Nicholas Meyer watching The Original Series on marathon, and wanting to pull from one of those stories.

STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER came from William Shatner wanting to go toe to toe with God.

STAR TREK (2009) came from the premise of what if Star Trek was more like Star Wars...

And Michael's script for STAR TREK IX: INSURRECTION originated from the oddest of places: A can of Rogaine.

No, this isn't a sponsored post. We love our bald Trek men as much as the next guy.

But Michael realized one afternoon while applying Rogaine to his head, that culture had an obsession with aging. And that's such a human thing and why couldn't our sci-fi heroes face that as well?

And thus... the beginnings of STAR TREK IX were cemented.

(Actually Rick Berman wanted the movie to initially go in an entirely different direction!!!) But to learn more about that, you can check out Michael's book FADE IN: THE MAKING OF STAR TREK: INSURRECTION, A Textbook on Screenwriting from Within the Star Trek Universe here

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All I am saying... is that writers, when you are at a loss for what kind of story to write, you can take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself a simple question...

Or better yet: what do I want to add to this life?

The key word is "I".

What is the old adage? Write what you know

That does not (and I mean this working in the literary side of Hollywood - ABSOLUTELY NOT) mean write about being a writer. Or the struggles of being a screenwriter in Los Angeles. It's been done, and it's hard to make compelling.


You can write stories inspired from your perspective. Go outside and live a little. Get some experiences and feel and fall and fail. There are so many experiences to enrich you and your stories. And they come from you all along.

As Michael writes in his book:

The only suggestion I give to young writers is to listen to the universe. The ideas are all around you - in newspapers and magazines, televisions, stories people tell you and most often in your very own life experiences. Sooner or later, something will resonate. (Piller, 11)

I will leave you with these words from Star Trek's resident writer, Jake Sisko...

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Let me know what the most inspiring Trek stories are to you below!

For more on the film, check out FADE IN: THE MAKING OF STAR TREK: INSURRECTION by Michael Piller. You can purchase it directly on this site!

Until next time...


- Braxton


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