How to thrive on DS5
or how to create characters and plot for the long haul

Created by Civilian 'Key Holder' Yolanthe Ibalin on Sun Apr 5, 2015 @ 4:09am

Introduction

Well done, you’ve signed up to one of the longest running trek simms out there. We’ve got very high expectations about what you do here, and we want you to thrive. What follows is our guide to writing for the simm, covering the three major aspects: character, story, and technical ability. For most of you this will be nothing new, but we hope it provides a useful refresher.

About DS5

DS5 is different from many simms due to its scale. Like DS9 that inspired it, our cast of regular and recurring characters is huge. And like DS5, that size has both drawbacks and positives. We can be slow moving, as a crowd often is, which can frustrate. We also have a lot of old hands, making it a challenge for new faces to integrate. But if you do settle in, we are a close family, that has written together for years, and bounce off each other in a way not seen in other simms.

We are also much much more character driven than a typical ship simm is. There are more characters who need more to do; Fleet missions don’t always include civilians, civilian issues won’t always involve fleet. The marine corps has its own ins and outs too. Therefore the expectations and methods of other simms don’t always work.

Lastly, DS5 is a grown-up simm. We cover grown-up topics (rape, racism, murder, stupidity). Violence is common and language can be fresh. If you can’t write those topics without turning into Beavis and Butthead, or getting upset, we respectfully suggest you try another simm. Our rating is 15, suitable for those aged 15 and over (similar to R), and we write to match. A veil is drawn over the worst, but we don’t shy away from anything.

Our aim is to create a community of dedicated trek writers that have a bloody good time making stories.

Posting expectations

The rules of DS5 state:
  • A decent level of writing ability and a good understanding of the English Language. Words are powerful. Use them carefully, and write so others understand what you're doing. Netspeak in posts or communication is frowned upon
  • One line posts that do nothing to advance character or plot are not allowed.
  • All posts are written in English (UK or American) and must use proper use of spelling, grammar, punctuation and also of Star Trek technology.
  • A minimum post requirement of at least TWO posts per month is required, if unable to meet this requirement, please contact the CO/XO.
  • Characters must be original and have a full biography created by their players. They must not copy canon Star Trek characters. Develop your character. Make sure you use traits about your character in your posts. Don't write a BIO and then play your character completely different. It is for the Command Team to determine the final acceptability of any character information.

The aim of this guide is to give you tools to meet these requirements, specifically how to create and write characters that drive easy completion of the minimum posting requirement.

What this document is not

This document is not hard and fast enforceable rules (For those, see here). Consider it our guide to best practise. The more you follow along, the more you will get from DS5. Decide certain bits are not for you? That’s fine. Unless what you do instead is in direct contravention of the actual rules, it’s your right, but we think you’ll miss out.


Characters for the long haul

Writing on DS5 starts with making a character. This is the most important thing you will do. These are our tips for getting it right first time.

Conflict and drama and character goal

Writing is about drama. Drama comes from conflict, conflict comes from striving for a goal, being thwarted, then overcoming those obstacles. Whatever your character is, pick a conflict that is central to it. It can be complex – an unjoined trill looking to overthrow the tyranny of symbiosis, an idealistic young pilot looking for meaning in the universe after being abandoned as a baby. It can be simple – a security officer just wants to get to retirement in one piece, a bar owner just wants to stay in business.

A good character goal for DS5 is one that is likely to have a variety of threats to it. A marine looking for revenge on the Cardassian that killed his sister is going to either find him or not. A marine looking to make up for his own dubious actions in the Dominion war is probably going to have a bunch of people looking for him. More enemies equals more posting opportunities.

A good character goal should be big. It has to be a massive life changing thing that is not done all at once. Once that character goal is met, then there might not be anything else, the PC has reached its natural end. No more story, time to write up another main PC. A goal that can be thwarted as long as possible, (for believable reasons) will help you to keep writing it over and over. Once that goal is achieved, then its either time to find another Big Goal, or retire the PC .

