Written by Fleet Captain Kali Nicholotti
There are many parts that come together to make a really great sim, but one of the most basic is quite simple; proper use of the language in which we write. For some writers, this is more difficult than others, especially if English is not the first language of the writer in question. English, as a whole, can be difficult to master, yet, weaving words together in the manner that we do, while managing not to completely mangle those words into something unrecognizable will enable you, as a writer, to transport your readers into another realm. And in that realm, your audience will be able to stay deep within the flow of what you’ve written, allowing your characters, even more than ever before, to come to life.
But as we’ve said, mastering the language is hard, but there is a positive side to that. While there are plenty of confusing exceptions to the so-called ‘rules’ of English, most of the errors that you’ll run into here are pretty common. We’ve seen them before, and we will see them again, but hopefully, with this tutorial in hand, you’ll be able to vanquish them from your writing forever!
Spell Check! – It’s said that almost forty percent of all errors within writing occur because spell check wasn’t used. If you don’t have one built into your word processor or browser, check out this gem, which can also help those who are writing in English as their second language.
They’re/Their/There – This is, perhaps, one of the most common grammatical errors that you’ll run into when writing. Unlike many homonyms, there are three options instead of two, which makes it more difficult to remember the rules regarding each one. Still, if you keep in mind the basic apostrophe rule and remember that they’re means they are, you should be able to keep the going there, and the going to their house separate.
Your/You’re – These two words are often confused, yet they mean totally different things. Remember when you are writing that an apostrophe (‘) in the middle of a word means that you are putting two separate words together. Think about that when you sit down to write. Do you need to talk about your writing, or do you just mean you are. If you mean you are, then make sure to use the apostrophe version you’re.
Through/Threw – Though they sound the same, these are two other words that have very different meanings. When you are considering using one of them, remember to think about if you are going to be going through something like a tunnel, or if you threw something like a ball.
See/Seen/Saw – Seen is one of the most misused verbs out there. It doesn’t sound too wrong in most cases, even when it is horribly so, which means that you’ll have to remember a simple rule in order to use it correctly. These are all different tenses of the same action, so when your character has seen something, remember not to use seen unless it has a helping word (has, had, have). Keep in mind that they can always see something, or talk about how they saw something afterwards.
Core/Corps – While not as common as some other errors, this one’s important because of the members of the Corps that many writers may run into at one point or another. Remember, core is the center of something, such as an apple, while corps means ‘body’, such as in Marine Corps.
Its/It’s – Here’s another word that gets mixed up often. In order to avoid mixing up its and it’s, stop to think what you are talking about. If you are describing a property of something else in the possessive sense, such as a ship losing its shields, don’t use the apostrophe version. It’s is a shorter version of it is, so only use that version if you mean to say it is.
Moot/Mute – You might, from time to time, consider writing that something was a mute point, but that would mean the point was silent. When something doesn’t matter if it is debated or not, it is actually a moot point. And while you can debate it anyways, as the word also means that something is open for consideration and discussion, you might not want to mute the television and miss something more exciting.
Affect/Effect – This is another common grammatical mistake that can be avoided if you just remember a simple little trick. Next time you’re asking yourself which one of these to use, think about what it means. Affect is pretty much always a verb, which is an action word. On the other hand, effect is almost always a noun. When you affect something, you will always see an effect.
Could of/Could have – A lot of time, when we’re writing, we sometimes write what we’ve heard instead of what is really being said. Because of dialects and speech irregularities, it’s sometimes easy to fall into the habit of thinking a saying, statement, or commonly used phrase is one thing when it isn’t. This is one of those phrases; don’t use ‘could of’, as it doesn’t make grammatical sense. No one could of completed something, but, they could have completed it.
Using Research to Improve Your Sims
Written by Rear Admiral Andrus Jaxx
There are certain things in fiction that can bring your character to life. To anyone who writes for any type of RPG, there will be things made up on the fly or omitted from their story. For some, it is the best way to add depth. Sure, there is no such thing as a warp specialist. You will not have the ability to go online and look over the latest advances in that field to get an idea of how things work. However, there are ways that you can include what you have seen on screen into your works.
