Newsies Team: Monthly Plot Summary

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Newsies Team

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Facilitator: FltAdml. Wolf



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Each month, every ship is required to report to the Captains Council with a plot summary. We use those plot summaries as the backbone of our news cycle, helping ensure that we get at least one post a day on the Community News. This guide will help you write a compelling plot summary in the proper format.

Purpose

Why do we create monthly plot summaries? They're important because they...

  1. Inform and entertain our members about what's happening in the fleet: Keeping our members informed about what's happening in the fleet makes things feel more fun and real, of course!
  2. Keep the councils informed about what each ship is doing: The Captains Council and Executive Council can stay informed about a ship's progress by reading plot summaries, and help coach captains on making plots more fun and enjoyable for members.
  3. Help us show prospective members that we are active: Think back to when you joined – did you find that the fact our site seemed very active help sway your decision to apply? Prospects are often looking for alternatives to other simming groups that don't seem active enough.
  4. Keep our Community News blog updated regularly for search engine ranking benefits: Search engines rank higher sites that are kept updated on a regular basis. Creating new content for our Community News helps, in a small way, to keep our site ranked higher.
  5. Create a record of plot summaries for posterity: Having plot summaries available for every ship each month gives us the ability to look back and know where each ship has been, this is useful for building our wiki and other historical records.

Introduction to the news format

Unlike our sims, the monthly plot summaries are written like wire service news stories. (A wire service gathers news reports from journalists and makes it available to local news outlets for republishing. The Associated Press is an example of a wire service, and you can see some of their content on their news website.)

Our plot summaries are posted on our Community News as reports from the Federation News Service, our spin-off "news from the future" site. If you haven't already, be sure to stop by the site and read some of the content we've published there.

Because we treat these plot summaries like they're coming from the Federation News Service, as wire stories, we strive for a neutral "reporter's tone," just like what you'd expect to hear from a modern-day news organization like the Associated Press, NPR, or the BBC. Most people are familiar with this tone and voice from everyday interactions with news organizations both in print and on the web.

There's something delightful about seeing Star Trek events written in that same "official" voice, and writing our plot summaries in this way adds verisimilitude to what we're posting on our site and on social media, creating interest for those who've never seen our content before.

Read some examples

Of course you can also go to the vessel reports category on the starbase118.net website to read past summaries, as well as the Federation News Service website to read more articles that will help you understand the format.

Get prepared

Before you even begin your plot summary, be sure to look back at the previous month's plot summary for your ship, which you can find in the vessel reports category on the starbase118.net website or the FNS Newsroom forum.

Read through that plot summary, making note of the headline, introduction, and body content. Consider how far the plot has moved since then. Next, ask yourself:

  • Are there characters who weren't highlighted in the last summary that you want to highlight this month?
  • Has that previous plot completed and you've moved onto a new one?
  • If you hadn't been simming on your ship in the last month, what would you find most interesting about recent developments?
  • What are the markers between "phases" of the plot that have occurred since the last summary?

Now make a quick outline of the top three or four things that happened since then. This should only take a few minutes. The first thing on your list should be the primary driver of the plot – what's the biggest thing that happened? Who was the biggest villain or hero? Try and follow that with the next most important thing.

Important style requirements

Before you even start writing, make sure you keep in mind these important style requirements you'll need to adhere to:

  • THIRD-PERSON OMNISCIENT POINT OF VIEW:
    • For example: "The crew then set out on the long journey, none aware of what they were about to encounter." This is in contrast to the first-person point of view, which sounds like this: "We set out on a long journey..."
  • PAST TENSE: Always use past tense when writing.
  • PROPER NAMES: Mention the full name of a person or vessel the first time in the post. Each time after, us the "short name."
    • For example, the first time you mention your vessel's name, write: "USS Enterprise, NCC 1701-D." All instances after should be: "the Enterprise," or "Enterprise."
    • The first time you mention a Starfleet officer's name, say: "FltAdml. Tristan Wolf." Instances after should just be "Wolf."
  • CAPITALIZATION AND ABBREVIATIONS:
    • Change all "U.S.S. ENTERPRISE" to "USS Enterprise."
    • LCMD or LTJG or anything else all in caps should use the normal abbreviations for ranks: Ens., Lt. JG, Lt., LtCmdr., Cmdr., Capt., FltCapt., RAdml., VAdml., FltAdml.
  • LENGTH: Ship reports should be AT LEAST 300 words, but NOT BE any longer than 600 words. Ship reports that are too short don't provide an accurate picture of what's going on and don't play well on the Community News. But reports that are too long are also too tedious to read and often contain details that aren't interesting or important. Even if your ship has been on shore leave, you should still have plenty to write about regarding what various plots are going on!