And Mary Sue came too

One of the worst crimes an author can commit is the creating of a Mary Sue. Trek fandom actually coined the phrase Mary Sue in parody of the sort of characters it refers to. The following is paraphrased from TV tropes.org’s page on the subject:

Frequently a badly veiled version of the author who obviously serves for the purpose of Wish Fulfillment. She's exotically beautiful, has a similarly cool and exotic name. She's exceptionally talented in an implausibly wide variety of areas, and may possess skills that are rare or non-existent Importantly, she also lacks any realistic, or at least story-relevant, character flaws — either that or her "flaws" are obviously meant to be endearing.

Others are supposed to admire her beauty, wit, courage and other virtues, if any character doesn't love her, that character gets an extremely unsympathetic portrayal. Other characters should merely act as awestruck cheerleaders, watching from the sidelines as Mary Sue outstrips them in their areas of expertise and solves problems that have stymied them for an age.

In other words, the term "Mary Sue" is generally slapped on a character who is important in the story, possesses unusual physical traits, and has an irrelevantly over-skilled or over-idealized nature.

Whilst Mary Sue is the normal term, it can just as easily (if not more so in the Trek setting) be applied to male characters.

So what if you want to play someone who is awesome, a total badass? How do you do that without making your badass a Mary Sue?

Its not wrong to have something the character is good at. You should have something your character is good at. Even superhumanly good if you think you can justify it. The answer to avoiding Mary Sue actually comes back to the character’s goals.

The more the character's goal is not linked to whichever skill set they are utterly awesome at, the better. For example, Worf is a combat badass. He’ll come out top in most fights (but not all, only Mary Sues succeed at everything). But his key conflict is not about physical combat. His key conflict is in finding a way to live in two worlds, that of Klingons and that of the Federation. His nature calls him one way, his nurture the other, and his character development comes from handling that.

Data is an android. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s clever. But he’s not a real boy. Data’s conflict has been the search for his ‘blue fairy’ of the emotion chip, and then when he finds it, learning to adapt to his new situation. All the strength, the speed, the smarts, they just can’t help with any of that.

Because these goals are not related to the skill set of awesome, there is a real chance of failure. This is important as there must be failure before there is success for drama to succeed. No realistic character succeeds at everything every time. (On the same note, no one fails all the time.)

Making it Trek

The last important consideration of simm character creation is making it Star Trek. Its not enough to stick a pair of pointy ears on it and call it a Vulcan. Humanity, and many other societies, are better. Characters from Federation worlds live in a post-consumer society. Economics is nothing like we understand it. The profit motive is almost as alien as horta. A character from a Federation background is not going to understand hunger or suffering if they are from a standard federation world. They will not have any experience of being 'poor' or 'broke' or 'unable to afford medical bills'. A character from a deprived background needs to be from outside the Federation, or on a world like Turkana IV, where law, order and technology had collapsed and the planet had been cut of for many years.

Its also a tolerant society. Intolerance is a mark of someone so hopelessly backward they are villainous (or might as well be). No-one cares about appearance of sexuality. You can be bald, long haired, short haired. You can be white, black, blue, the people who care are usually villains or at best anti-heroes. You can be gay, straight, bi-sexual, pan-sexual, transsexual, asexual. Nobody cares (unless they’re a villain), so feel free to gender bend, orientation swap, whatever floats your boat. If homosexuality offends you, please feel free to simm elsewhere.

Please note that paedophilia, incest and bestiality are NOT are not to be depicted. Abuse and perversion may be part of a background, but whilst they can be referred to, actual actions cannot be described.

Anyone wanting a character driven by what are humanity’s base urges without dwelling on it is probably best served by non-Federation species, but you still have to be true to that society.

That doesn’t mean your Cardassian has to be a Nazi, or your Romulan has to be a scheming backstabbing politico. We’ve know from the show that most races have variety. DS5 is on the edge of space, making it a natural magnet for those who no longer fit with their home society. The individualist, anarchistic Cardassian artist; the crippled Klingon weapon-smith; the half-vulcan party animal who has ALL THE FEELS. The contrast between expectations of the species and the reality of the PC is a good source of conflict.