Visiting sites like Memory-Alpha.org will allow you to find everything that has ever been stated about certain fields. You can know absolutely nothing about engineering, but with just a few minutes of research you will be able to understand that warp drive works by generating warp fields to form a subspace bubble that envelops the starship, distorting the local spacetime continuum and moves the ship at speeds that could greatly exceed the speed of light.
That can sound pretty simple when you understand the moving parts, but it can get complicated if you really want to go digging. What is a warp field? What parameters do you need to have in place to form the warp bubble? You will need to decide how far in depth you want to go. You do not have to quote all of the “technobabble” you can find, to add realism to your sim. Instead, you should find that happy balance between what is going on around your character and the research you need to do. Perhaps there is a problem with the transporter system and your character has to lead the charge on repairing it? Understanding the basics, as seen on television, will help you to bring the sim to life. There is a huge difference between:
::Ensign John Doe quickly moved to the transporter room. Wasting no time, he moved to the back wall and removed the panel. Reaching inside he felt around until he located what he believed to be the problem. Grabbing a tool from his tool kit, he began repairing the damaged system. One the problem was addressed, he quickly moved to the transporter control console. Running a quick diagnostic, he realized the problem had been fixed. The damaged component would need replaced, but for now the system was functional.::
::Ensign John Doe quickly moved into the transporter room. In his mind there were many theories as to what was wrong with the system. The targeting scanners could have been preventing them from getting a lock. If that was not the issue, it could have been the molecular imaging scanner. For a moment he glanced toward the top of the transporter pad as he thought of that option. Removing the rear console in the wall, he reached his hand inside. He quickly realized that there was a damaged control unit for the annular confinement beam. Reaching in his tool kit, he grabbed the hyperspanner. Within seconds he began to bypass the damaged circuits in the control unit. It would not fix the problem, but it would put a patch on the wound. Moving to the transporter control console, he quickly ran a diagnostic. All systems were go…for now.::
In the first descriptive, the writer was able to relay that there was a problem with the system and was able to quickly put a band-aid on the problem. It used no “technobabble”, and did not even need a basic understanding of the transporter system. The reader was able to see that there was a problem and he was able to reach into the panel on the wall and fix it.
The second descriptive went into more detail to paint a more vivid picture. The writer was able to display the troubleshooting mind of the engineer. By knowing certain components, the engineer could think of the problems before the panel was even open, and begin to look in the potentially affected areas. From no more than 5 minutes of research, the following items were added to bring the sim to life:
Targeting Scanners – This is the component responsible for locating the object that needed to be transported.
Molecular Imaging Scanner – This is located above the transporter pad, and is used to scan the object and convert it into a matter stream. You will notice the engineer glancing at the top of the pad when considering the option.
Annular Confinement Beam – This component confined the transporter matter stream when it was on its way to the target destination.
Hyperspanner – This is a multipurpose toll that was used to relink and bypass circuit boards of electrical systems.
With just a little bit of research, the readers could find themselves picturing the different components and was able to get a look at the diagnostic mind of the engineer. Imagine an entire sim written like that. With just a little bit of research, a writer could really bring their character to life in the scene. The best way to add depth and realism to a character is by adding it to their environment. The more you can show about their surroundings, the more real they become.
Creating a World Within Your Sim
Written by Lieutenant Commander Colt Daniels
As writers we work very hard to “flesh-out” our characters, procedurally generating every aspect until we have person who is interesting and (hopefully) believable. What we sometimes forget is that this same process should apply to the settings we place our characters in also. The universe in which we write in is well-established and it sometimes allows us to make mental short-cuts that can detract from the story that we are trying to tell. We can easily insert our character into a familiar environment from one of the TV shows or movies as we write, giving us a very clear picture of exactly what is happening in the scene. Unfortunately, this sometimes causes us to assume too much of the reader and the carefully sculpted scene we see in our minds eye doesn’t appear the same to someone who isn’t picturing things exactly the way we are. The solution is to write as though our audience has never seen an episode of Star Trek and assume as little as possible when it comes to how they might visualize a given setting.