Writing your report

Introduction

Instead of starting with the headline, let's start with the introduction. In the news business, we call this the "lede" or "lead," and it's considered the most important part of the story that aims to accomplish three goals:

  1. Give a short introduction to the most important points of the story
  2. Grab the reader's interest
  3. Be as short as possible (within reason)

So consider the overall picture of what you plan on writing about this month. If your readers are only going to read one sentence about what happened with your ship – their attention span is short! – how can you encapsulate everything as quickly as possible?

Every lede should start with a location marker. Use the most specific marker that applies to your whole report. So if your ship is traveling between one place and another, you might want to say something like "PAR'THA EXPANSE" or "USS BLACKWELL". But if your ship is visiting a planet, you'd use something like "TRILL" so your readers can identify the location easily – instead of using something like "RETHAN PROVINCE" – without having to go look it up.

Here are a few examples:

  • PERTANIA PRIME — After a sudden coup d'etat on Pertainia Prime, Starfleet has dispatched the USS Apollo-A to evacuate the Federation Embassy.
  • TRILL — In a stunning and lavish ceremony, Ambassador Della Vetri and Lt. Commander T’Lea of the USS Avandar were wed on the ambassador's homeworld.
  • RATHOS PRIME — Lt. JG Vanessa Driscoll is missing and presumed KIA after becoming infected with the deadly pathogen her ship USS Gemini was attempting to cure.

Check out this great resource, How to Write a Lead, which explains in detail what to do – and not to do – when writing your lede for best results.

Body content

Now it's time to get the meat of your article!

The most important thing to remember is this: You're not writing a recap of events, but instead an article about the plot. A recap is a story without the interesting characters or dialogue. A news story is a way of boiling the story down to the essentials and presenting them in a way that's compelling.

Above all, avoid the compulsion to include everything that happened in the past month – you don't want to talk about every b-plot, or even include by name every character involved in the overall plot. You are not recounting a list of what happened! Think instead about packaging the look-back in a way that would make it something someone else would want to read. Avoid rote details that aren't particularly compelling – for example, you don't need to tell the reader that there was a mission briefing unless that briefing was a critical part of the story where something interesting happened. Was the mission briefing where one of the crew members began experiencing symptoms of a plague the crew is desperately seeking a cure for? Then tell us that! Otherwise, if the captain just introduced what the plan was, is that something that would be "newsworthy" enough to put in a news article?

As you're writing, ask yourself again-and-again: Will the reader care about this detail? Is it important to creating a compelling story?

Invertedtriangle.gif
The "inverted pyramid" style of journalistic writing, illustrated in this graphic, is the best way to make sure your summary follows the proper format and makes sense to the reader. Most simply, it means putting the most important and pertinent information at the top. If your lede is about the murder of a colonist, then the first two or three paragraphs should develop that! Give the reader information about what happened, to whom, when it happened, where it happened, when it happened and why it's important.

The journalistic style of writing assumes that most people will not read the whole story. So if you include the most important things near the start of the story, more people will read those parts. They also set the tone for the overall article – is this a joyous story, or one of intrigue? Is it about war, or love? Is the crew in danger or doing something inspiring?

Unless the focus of this report is solely about crew promotions and mission briefings, those types of details should take up less space, and be towards the end of your report.

Don't overdo it

Here's an important tip that will help keep you on track: If you have any inclination to end any sentence in your story with an exclamation point, stop and rethink it. You're probably engaging in satirical writing that's too enthusiastic.

It's easy to imagine yourself as a radio broadcaster in the 1940s, shouting out war dispatches to rouse the people into patriotism. "Tune in next week to see what happens," and so-forth.

But don't forget where your news reporter – who's writing this plot summary – is coming from: a future that's much more sensible, much less sensational, and much more even-keeled. That doesn't mean these dispatches should be boring so much as they should be devoid of any caricature of journalism. The tone we're going for is journalism with a sense of adventure and irony. We want the reader to feel like they're reading an actual news story with a sly grin. Recall the beginning of this tutorial where we said that our goal is to create verisimilitude, which means making the reader feel like they're seeing something that could have actually come from the future.

Quote

Think back to any evening news story you've ever watched, and how oftentimes the journalist on the street has passing pedestrians or people related to the story speak to the journalist about what happened. These quotes from real people ground the story by helping the viewer (or reader) understand the context of what's happening to the people who are influenced by the events.

We like every plot summary to include at least one quote from a character speaking to the journalist. This quote should be made up, by you, for the story and should not be lifted from a sim, but the quote can come from any character in story like an MSNPC, or even someone who doesn't actually appear in your sims but would make sense as someone making a statement to the press.

More than anywhere else in the piece, the quote you include can set the tone and can help your personality shine through by including humor, or at least a "knowing wink" to the audience. These comments can serve as a stark contrast to the report's "straight man" voice, providing the sense that our universe is filled with vibrant and colorful characters who are fascinated, incredulous, or frightened by what's happening.

