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Michael Sweeney
Writing a book one chapter at a time
The following is an email interview between Domenico Bettinelli, Jr., creator and primary writer for the fan fiction novel A Planet Too Far.

Writing a book one chapter at a time
A TWG Interview

TWG - What prompted you to start writing Star Trek fan fiction?
I've always been interested in writing science fiction and have plans for my own completely original sci-fi novel. But I wanted some practice writing narratives and dialogue and thought it would be fun to do that using the Star Trek universe. And of course, there are those "what if?" questions having to do with areas of the ST milieu that we never see in the TV shows or movies.

TWG - What type of writing style do you think you took up when you started writing? Did you have a type of story you wanted to tell?
For "A Planet Too Far," I consciously adopted the military thriller style of Tom Clancy and Stephen Coonts: short, punchy segments jumping from viewpoint to viewpoint, highlighting the action and not concentrating too much on character development. For the "Timberwolf" stories, I adopted a more conventional Trek approach of the ensemble cast dealing with social issues and exploring the characters while keeping the action element.

TWG - You chose to write a very grand story dealing with one particular event during the Dominion War. What aspects of war did you want to convey and how did you build your plot points to best dramatize your intended message?
For "A Planet Too Far" I wanted to explore the idea of an ST-era war through the eyes of the ground soldiers. We only got one story during DS9 of the ground war and that wasn't very satisfying. The soldiers were essentially Starfleet Security forces with no apparent thought given to how a ground force would take advantage of the technology at their disposal. Would they wear personal armor? How do they get around forcefields? In a time of long-range sensors and pinpoint accurate phasers, how would you land a large force of soldiers on a planet?

Then there are the personal issues: What would a Starfleet soldier be like? How would they fight? How would they react to death?

And on the grand scale: what would a major Dominion v. Federation ground battle look like? How would the Jem Hadar cloaking ability affect the strategy and tactics?

I would say the story's message was that war is hell, no matter how advanced the technology and how removed the killing. People must still sacrifice their lives, innocents get caught in the crossfire, confusion still reigns, and heroes are created. And in the end, certain values will almost always triumph, especially freedom over tyranny.

TWG - Unlike many fan fiction authors you seem to downplay the heroics of your characters and situations, choosing an earthy reality. What inspired you to take this tone?
I wanted my characters to seem like real people, with internal conflicts and flaws. Everyone expects a flawless hero to succeed at all times, but no one actually knows anyone like that. But when a normal guy-- highly motivated, well-trained and exceptionally skilled, yes, but still a normal flawed person-- succeeds there is that much more satisfaction.

I wanted my characters to be identifiable to the average person, so that if you sat down with a guy who just returned from the front lines in Iraq or Afghanistan, you could say to yourself, "This guy could have been the model for that character in the story."

Like I said, we can identify with and root for the normal guy to succeed and there's suspense in his attempt. But a super-man, the perfect hero, where's the suspense?

TWG - How about your ideas? From where do they come? Do you simply sit down to write, or do you have to be "inspired"?
I often get inspiration from news stories or even other fiction stories. For example, I got the idea for "Timberwolf: Boosters" from watching "Gone in Sixty Seconds." I wondered how I would write about a gang of thieves who stole starships instead of cars, and how a Starfleet crew would go about stopping them. And for the main antagonist, I patterned it on a comination of Angelina Jolie's character from that movie and Lara Croft from "Tomb Raider", a sort of adrenaline junky who did it as much for the thrill of the caper as for the money she makes.

For "A Planet Too Far", the original idea came from a desire to see more about the Dominion War. A few books had been written, to supplement what we saw on screen, but nothing about the ground war. In fact, the immediate impetus may have come from the book "the Battle for Betazed", a good enough book on its own, but I kept wanting to see more.

The more nebulous inspiration would be the World War II movies like "The Longest Day," "Saving Private Ryan", and "A Bridge Too Far," from which I gathered the obviously connected title of my own story.