The simming format doesn’t lend itself to lengthy descriptions of setting as easily as a true 3rd person narrative format, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take steps to ensure that our character dialogue and actions are given the appropriate environmental context. Think about a scene from the Next Generation; when Geordi and Data are walking down a corridor having a conversation, is the ship devoid of activity other than the two characters that are the primary focus of the scene? Of course not, The Enterprise is always bustling with activity. A crewman walks by carrying a tool, a pair of Ensigns pass by having a conversation of their own, an engineering officer emerges from a door and almost collides with the Geordi and shuffles away flustered.. These seemingly subtle things help lend to the feeling that what you are seeing is real, that each and every person has a task that they are trying to accomplish, and that the characters are a part of an overall story that is bigger than the tiny piece of it that we get to see.
These very same principles can apply to our sims and provide the same sense of realism. We can use the descriptive text in our sims for this purpose when our character is alone of by allowing our characters to take a moment to examine his surroundings before, after or during the natural pauses in dialogue sequences. Anything that the character sees or feels can potentially be used to bring the scene to life from architectural features such a the materials of a table or the deck plating to the intangible “mood” of the room and the way it influences those within it. Finding a balance between what should be “spelled out” and what should be left to the imagination of the reader can be a difficult task but with time and a experimentation, we can all learn to weave intricate, believable worlds without forcing ourselves to go into excessive or restrictive detail.
How to Add Magic to Your Story
Written by Fleet Captain Kali Nicholotti
There is one thing that all fictional writing has in common, regardless of the universe or realm it is set in, and that is quite simply the goal of telling a story. Whether your character is standing on the bridge of a starship, or you are wandering through a yet unexplored place on a familiar, or unfamiliar planet, it is your job as a writer to bring both the character, and their surroundings, to life. Doing this, however, is far easier said than done. It can be very difficult to add the magic of ‘life’ to a story, especially if you are unsure of what is there yourself. But, that is the very reason why you should add at least a little bit of magic to the fabric of words that you and your fellow writers weave. It is with that little bit you add that the story really can be brought to life.
Some of you are probably wondering what ‘magic’ I’m speaking of about this point, because we all know that magic, in and of itself, doesn’t exactly exist. And if it did, why would we want to add it to our writing? Let me elaborate. Come, join me now, and step into a tale of two scenes…
“Take us to warp,“ said the commanding officer as he sat down.
“Aye sir,“ said the helm officer as she plugged in the commands.
“Someone’s following us!“ yells the tactical officer.
“It must be him,“ the commanding officer mutters. “Speed and course?“
“They’re gaining on us!“ yells the officer at the operations station.
And then the ship was hit.
“All stop! Arm weapons!“ yelled the Captain.
Now, we get quite a bit from this scene, but not near as much as we could if a bit of magic were sprinkled in. Certainly, all the dialogue gets quickly to the point and the action of what’s going on, but do any of the characters seem realistic and alive to you? Indeed, in this case, they seem very much like two-dimensional cardboard cutouts. Let’s look at the same scene now, with a bit of magic thrown in.
“Take us to warp,“ said the sandy haired commanding officer, as he sat heavily in the chair. The fact that they’d arrived in time to save the civilian ship was nothing short of a miracle, though they still had this other ship with which to deal. With his fingertips tapping the arm of the chair in fast succession, he silently dared the enemy to follow.
“Aye sir,“ said the helm officer as she plugged in commands. The keys on the console beeped, masking the worried sigh that had just escaped from her. She knew there was another ship back there and she could guess what the Captain was doing, all of which made her very, very nervous. This was a heck of a mission for her first assignment. Still, at least she managed to meet the demands of the orders and take a deep, calming breath just before the tactical officer yelled.
“Someone’s following us!“
The Captain slammed his fist down on the arm of the chair, grinning as if he not only expected the action, but knew it would happen. At the same time, he was slow and calculating, asking what he needed to know before acting.
“Speed and course?“ he asked as he flexed his fist.
He never got his answer. Instead, another nervous voice jumped into the fray.
“They’re gaining on us!“ yelled the officer at the operations station, nearly frantic. Her eyes wide as she jolted her head towards the Captain.
And then the ship was hit. Sparks flew in various directions, but most of the officers managed to hold on and hold their positions. The wide eyed officer who had just yelled was the only one who had been thrown across the bridge. Dim, red lighting replaced everything else as all of the officers focused completely on the task at hand.