If you want to play a race of your own devising, then this should be discussed with the Command staff. Its perfectly allowable, but its also not for the feint of heart. The same rules for characters should also apply to races. An essential conflict, (E.g. the place of the warrior in a peaceful galaxy), No Mary Sue (i.e. not better than everyone at everything), and conceivable within the trek universe, where other races are often metaphors for earth cultures or problems such as racism and sexism.

An example

So lets say you have an idea for a billionaire industrialist. Lets call him Bill Jobs. You want him to be human. He’s got money and resources out the wazoo. Mercenaries, ships, research teams, gadgets, gizmos, all the wonderful toys. So far, so meh. Not very Trek and practically a Mary Sue.

So lets start with a goal. And its got to be a goal his mercenaries, researchers and gizmos can’t fix. Maybe its something to do with family. His daughter has a rare disease that Federation science can’t fix. Maybe that business is under pressure from other beings who want to take it over. Maybe he’s only got three months left to live and needs to finish his bucket list or return things he stole many years ago, except he can’t find the owners.

And billionaire businessman doesn’t really fit with Federation, doubly so if he’s human, so I need excellent justification for this. Perhaps he’s from a breakaway community that deals with many non-Federation races where economics is more twentieth century than twenty fourth century. Perhaps his business has come from taking over alien businesses and they resent being owned by a human.

So let's say Bill Jobs was a young man in the demilitarized zone that followed the Federation-Cardassian War. The predations of the Cardassians on the colonists led him to joining the Maquis, and working for them as a sort of quartermaster, finding weapons, supplies, parts, whatever was needed. To facilitate his dealings with aliens, he had to work within the primitive economic structure that many of these cultures had, and found he was as good at it as manyFerengi. After the war, and the opening of the Gamma Quadrant to trade, he found that his experience working between the consumer markets of the Ferengi and the transhumanism of the Federation was in great demand. To facilitate this he set up businesses on both sides of the wormhole, converting Federation credits into whatever currency would facilitate trade with the gamma quadrant makers of desirable things.

His businesses only grew. To bring in more goods he found he needed accountants, scouts, security, ships. He reinvested his profits and credits over and over, swelling his ranks of non-federation assets with every year. He even served for a time as an advisor to the Federation on trade with the Gamma Quadrant.

But his personal life is a mess. He's a pathological workaholic, but he's still romantic enough to want to fall in love. Now he has three ex-husbands, all of which feel free to call on him at a moments notice, convenient or not. He has a daughter via a surrogate mother. Opal is now a young woman who hasn't forgiven him for never being there. Except now she is stricken by a rare disease and has been given 2 years at most to live. Bill Jobs has come to DS5 hoping to make forays into the Romulan empire and beyond in search of a cure for her.

His goal is to cure his daughter. To achieve that he has tenacity and dedication – vital for building a thriving business. He has resources that could point him in the right direction, but he’s not going to sit back and let them do all the work. His dedication can become obsession, leaving little room for anything or anyone else. He’s spent so long dealing outside the federation he often comes across as uncultured and primitive to Federation citizens, when he’s not deliberately trying to impress. The subtle Realpolitik of the Romulans is likely to be an even tougher challenge.

Story Structure

Now that the character is ready, time to post. Its not as simple as just throwing words onto a screen. Its time to consider how and what to write, before you actually write it.

The purpose of a post – advancing a narrative

Every post on DS5 must advance either the plot or the character in some way. Rambling posts where characters do nothing and we learn nothing new about them should be avoided. Likewise a short post where characters do 'nothing' is also undesirable.

With mission plots and posts (those started by the command team) your point is to show your character dealing with the situation presented in a way consistent with the character bio you wrote.

Non-mission posts are particularly liable to pointlessness; always start a non mission post knowing what you want to say about your PC. You may want to show their soft, sensitive side, or hint at their secret past as a badass. You may want to show their frustrations at recent events, or show them enjoying a victory. Keep that point at the front of your mind whilst you are planning your post. Yes, planning. Go in with a plan. It doesn’t have to be complex, and it helps structure what you write, as we will now discuss.