Here are some examples:

Research uncovered a Romulan company – Emerald Dragon Enterprises – had bought the majority of these chemicals in the last few months. As the crew investigated, engineers and security were called away to investigate potential bombs planted on StarBase 118 by Romulan terrorists connected to the crash of the Cerberas. Security also dealt with an assassin sent to eliminate Zel Rohan, an independent merchant and major informant in the case.

“It’s just one thing after another,” security officer Ensign Mayweather commented. “First a power drop, then an explosion, then shots were fired in the brig, and now we’ve got bombs on the lower decks. And we have to keep all this hush-hush from the civilians because if we have riots three times in a row, I’m sure someone will find a book in some vault and throw it at us. It’s maddening. This is off the record, isn’t it?”
However peaceful shore leave did not last very long. Soon after Captain Handley-Page returned from his research mission to Earth, there was a strange occurrence in sickbay. Commander Wulfantine, who was being treated for a minor animal bite when doctors noticed an unusual strain of nanites in his bloodstream. Wulfantine immediately became violent and started morphing into a monstrous creature; his transformation was followed by similar transformations in Lieutenant JG Sian Douglas and Ambassador Calderan. Security and Marines responded quickly, containing the monsters; but so far science and medical teams are unable to reverse the condition.

“I’m not kidding you, I saw a girl turn into a giant spider!” commented orderly Vas Lannin. “Seriously, giant. Like, no one should ever see a spider that big, giant. I hate spiders. I can’t imagine what it’s like to turn into a spider…”
While Engineering and Science found clues leading them to suspect the cargo the Lament was carrying was somehow used to form a deadly explosive, Security had their hands full dealing with a stowaway that arrived on the trade ship NGV Fortune’s Determination. This stowaway was soon linked to the puzzle, being the person who delivered the last load of cargo the Lament took on, which included chemicals that could be mixed into explosives. However, in the middle of the interrogation of the stowaway, the main brig experienced a localized power failure, and an unknown assailant tried to execute the prisoner before he talked.

“It was so weird! First these animals all got out and security was chasing them around, and then there was this muffled boom. The lights didn’t go out here, but in security they were as black as night! And then there were shouts and seriously I think there was phaser fire, too! It was crazy I tell you. Just crazy!” said Jason Strepp, cashier at the nearby Donut Worry! shop.

Headline

Now that you've written your article, it's time to write a punchy headline for your piece. You want to find a way to sum up what happened without reusing the same text as your introduction.

The most important consideration here is that it's brief: 140 characters is the absolute maximum to shoot for, going shorter if you can.

Check out this article which explains the process of writing a great headline: Here's the Secret to Writing Great Headlines for Your News Stories

Here are a few examples:

  • USS Apollo-A investigates coup on Pertania
  • Marriage of Federation Ambassador
  • Starbase 118 Ops Crew Battle to Prevent Release of ‘Death Fog’ in Gorn Territory

Important tone considerations

Keep in mind that the content you're producing is posted on StarBase118.net, and then also appears on FNS.news and is syndicated onto our Facebook and Twitter account. Some people who are reading this content will not immediately understand that what they're reading. In some cases, our goal of trying to make this content as realistic as possible falls into a zone where the language can be disconcerting. For example:

  • USS Enterprise Officers “Killed In Action” Found Alive

Although, within our game, this headline is both intriguing and the context makes sense, to someone who isn't immediately familiar with what we do might read this headline very differently as perhaps applying to real life. The phrase "officers 'killed in action'" is one that can be quite triggering for many people, reading as an alert about gun violence toward police officers.

Once these headlines are posted, it's very hard to "put the genie back in the bottle," so we want to make sure we're being responsible with the kind of content we put out to avoid it hewing too close to real life in a way that will scare or offend readers.

Some recommendations to consider:

  • Avoid the “if it bleeds, it leads” sensationalism of modern media.
  • Strive for positive or neutral language in your headlines.
    • Instead of a phrase like "officers 'KIA' found alive," use something like "officers rescued."
    • Instead of a headline that focuses on death and destruction by a villain, focus instead on how the Starfleet officers responded to the crisis.

Wrapping up

Before you submit your article, it's time to do some polishing to make sure it's really ready to go. Please be sure to follow these instructions:

  1. CHECK SPELLING AND GRAMMAR: Because these entries are posted on the website, it's important that they're clean and well written. Please use BOTH a spelling and grammar checker BEFORE posting the summary. If you have Microsoft Word, you can paste the post into that and run the spelling and grammar check. If not, you can use Google Docs, which is free.
  2. CHECKING STYLE: Make sure you're using the style guide above (section 4) and no incorrect styling crept into what you wrote.
  3. READ IT THROUGH ONCE ALOUD: Reading your article out loud is the best way to catch any sentences that don't make sense, and ensure that the flow of the article works. Listen, as you're reading, to the plot points you've written. Would others reading this article understand what you're trying to say?