“All stop! Arm weapons!“ yelled the Captain, already knowing what was coming and how to react. This was the end of the road for that ship, but only if he played things carefully. They were already beaten up; they couldn’t afford too much more. Before issuing the orders that would likely destroy the ship that had followed him, he thought of his crew and his responsibility to them as well as that civilian ship out there.
At this point, step back and ask yourself, which of these scenes seemed more real to you? Which of these passages was easier to get into? Sure, one was much easier to write, and took far less time for the author, but that’s never the point of our writing, is it? If you want to ensure that your writing is the best that it can be, never hesitate to add characterization.
Regardless of what we are doing at any given time, there are always thoughts that wander through our minds. There are always things going on around us. Finally, there are always emotional and mental reactions to the stimuli that we are subjected to. As such, it is important to include these things in your writing, otherwise, your characters will only be cardboard cutouts that don’t really exist.
When you sit down to write, make sure to think about how to get into your characters mind. Don’t just tell us their actions (IE – moving to the chair, getting a drink, jogging up to someone) but tell us what they are thinking as they do that. Tell us what they are feeling as well. Maybe they are thinking about their family, or a childhood memory, or the cough they’ve developed. Are there things around them that they notice? What about sounds from the computers or landscape nearby? Are there other characters that are doing things not far away? Consider these things and work them into your writing.
While it will take more work, the quality of writing you will end up with is far above something that is only dialogue and action. Beyond that, it will serve to inspire those around you. When you create a scene, it is much easier for others to jump in and get involved with it. When you lay down some neat mental images, you can expect others to really get a feel for what you are trying to write.
And in the end, it’s all about conveying our inner thoughts to those around us. By adding this magic, you can go beyond that, and bring it all to life.
Bringing Characters to Life
Written by Captain Liam Frost
There is one thing that unites us all here in the Starbase 118 fleet, and as writers as a whole. That thing is the desire to tell a good story. And as we all know, one of the most important parts of any story is a compelling character. One of the best ways to improve any story is to improve the character. We’re all proud of the characters we’ve built, the relationships they have, and the things they’ve accomplished. So how do we improve on that? By asking yourself questions and challenging characters to grow. Here’s a few things to consider that can make a great character even better.
Relationships – We, as people, are defined at least to some degree by the relationships that we have around us. Even the most reclusive individuals have at least some interaction with the world around them. Our characters are no different. This is even more vital in a game where we are all writing the story together. So how we interact with one another can be a key way to grow your character.
Think about what other characters are saying and doing around you, and how other characters speak to you. How does your character feel about being given orders? How does your character feel about the different races that they’re working with? What does your character think about their Commanding Officer? Every interaction is an opportunity to explore and grow your character.
Character Flaws – From time to time, we all want to play the hero, the Superman to our literary Metropolis. And to a certain extent, our characters must be exceptional in some way, otherwise they wouldn’t have come as far as they have. But for a character to remain compelling, they must also remain believable. One of the best ways to do that is to introduce flaws to a character. Who among us doesn’t have something we would like to change about ourselves. It’s part of being human. Our characters are the same way.
So maybe you’re character is a brilliant scientist. How would he fare in a phaser fight? Maybe your character is a decorated tactical officer. But can he tell the difference between an EPS manifold and a waffle iron? Maybe your character has a fear of something, either real or imagined. No one is perfect, and no one really wants to write with someone who can do everything themselves. And even more than that, exploring a characters flaws, and even overcoming them, can be even more satisfying to write than being the one to save the day.
Challenges and Failure- Every challenge we face in our lives has an effect on us. Whether we overcome it at the time or not, we can always learn something from it. Once again, our characters are no different. When our characters don’t face challenges, they don’t grow, and they don’t learn. And a character who isn’t challenged simply isn’t very interesting to read or to write for. Challenges are the core of any good story, and without the possibility of failure, the story becomes uninteresting.
