Writing Improvement Team/Style and Mechanics
Format, Style, & Feel
Written by Rear Admiral Brian Kelly
While sim “style” is certainly a personal choice, and varied styles can successfully co-exist on the same ship, there are several unavoidable truths about simming generally.
First, while sim ‘style’ is to a degree a matter of choice, form should not be. When a captain requires form to be relatively consistent on her ship, she is not curtailing freedom or creativity, she is trying to prevent confusion. One can be as creative as one likes using one format as he can with another. With that in mind…
You should remember that not all email programs organize bytes the same way, and what looks visually good on your screen might not on other screens. So I like to separate portions of sim text with a blank line for purposes of visual organization. For example, I place that space between the portion of the sim which is my private thought and that portion where I speak, and also between different expressions of speech as well:
You can also see that when I am thinking to myself, or relating what is happening in the omnipotent third person (narration), I present that in very traditional text format. In the past tense (for we are telling a story, and the ‘recent past tense’ is the traditional tool for that format), and place it between two sets of colons at either end to make clear what it is.
I have seen “Oo” or “oO” used to delineate thoughts from actual narration but for my money that’s confusing, because those ‘thought bubbles’ are also then used to capture action as well as private rumination. So I simply use the double colon for both, and things are cleaner.
Also, when someone is speaking, I like to place their name in CAPS to draw attention to the fact that speech is coming and who will be speaking. Again, anything that visually separates and organizes is a good thing. I also use caps whenever I refer to a PLANET, a STARSHIP or a BASE OR OUTPOST. Too, this draws attention to these important proper nouns in sims.
This is not something most captains require, but they’ll appreciate it. If they use a different format, change yours to suit; it’s not brown nosing, it’s consistency, and that’s never a bad thing. On RANGER, I prefer everyone use that format, though not all do, and I wait for them to rise in rank before I ask them to mold, because I want them to get used first to the more important aspects of simming, namely, style.
As I said, this is the deeper part of the ocean, as the saying goes. I have seen so many great simmers use different styles that the very idea of a uniform style is an impossible one when creative endeavor is our goal. On the other hand, some general observations about style, I hope, will help you develop one of your own if you haven’t got one yet, or help you refine it if you have. The polish and veneer of your sims are part, in the end, of the over all evaluations that take place when the big promotions are looming, and given that we’re all human and make perforce subjective judgements, polish can only help, and its absence can only hurt.
First, I know some of you are not from English speaking lands. Ok. But in this I am not politically correct: If you are joining our group, which sims in English, and you expect to be well regarded, you must master the language as best you can, and that means spelling and grammar as much as word usage. I had a commander on RANGER who was from the Netherlands, and for whom English was not a first language, and most of the time, you would never know it. Even more importantly, he improved his command of English over time so that it was clear he was putting in real effort, and that counted for a lot with me, as well as with others.
Of course, not mastering these elements of style is an especially grievous sin if you ARE from an English speaking land. Neither age nor being pressed for time is a valid excuse here, not with me. If your command officers claim it is less important to them, be aware that it is only LESS important. If you consistently present sloppy sims, it won’t help you in the long run; not in getting taken seriously by your fellow simmers, and not when it comes time for high rank.
Do mistakes happen? Absolutely. I make them, every captain does, and every member of the EC does. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there are a few typos or grammar errors in this article — the UFOP is not, after all, a Pulitzer competition or a master’s thesis. But my own rate of error is not high, and I always proof my submissions once at least. Of course, by taking the time to discuss this topic, I don’t need to point out that the rate is sometimes higher for others, too much so for it not to become on occasion irritating.
And the cure for it is so simple — READ YOUR POSTS BEFORE YOU HIT “SEND.” Even the longest sims, if they were worth writing, are worth another two to three minutes to check; and that’s all it EVER takes for the longer ones. So if you don’t have the time do make that minimal investment, you don’t have the time to sim right then. In other words, if you don’t have time to do it right, don’t do it till you do.
Youth is also not an excuse. If you’re in High School, you’re learning — or should be — how to write well and organize thought, as well as grammar. And no matter your age, everyone has a spell checker. If you make lots of spelling mistakes, use it.