Beginning, Middle, End...

Now we know what point the post has got to make, we can go into the detail. Just as every story has a beginning middle and end, so every post, whether a whole story or just a part, needs the same structure. A clear beginning, establishing the character’s goals for the post (NOT necessarily your goal as a writer. The Middle shows the attempt to meet that goal, and the End is about establishing if that goal is met, (if yes, how, if no, how not), and what happens next. It works for Action posts as well as Reaction posts.

For example. Bill Jobs is looking for a Romulan scientist who may be able to help his daughter. A previous post has established that the Romulan will be on a cruise liner heading to Risa. The Beginning of this post has Bill arriving in his shuttlecraft to intercept the liner and discovering it has been attacked by pirates and is drifting. The middle shows him as he boards the liner, hoping that the Romulan might still be alive, and searches for him. The end shows him finding the scientist, who is alive but badly injured (Goal Met, he’s found him, but...). Jobs has to get him off the ship before he bleeds out, but then the ship sensors pick up returning Orion cutters.

That last part is important, as it helps delay the meeting of the Characters Big Goal (to cure his daughter) again, and lays the groundwork for another post.

Another example, this time for a ‘quieter’ post. In a previous JP with the medical team, the Romulan Doctor died on the operating table. Bill now wants to reflect on these events. The beginning of the post has him entering the Box of Delights to brood and get wasted. The Middle of the post shows him pouring out his frustrations and fears to the bar tender. The end of the post shows him realising – and this is the important bit – that whilst he didn’t get to the Romulan, he does now have his travel bag, and the name of some of the Romulans’ colleagues. All is not lost! He has a new plan to help his daughter. He leaves the Box, resolving to contact the colleagues.

…And Beyond

Being on a sim requires constant posting. The laws of the Sim say at least 2 a month. The laws of Newtonian Physics say that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The laws of Narrative Convention say that for every action, there is a consequence, usually not equal.

This is how you keep your posting going. Every post is an opportunity to create more plot. For every antagonist defeated, every NPC insulted, every lover spurned, the chances of something bad happening because of a PC’s success is as inevitable as the Heat Death of the universe.

In our example above, Bill failed to save the scientist, but he did rescue him from the Pirates. Possible follow ups to that (in addition to the obvious post where he talks to the Romulan’s colleagues) are:
  • The pirates come looking for payback – they attack his business assets
  • The pirates come looking for payback – they attack him or his family
  • The family of the Romulan blame him for the Romulan’s death and demand the federation hand him over for trial
  • The Romulan’s family come to DS5 seeking bloody vengeance
  • Orions/Romulans hire an assassin – there is an attempt on him
  • The Romulan’s commend him, and demand he comes to Romulus for a prize giving ceremony, except its not a good time.
  • An ex-husband hears about and swoops back into his life to make sure he’s all right, and then makes himself a terrible nuscience

That list took less than two minutes to write. Each item could be several more posts on their own, all of which could spiral off onto more plot threads. Simming is a soap opera. The more you can stir in plot seeds, the easier it is to keep writing month after month.

The actual putting words on a screen

Once you have a character and a plan for your posts, you can actually start writing. Hurruh. This is the easy part. Mostly.

Technical expertise

Grammar and spelling

You are required to have a decent level of English (British, American, Australian, doesn’t matter, as long as its English). Most browsers will have an add-on that spell checks. Install it. Use it.

If your browser doesn’t have one, use a word processor and then copy and paste. British, American, and other spellings are all used interchangeably. Color is as good as colour. The science department will theorise and theorize. Engineering will patch with Transparent Aluminium, or Aluminum, as the mood takes them. Most of us have a sense of humor about it. The rest of us have a sense of humour.

Know your grammar and punctuation. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is an excellent grammar guide for everyone, though the emphasis is on American English. The Oxford Guide to English Usage is very helpful for knowing the difference between principle and principal. And for a humourous look at punctuation, there is Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.