And what if your character comes up against something that they can’t overcome? One of the greatest learning experiences a character can come up against is failure. And how they deal with that failure can be a tremendous opportunity to grow your character and to have them learn something, sometimes even more so than whether or not they succeed or not. Don’t be afraid of letting your character fail from time to time, you might be surprised at what they learn from it.
Organic Growth – One of the worst things that can happen to a character is for them to stagnate. When asked why a writer abandons or retires a character, the most common answer is that there was nowhere else for the character to go, nothing else for them to do. And some of the longest lasting characters are the ones that grow from their experiences, changing themselves with each challenge that they face. It can sometimes be scary when our characters begin to change in front of our eyes, especially when they become something that we didn’t envision.
But don’t be afraid to let that happen. Great characters are the ones that are allowed to grow naturally, to become something more than we thought they could be. And exploring what our characters can become can be one of the most satisfying things you can do as a writer. So don’t hold your character back. Let them grow and evolve. You might just find them becoming something even better than you imagined.
Characters are the most important element of a story. Without them, all you have is a scene. Characters make the story. And in any good story, the characters change, learn and grow from the the experiences the go through, and that’s what makes them compelling. Our characters must be at least a little bit extraordinary, that’s what makes them worth creating in the first place. But to keep them interesting, they have to be relatable. The most popular characters are the ones that we can see a little of ourselves in, for better or for worse.
25 Character Questions to Bring Your Character to Life
Written by Fleet Captain Diego Herrera
We all get stuck sometimes and need a jump start when it comes to really giving depth to our characters. To help you along, these 25 questions have been compiled and can help you put your mind on the right track. We all want to let our characters grow and become beings of their own. To aid in the creation of characters who really are intriguing, answer the following and see where you end up!
- What physical limitations does your character have? If they do not have any, which physical limitation would they most fear befalling them?
- What does your voice sound like?
- Which words and/or phrases do you use very frequently?
- What quirks, strange mannerisms, annoying habits, or other defining characteristics does your character possess? How might another character identify them from a distance if they couldn’t see them properly or hear them speak?
- What is your earliest memory?
- What do you consider to be the most important event of your life so far?
- Who has had the most influence on you?
- When was the time you were the most frightened?
- Are you able to kill? Under what circumstances do you find killing to be acceptable or unacceptable?
- In your opinion, what is the most evil thing any human being could do?
- How honest are you about your thoughts and feelings? Do you hide your true self from others, and in what way?
- Who or what would you die for (or otherwise go to extremes for)?
- Who is the person you respect the most, and why?
- Who would you turn to if you were in desperate need of help, and why?
- Do you trust anyone to protect you? Who, and why?
- When would you argue people and when would you avoid conflict?
- What is your favorite color? Is there a reason for this?
- How do you spend a typical Saturday night?
- How do you deal with stress?
- What are your pet peeves?
- What is your greatest strength as a person?
- What is your greatest weakness?
- What are your reasons for being an adventurer (or doing the strange and heroic things that RPG characters do)? Are your real reasons for doing this different than the ones you tell people in public? (If so, detail both sets of reasons…)
- If you knew you were going to die in 24 hours, name three things you would do in the time you had left.
- If you could, what advice would you, the player, give to your character? (You might even want to speak as if he or she were sitting right here in front of you, and use proper tone so he or she might heed your advice…)
The Art of Conflict
Written by Lieutenant Commander Colt Daniels and Fleet Captain Diego Herrera
From the very beginning of our “simming careers” at Starbase 118 we are encouraged to explore and advance the given plot through interaction with other writers. It is a concept that is absolutely essential to keeping our stories fresh and interesting, as well as keeping our fellow writers involved with the narrative threads that we generate ourselves. Sometimes we have a far reaching story arc planned in our minds and when we involve another writer it can quickly deviate from what we’ve planned and take us to exciting and unexpected places. This concept is central to the continuing success of our respective sim groups and contributes the feeling of being a part of a larger story, and not the sole storyteller.
While our interactions with other characters are positively essential to our development, we can’t possibly anticipate with absolute certainty how another character is going to react to a given interaction, or sometimes we can even place our characters at odds with each other intentionally. These interpersonal conflicts can give us a great opportunity to discover and develop facets of our characters that are seldom seen. Will your character try to resolve the conflict and right any perceived wrongs? Or will he ‘stand his ground’ and refuse to submit? These are just a few of the many different avenues we can explore, the possibilities are nearly limitless.