TWG - Do you read a lot of fan fiction, Star Trek or otherwise?
Unfortunately, I don't lately. There are a few ST fan fic authors whose work I really enjoy and try to keep up with them. But I don't read as much ST fiction lately as I once used to. I've been reading the Horatio Hornblower novels and the Aubrey/Maturn series (from when the movie "Master and Commander"). By the way, those series are giving me some interesting ideas for more ST fan fic. :)

I hate to say it, because I don't mean it this harshly, but a lot of fan fiction is so poorly written that I can't enjoy it. I often see the kernels of good stories, but get bogged down in bad character development, old cliches, poor plotting, and just bad grammar. If I'm knocked out of the reverie of reading by poorly constructed sentences or lazy spelling errors, I just can't enjoy the story.

TWG - Who are your favorite professional authors?
For Star Trek, definitely Peter David, which is a perennial choice, I think. In a way he is the first ST fan fic author to get his work published. The "New Frontier" series is just what all fan fic authors want to do; get paid to play in Roddenberry's universe, while striking out in your own new directions.

Apart from Trek, my favorite overall author is J.R.R. Tolkien. I also enjoy Tom Clancy (although some of his recent work seems to have declined in quality a bit) and Stephen Coonts. Those are the authors whose books I will buy without knowing what the book is about.

For military scifi, I enjoy David Drake immensely. His Hammer's Slammers series is a must-read for anyone contemplating writing military scifi.

TWG - Do you have aspirations towards publication? Any non-Trek work of yours around we can read?
I would definitely like to be a published author of fiction, but I recognize that my writing needs improvement. I'm not satisfied with how I write dialogue and my narrative descriptions need work. I teeter between too much description and too little. Writing is a craft that must be developed, a skill that must be honed.

My day job actually involves writing. I am the managing editor of a Catholic news magazine called Catholic World Report. It's far removed from the ST fan fic genre, which can be a good thing. I also keep a blog at on matters relating to Catholic issues in the news and the like.

TWG - Do you have any plans for new stories?
Plenty of plans, I just need time to write! :)

TWG - If you had the chance would you go back and do anything differently? Change the ship, crew or setting?
I am my own worst critic. I often cringe when I re-read what I wrote, thinking of how I should have written something one way rather the other, or the like. But overall I'm satisfied with my stories. I like the characters and the settings and am proud of what I've produced.

TWG - Many Star Trek fans get very excited when they read A Planet Too Far and the other popular fan fiction series at TWG. What would your advice be to them if they wanted to start their own series, or tell an exciting adventure?
The first rule of writing is: A writer writes... Always. If you want to tell a story, just start writing and get it down on paper. Now, if you want to write a story that others will want to read, that's different.

In that case, I would suggest reading a lot. Take note of how your favorite authors do things: plotting, dialogue, narrative, character development. But don't copy anyone else's style. Develop your own voice. The ideal is for someone to be able to pick up your story, and without seeing your byline, be able to say, "This is a Domenic Bettinelli story".

The basics are important. Grammar and spelling count. And don't just rely on spellcheckers. If you don't trust your own skills, find someone whose skills you can trust and ask them to proofread. Even the best authors have editors. No one writes a bestseller in the first draft.

Try doing something original. A new character, a new situation, a new viewpoint. Don't get caught in the "Mary Sue" trap or the "Deus ex machina" trap, where you put your characters in an impossible situation that is magically resolved in two sentences at the end of the story. The conflict/dramatic tension should be real enough that there could be doubt as to the outcome, but not so bad that only a completely unbelievable act or intervention is needed to resolve it.

And if you really want to hone your craft, look for some good books on writing fiction. Also, buy a copy of "Strunk & White's" for grammar questions. Every writer should have a copy (or three) on their shelves.

TWG - Of all the writing mistakes, typos, grammos or errors, what are your personal favorites? Can you list five? Ex. their vis-a-vis there, mistaking "your" for "you're," etc.
As a magazine editor, I see lots of them. The ones that jump out at me the most are homonym errors: your/you're, its/it's, accept/except. If a writer can avoid those errors, he's miles ahead of 90 percent of writers.

TWG - Thanks for your time, Domenico , and best of luck with your future work, both Trek-related and not.
Thank you! It was a lot of fun getting some of these thoughts down in pixels. And it might just push me to getting off my keester to do some more Trek writing.


Check out the fan fiction of Domenico Bettinelli, Jr. at Federation Fan Fiction

Posted: 2004.01.05
Evil Must Be Opposed.
-- Vedek Yassim,

(DS9: Rocks and Shoals)
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