Is all of this “required” by the UFOP either by way of the group as a whole or by a captain in the sense that if you dont adhere, you’re let go? Of course not. This isn’t military school and you’re not being punished — this is supposed to be fun. But in the end, many of you come to aspire to higher office. So I suggest you do all you can to make sure what you display looks and feels right so it gets taken seriously — otherwise you wasted your time, or at best, you’re saddling yourself with a disadvantage which is easily avoided.
I have always felt, and continue to feel, that the best sims are those which delve deeply inside the character — and thus the best simmers are those who add layers and dimensions to their character. Some of the best sims I have seen from others (and those I myself do and enjoy the most) are the sims in which little or no “action” takes place — or even dialog, sometimes — and in which the person mulls over a problem, a memory, or an issue. Sometimes that mulling involves memories, and one ex first officer of RANGER who went on to command used to make masterful use of the “flashback” to the great enjoyment of all who read his sims. Another current captain about to start her own ship does a great deal of work with friends and family visits and calls. When she served with Fleet Captain Hollis, I know he enjoyed reading about this simmer’s friend from her marine days.
The consistent thread here — which Gene Roddenberry always held was the soul of Star Trek — is that the best stories are about people, not new weapons, or spies, or fights or battles. Those, like magic in a good fantasy novel, are merely backdrops to tell a good story about people; they are not characters themselves, nor should they ever be what drives a story.
This isn’t easy for everyone at first blush, especially if UFOP is your first shot at acting, or role-playing. But remember that you can only have so many fights, so many new weapons, so many “unusual plot developments” before things get boring. When that happens, I commend to your attention looking inside your character, revealing their hurts, their dark places, their fears, their motivations; start with family and friends to flesh yourself out. You’ll find your sims richer, your enjoyment of this deeper, and your investment in UFOP more likely to reap rewards.
Forcing Good Habits: Halting and Avoiding "All Dialogue" Sims
Written by Fleet Captain Kali Nicholotti
While it might come easy to some people, writing and including exposition and characterization in your sims isn’t always the most cut and dry thing. It doesn’t always flow naturally, and for those who struggle with this aspect of ‘better writing’, it can be frustrating to improve when you aren’t quite sure how.
Don’t worry though; you aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last to have this problem. Plenty of people play this game not because they are writers, but because they have a deep love for all things Trek, and the appeal of writing for a character of their choosing, in a world largely designed as we go, yet based in something we love, can be pretty strong. As an open group, Starbase 118 makes it a point to include everyone we can, but it’s obvious that some sims simply invoke more feeling and offer deeper insight than others.
So how do you join the ranks of the writers of such sims? Here are a few tips that can help force your hand into penning more epic words in more amazing structures, leading to sims that invoke feelings, paint mental images in everyone who reads them, and in general, help inspire your crewmates.
Force of Habit
You might be told over and over again to include characterization in your sims, but if you aren’t sure where to start, or what to include, it can be hard to build this kind of habit in your writing. In this case, it’s a good idea to follow this simple rule:
For every three or four lines of dialogue, include a descriptive block.
It might sound too structured, looking at it now, but ultimately, what you’ll be doing is forcing your mind – and your fingers – to build the habit you are looking for. Sure, it means you might have to go back through your sims, or stop mid-sim, to really think about what you might include, but when the sim is done, it will be of higher quality and more inspirational than the one you were going to originally send.
Regardless, make sure that you force yourself to do this for a couple of weeks. After a half dozen sims, you’ll start to notice that it will get easier and come more naturally. Before long, you’ll wonder how you ever wrote before.
The Scene, Character Thoughts, or Movements
Still not sure what to write about in your descriptive blocks? Generally, you’ll find that the blocks of text between the colons in a sim will include one of three things:
Mixing these three things is generally what happens, though, so if you can react to an event in a descriptive and make it seem as if it were really happening, or at least convey to other readers vividly what is going on, then you’ve met with success.