It’s important to approach such things from your character’s point of view. What matters to them the most? What pushes their buttons? In which scenarios is your character likely to lose their cool. Once you’re comfortable with those issues, it’s worth thinking about how your character expresses their anger, irritation or annoyance. Do they go straight for the jugular, or do they skirt around the issue? Will they back down if challenged, or will they cave? How far does the argument go before they try to reach a resolution and under what circumstances would they accept an olive branch?
Most importantly, things have to be as realistic as possible. Think back to arguments you may have seen in real life or in films. How far is it appropriate for your character to go? Are they prepared to risk a cross word against a superior officer? The more realistic the disagreement, the more your readers will get out of it and you may find it interesting to contact another member of your ship to see whose side they think their character would take. Are you deliberately playing the villain? Or the victim? Is this an emotional response from your character? When all of the dust settles, something should have changed as a result. Just like in real life, bonds can be strengthened as a result of a disagreement, or relationships can take a turn for the worse.
In terms of dialogue, it’s worth considering how your character might sound different when they’re in an argument. Exchanges between Starfleet officers can be quite formal at times, but depending on who you’re arguing with, this is a different playing field entirely. Disagreements with a superior officer might require an increased level of formality, whereas a dispute with a friend off-duty is more likely to be closer to what we would hear in a casual situation in real life!
While conflict is important and in many ways can be beneficial to your own ever growing narrative, it is important to remember to maintain a separation between IC and OOC conflicts. Just because someone’s character isn’t too fond of yours, doesn’t mean that the writer harbors any animosity towards you. If you suspect that there may be any confusion over your intentions, it never hurts to send your fellow writer a friendly OOC e-mail complimenting them on their latest sim and letting know that there are “no hard feelings”. Indeed, planning an in-character conflict in advance through out-of-character mails, or writing via JP can even enhance the quality of your writing! The experiences that we build together are what makes simming in the Starbase 118 so special and with careful and deliberate use of character interaction and conflict, we can keep our stories fresh and exciting for as long as we want!
Making Your Sims Realistic in a Fictional World
Written by Rear Admiral Andrus Jaxx
Many writers find themselves worrying about the sense of realism in their sims. It is easy to watch a show or movie and see something that does not fit. But not everyone has all of the knowledge it takes to identify everything wrong in a movie. It can be the same within a sim. There comes a certain point when the writer may have knowledge of a situation and disagree with the probability of it happening. We have to remember that we write in a fictional world. Many things about the Star Trek universe are not possible. Did you ever wonder why you can hear the Enterprise zipping past you in a scene? We all know that sound cannot travel in space, so where is that “whooshing” sound coming from?
There comes a point, for the sake of the story and writers working on it, that one must suspend disbelief. This is not a new term or anything that any good sci-fi writer ignores. To suspend disbelief one must have a willingness to overlook their critical faculties and allow their self to believe the unbelievable for the sake of the story. There are times that something can be written that you know is not possible, but it made for a great situation or plot arch.
At the same time, if you take a look at the Using Research to Improve Your Sims tutorial, you will already know that it is possible to do some research to find the answer to a situation that we do have knowledge about. The greatest example comes from Medical Officers. Many of them find themselves looking up illnesses and treatments online, and then adapting what they know about the Star Trek universe to combine the two. Many times a character may make it known that they have a scar. We all know what the dermal regenerator can do. It can heal small cuts and burns. It can also be used to revert surgically modified skin and remove scars.
This is a great example that we need to suspend disbelief for that character. Perhaps there is a reason that they never had the scar removed? It could be a character development thing that we have no idea about. Perhaps some sort of archaic surgery had to take place on the battlefield and a dermal regenerator was not available. It is easy to take what we know and find a reason for some things to work. But it is possible to add more depth to a sim or story by doing just a little bit of research. Different species act in different ways. If something is out of the norm, there needs to be a good explanation for it. If a Klingon appears to be docile, why? It is easy to overlook some of the technical aspects of the universe, but a better sense of realism can be found with a bit of leg work.