Posts should generally be written in the third person past tense. Personal Logs are normally first person past tense.

Style

Style is a very personal thing. Some of us get very wordy and florid. Others can be terse. Whatever your style, there are some specific conventions to use in posts.
  • Always start your post with the header ::ON::
  • Always indicate the ending with ::OFF::
  • Always add a footer listing participants in the post. E.g.
    A post by:
    Yolanthe Ibalin,
    Owner, The Box of Delights
    DS5

    &
    Captain Isha t’Vaurek
    DS5
  • To indicate use of the communicators, use =^= inside the speech marks, ie. “=^= Wallace to Captain t’Vaurek?=^=”
  • To indicate telepathy, use << and >>. i.e. “<<Does he know about the baby?>>” The Betazoid tailor asked the ambassador without speaking aloud.

Good manners

Unfortunately, in this age of anonymous internet shenanigans, we must now have a word about good manners.

Your job is to make sure others have a good time.

Simming is something everyone should be enjoying, not just you. If everyone follows the rule of making it fun for everyone else, then you have anywhere between 6 and 30 people working to make sure you have a damn good time.

To help others have a good time, talk to them, message them privately and ask about their characters, volunteer to do JPs. In mission plot posts, feed people good lines, and set them up for star moves and crowning moments of awesome.

Rule 7

Rule 7 comes from British LARP, and goes something like this:

Don’t be an arse

It is easy to make a character that pisses all over everyone else’s fun, without breaking the actual rules of the simm. Negotiation is key. If you have a bitchy character, use an OOC note at the bottom of the post to explain that to other writers in the post, and explain that it is the character being bitchy and not you (By the Way, we can spot people being bitchy and hiding behind their PC to do it. Try it and command will have a word in your shell-like).

A character that does shitty things is perfectly possible without being a jerk about it. The best way to go about it is to conspire with your fellow simmers, tell them you want to write a post where Joe Starfleet does something crummy, and see who volunteers to help. Don’t just do the crummy thing in the middle of the post. Do not worry about a lack of volunteers. Everyone loves to see a villain do his thing.

Writing any details about a character that does not belong to you (Without permission, obviously) is a direct contravention of Rule 7. It is also likely to get you a double strike from the command team. Other things in contravention of Rule 7 is limelight hogging, or trying to do other character’s jobs for them

NPCs

Even if you have a stunningly complex character with a suitcase full of plot, IC time in DS5 occasionally can be a bit slow. A large writing crew is fairly normal, and it can take a long time to get everybody’s bits in, and therefore you may end up living a whole lifetime in a single day. It can take a week to move through an hour of mission time. A day can take months sometimes. The way to keep your post count up without ending up in two places at once or meeting someone, falling in love, marrying and having babies all between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm, is NPCs.

NPCs broadly fall in two types. The first is the Plot Advancer, which is a character written for a specific purpose; a minor villain, a useful redshirt, a witness. These are often one-off characters which are essentially disposable, and require less effort than a PC. They are bit parts and guest stars of the Simming world. Providing these small characters for other writer’s in a JP is an easy way to make your post count without compromising your own character.

The other type is the secondary character. These are NPCs that are just as fleshed out as PC’s just not used as often. Think Lt. Barclay, Nog, Nurse Chappel. Its not unusual for some players to have two or three secondary characters for use when things are going slowly. The same rules apply these secondary characters as they do to PCs when it comes to character creation and post writing.

It should be remembered that NPC’s are just that – NOT player characters. They exist to fill a gap, or to make a PC look good. They shouldn’t be taking over the action or the plot when your primary character would be more suitable.

Conclusion

So to sum up everything into nice pithy soundbites:
  • Make a character who has a decent goal, that has real shortcomings as well as strengths, and fits into the trek universe
  • Give your every post a purpose, whether to show action, or emotional reaction to events. Give it a beginning, a middle, and end.
  • Learn to write using the simm conventions.
  • Don’t be an arsehole

Ready, Set, Sim!


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