When your Commanding Officers and others around you ask for more, or you read the sims of another writer and wish you could invoke feelings and imagery like they can, don’t get frustrated. Like all skills, developing your writing skills can take time. The point of setting up definitive rules, like in the beginning of this tutorial, is to force yourself to do something until it becomes a habit. In time, you won’t need to stop and look over your sims to count lines of dialogue before you send a sim in.
And remember, no matter how far you might be in your writing development, there are always resources and help available to you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your commanding officer, command staff, or other crewmates. You might be surprised just how eager your fellow writers are to share information, hints, tips, and experiences. Not only will you gain new perspectives, but you’ll be building up your OOC connections at the same time. Keep this in mind and making your sims better will end up being simpler than you ever imagined.
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.
Writing Alien Species
Written by Fleet Captain Renos
Writing for alien species can seem daunting at first and a lot of people may choose to write for a human because it’s more familiar to them, particularly if it’s their first character or they’re new to writing or roleplaying. This is a perfectly acceptable approach but this guide aims to explore some of the fun you can have and ways you can approach writing for an alien species.
If this is something you’re interested in, the first thing you need to do is choose which species you‘d like to write for. With nearly two hundred permitted species on the Intelligent Lifeform Index, finding the right one might seem a little overwhelming at first. Of the species listed some names are going to jump out more than others. Species like Bajorans, Andorians, Trill and Ferengi are immediately familiar because we’ve all seen them on the TV or read about them in the books or comics. These are generally a good starting ground, particularly if you have a favourite that you want to explore or want a well-established race.
The benefit of using a well-established race is that it gives you a lot of information to work with from the species’s home planet to their culture and society. This means you don’t have to come up with everything yourself and you have resources to draw upon. Some people are drawn to the lesser known species for that exact reason however and look at it as having a blank canvas. It can be a lot of work developing a species and there can be a lot of details to work out and keep track of over time which must be kept consistent. There can be a lot of reward in creating something new that can be enjoyed by the whole group. There’s no right or wrong answer but what you choose depends on what you want to achieve and experience when writing for an alien species.
Once you’ve chosen your species you should find out as much as you can about them. Physically, what do they look like; do they have any distinguishing features such as Trill Spots, Klingon ridges and dreadlocks or Andorian antennae? Do they have additional senses such as empathy, telepathy or fielding? If so how does this affect the world around them. It can be fun to pick up on other characters’ thoughts from time to time or find an object by fielding it.
Even if a species doesn’t have additional senses the ones we are familiar with may be stronger or weaker than we’re used to as humans. How would a character with a poor sense of smell and taste appreciate food? Perhaps they would be more interested in how the food is presented and the texture of it than then smell and taste. What are their senses like and how does it affect the way they perceive their environment?
How do they express themselves? Andorians do not use their faces to express themselves and smile only in the company of those they are particularly close to. Their antennae move independently and apart from being a sensory receptor are used for expression. So if they are angry you won’t see a frown or a scowl, but their antennae will sweep back. Vulcans have a very subtle way of expressing themselves too and tend to avoid touching others where possible.
What are their speech patterns like? Vulcans will tend to speak in an even, emotionless way and refer frequently to logic due to their cultural beliefs. A Klingon will be more passionate when talking about matters of importance to them such as honour. One of the most immersion breaking things can be to have an alien routinely using common human expressions. While each cadet will have spent four or more years at StarFleet Academy and having plenty of exposure to humans you can expect them to at least understand some of them. That said, they’re also exposed to a number of other species with their own phrases and sayings, not to mention the fact that they would have their own. Avoiding well-worn phrases in favour of creating something different would be much more fitting.
Finally, consider where they come from. Were they born on their species home planet or other colonised world? Know what the species culture and beliefs are like. Are they an arty creative people with a love of expressing themselves, or perhaps more driven towards developing new technologies and ways of thinking? The more you know about what the species is like in general terms the more you can decide how much of that they go along with and where their opinions might differ and, if so, why. Your character doesn’t have to be typical for their species but the deeper your knowledge and understanding of the species the more you can work out where the differences are and why, helping you to build a richer and more interesting character.
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.