At the same time, there are some things that you just cannot get over. It brings us back to the sound traveling through space. Is it absolutely cool to hear the Enterprise zip passed you? Of course it is! It is an effect that is used to heighten the enjoyment of the show or movie. The same can happen in a sim. If an idea for something pops in your mind, do not be afraid to do a little research and see what would really happen. If you need to alter things slightly for dramatic effect, do so.
With so many missions and sims flying through the fleet, it is easy to pick them apart and find the things that do not make sense in our minds. We have to remember that we, as writers, come from different backgrounds and we cannot expect everyone to possess the knowledge we do of a particular area of science. Instead, seek to be more understanding. If that doesn’t work always suspend disbelief. In the end, you will find that you will be able to enjoy the story a lot more in the process.
Written by Lieutenant Colonel David Whale
Let’s talk about Star Wars: A New Hope. Not just because it’s awesome, but because it’s a really straightforward example of general plotting with which about 99% of people in the industrialized world will be familiar.
The very basic plot of Star Wars is this: Luke Skywalker, farm-boy, joins the fight against the evil Galactic Empire and becomes a hero of the Rebellion.
Pretty simple. However, as in real life, it’s not a straight, uninterrupted line between the beginning and the end — there are many, many bumps in the road, helper characters he has to meet, little twists that push him along, etc. I tend to refer to all of these as “plot milestones,” so I’m going to keep that terminology for the sake of consistency. A plot milestone is simply a point that needs to be reached before the next stage of your plot can begin to unfold. Let’s go back to Star Wars for a moment…
PLOT MILESTONE 1: Leia hides plans in R2-D2; droids escape to Tatooine
PM2: droids purchased by Lars family; Luke introduced
PM3: Luke finds message from Leia; R2 escapes looking for Ben Kenobi, with Luke and C3PO in pursuit.
As you can see, plot milestones don’t have to be huge, dramatic events. In many cases, they’re fairly simple events that just enable your main character to continue on their journey — or in the examples above, introduce them to their journey. If you’ve ever gone on a long road trip by car, think of plot milestones as gas stations/petrol stations. If you don’t hit those stops when you need to, you’re going to end up stranded on the side of the road.
Setting up Your Milestones
Some writers outline everything before they even start. They know all of their key milestones and sometimes even how many pages it will take to reach them. There’s really no absolute way to do it — like any creative endeavor, it’s more about personal preference rather than right or wrong.
However, there are also ways to make the writing process easier on yourself and enable you to produce more without spending so much time staring at a blank screen wondering where to go next. I’m speaking from experience here.
Know at least your next three plot milestones. Even if you’re not sure where you’re going after the third one, by the time you’ve actually written enough story to hit all three milestones, you should have a solid idea of what the next step should be. Again, I should stress that these milestones do not have to be major dramatic events. Maybe one milestone is just buying a pair of battered old droids. Maybe another is hiring some scruffy-looking nerf herder to take you to Alderaan. But then maybe one is watching your mentor cut down by an asthmatic space samurai. The important aspect of a plot milestone is that it propels the plot forward. If the next stage of your plot can occur without hitting the milestone you’re working toward, then I’m sorry to say you are not working toward a plot milestone. Let’s return to that galaxy far, far away once more and ask ourselves if the story of A New Hope can actually continue without the following milestones:
Lars family purchases the droids, Luke finds message from Leia
Ben Kenobi talks to Luke about the Force and asks him to go to Alderaan
Owen and Beru Lars killed by Stormtroopers
The answer, of course, is no. Each milestone noted above propels the story of Luke Skywalker forward toward the next. It’s the same later on in the movie, where the capture of the Millenium Falcon propels the heroes toward the milestone of rescuing the Princess, which in turn propels the plot toward the Darth Vader/Obi-Wan Kenobi confrontation.
Applying your Milestones
The ideas discussed here can be applied to essentially any kind of writing — novels, short stories, screenplays, role-playing games, etc.
If you’re writing fiction, you already know how your story starts and, presumably, have a solid idea of how it ends. I would assume you have also mapped out a couple of key turning points or the story’s crisis. So let’s say you have your beginning, one turning point, the crisis and the end. What you have to do now is ask yourself what milestones you need to hit in order to progress from your beginning to your first turning point. There may be two, three, ten, or twenty — it all depends on your plot — but thinking about the steps you need to take to get yourself and your audience to that turning point should help immensely in your plotting.
If you’re writing for a PBEM or forum-based role-playing game, you can approach it a little differently. Since you’re not solely responsible for the plot, you can look at your post as a self-contained unit. How does your post start? How do you want it to end? What two, three or seven milestones need to occur in order for you to get from where you started to where you want to end?
Aside from helping propel your plot forward, using the milestone approach breaks your plot down into easily handled chunks. If you’re working on a long project, it’s easy to get down about how little you’ve written compared to how long you expect the finished product to be, but by setting up your milestones, at the end of the week instead of saying “man, I only wrote twelve pages this week!” you’ll be saying “Awesome, I hit FOUR milestones this week!”
Again, as with any article on creative endeavors, this is just one perspective… but it’s one that has worked quite well for me.
Now go hit some milestones.
Micro vs. Macro: Sowing the Seeds of a Convincing Plot
Written by Fleet Captain Diego Herrera
Pull up any plant and the first thing you’ll see are the roots. They’re a vital part of that plant. They provide it with water and nourishment and, without them, the beautiful flower that sits at the top of the plant would wither and die. It may never have formed at all. The strange thing is, though, if you removed one of those roots and replanted your flower, it would still survive… Also, without the leaves that turn light and carbon dioxide into oxygen and food, the roots would mean very little. The point is that if you are looking at a flower on a whim, you would have a tendency to focus on this finished product, the sum of the whole plant, or the macro, whereas it’s the individual parts of it, the micro, that have made it what it is.
Just like any student of writing, for the war plot that you have dreamed up you’ve created a beginning, a middle and an end. You have some idea of the major events that are going to take place. War will be declared in the beginning. A winner will be decided at the end. The middle will detail the key events in the war. You’re not just a student of writing, you’re a good student of writing, so you’re not going to just detail the events one after another, blow by blow. Instead, you’ve created some compelling characters, who you intend to flesh out in three dimensions in your opening chapters. You’ll then use them to give us insights into what your action really means, and the point behind it. Maybe you have several twists planned, and those characters are key to enabling that to play out, their motivations and actions serving as the catalyst that sends us as readers down an unexpected path. Your elements are in place.
However, when the enemy general defects to the side of good during the final stages of your story, how much will it mean to your readers? Yes, you’ve taken them on a journey through a bitter war, with some compelling descriptive sequences, but did you lay the foundations for this plot-shaking event? Sure, it was meant to be a surprise, but the breadcrumb trail should be there to follow, even if it’s vague. Readers enjoy piecing together a mystery, even if they’re not reading a detective story. It gives them a chance to engage with the story on another level and they feel rewarded if they jump to the right conclusion. This trail doesn’t even have to be actions taken by that specific character.
The macro view shows us that he leads the antagonists, that he is a proud man who is bound by a specific moral code that he has never questioned and that, in the end, that code loses its meaning for him. The micro view shows us what feeds that. There is a moment where he has to give the order to raze a village to the ground, even though there are only women and children inside it. There is a moment where he questions what he did in the presence of a superior officer and is slapped across the face for challenging their authority. There is a moment where he is injured on the battlefield and taken in by the very people he was trying to kill and nursed back to health before being released. Delving even further into the microcosm, we see his reactions to each event, the reactions of those around him. There are specific triggers for the emotions that he feels. He smells the stench of death on the battlefield. He feels relief as his bullet wound is cleaned and bandaged. You’re putting your heart and soul into being descriptive and so we feel it with him. Suddenly, the whole story has even more value, and instead of just being entertained by a well-planned and penned piece, we are moved. We want to read the story again. It holds meaning for us and we can identify with it.
As you think about your writing, in whatever form, ask yourself this question – how many levels are there to what you’re working on? What is the overall plot, the macrocosm in which your story unfolds? And where is the smallest microcosm? Which events, actions, thoughts and feelings are preparing your readers for what is to come, subconsciously or otherwise? Can you populate your microcosm with more significant and meaningful events?