ORIGINS: Writer's Handbook

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STAR FLEET: ORIGINS Writer's Handbook
Updated SD 2260.148


Introduction

The writing environment of STAR FLEET: ORIGINS, like the rest of Star Fleet, is one that is often called "shared fiction"- fiction whose development is shared by members of a team instead of being an individual process. This places less emphasis on the individual writer and more on the unit as a whole.

This means that writing in STAR FLEET: ORIGINS is much like playing on a sports team or serving in an actual military unit- the importance of the individual is overshadowed by that of the group as a whole. In the most basic of senses, the crew of your starship is a team first, and an assortment of individuals second.

Because of this, writers on our starships must always be conscious of their crewmates when writing. As such, we have to consider things that one normally wouldn't do in a more solitary writing forum. Some of these things can be found below.



Post Format

However, before we get to the specifics of post-writing, we should spend a moment on the basic stuff for those who are new to ASR- the format of a post. "Format" simply means the way a post looks: the way it is organized.


The Subject Line

RP Posts

RP Posts are posts written "in-character" and take place within the confines of the alternate ASR universe we've created for STAR FLEET: ORIGINS. These posts either add something to the develoment of the character (called "CD posts") or move the plot of the story forward.

All RP posts will have a subject line that looks pretty much the same:

  • [ORIGINS] SHIP NAME: Post Title

As you can see, all RP posts- because they will be posted to the general ASR post archive as well as your ship's archive- are tagged with the [ORIGINS] tag. After that, it looks the same as STAR FLEET: Prime posts: ship name in all capital letters, and the post title.

For example, a proper RP post subject line should look like this:

  • [ORIGINS] USS CONSTELLATION: Family History


NRPG Posts

NRPG, or "non-role-playing game" posts, are posts written "out-of-character" (as such, these are sometimes called "OOC posts"), in your own voice. They are not posted to the general Star Fleet archive because they do not take place within the game action. Instead, NRPG posts are sent either to specific individuals or to the crew as a whole, and they typically deal with things like collaborating on a post, writing a joint post, or notifying everyone of an impending absence.

NRPG posts use a subject line like this:

  • SHIP NAME NRPG: Subject

There is no [ORIGINS] tag in front because it's only going to an individual or, at best, your own crew, so there's no need for it. However, it IS tagged with the NRPG marker after the ship's name so everyone knows it is out-of-character.

A proper NRPG post subject line looks like this:

  • INTREPID NRPG: Away for Weekend

Stardates

Stardates in ORIGINS are done differently than they are in the rest of Star Fleet; this was done to bring ORIGINS in line with the dating system established in the 2009 Star Trek movie. A stardate is used to locate your post in a specifc point; it helps determine the sequence of events during a mission, which can be very important. therefore, all posts have a stardate tag.

A stardate should look like this:

  • YEAR.DAY.hhmm

Here, the "year" is the full, 4-digit year; "day" refers to the sequential day of the year (the actual "number" of the day in the year) in which the post takes place; the final sequence refers tot he time, expressed in 24-hour "military" style- "h" for the hour and "m" for the minute.

If the game year is 2260, and the post were written today, then the stardate would be:

  • 2260.140.1920

"2260" is the year, and the action is taking place on the 140th day of the year (meaning May 20th), and it is happening at 7:20 PM.

If you prefer the date to be less "cluttered," you can always remove the time stamp and make it a separate entry in your posts.

You can compute the Day of the Year at this Day of the Year Calculator.

You can also look up the Day's number in a table at NASA's Day of the Year Calendar.

The Signature

Every post in Star Fleet is "signed" with the same basic information; in STAR FLEET: ORIGINS, we add one extra tag to the end for clarity's sake:

 Character Rank and Name
 Position
 SHIP NAME and Registry Number
 STAR FLEET: ORIGINS

Remember that ship names in Star Fleet are ALWAYS written in all caps.

So, a proper signature at the end of a post would look like this:

 CAPT Jack Veld
 Commanding Officer
 USS CONSTELLATION NCC-1017
 STAR FLEET: ORIGINS



Getting Others Involved

Now that we've gotten the basics of HOW a post should look, let's take a look at the actual machanics of writing with others and making it a truly interactive experience. Any writer who wishes to maximize his or her sense of belonging to the unit as a whole- and therefore increase his or her level of enjoyment- needs to consider his or her crewmates as he or she is writing his or her post. A writer must consider keeping others involved in a mission or thread, and must endeavor to portray another's creation consistently with what has already been established in RP.

Writing "Hooks"

One of the best ways to keep one's crewmates involved in a mission's development is to leave other players openings for their characters to get involved- these openings are called "hooks," designed to "hook" other writers into the thread. Hooks can come in a variety of forms, from the CO giving another player a task to perform to asking a direct question of another character. The more often we leave hooks for our crewmates, the more involved they will become, and therefore the more productive and enjoyable our unit will ultimately be.

Hooks can sometimes be very general, such as the Chief Medical Officer organizing his or her office and stating, at the end of his or her post, that he or she was ready to begin Senior Staff physicals; this is a hint to all senior staff members that he or she is ready to interact with anyone in the unit. This hook defines no specific officer or order; it is a simple invitation to anyone.

However, hooks are often more specific, such as when the CO orders the Science Officer to scan the planet they are orbiting for any signs of life. This hook is directed solely at the Science Officer and no one else, and also specifies a task to perform. They are not always that specific- a team of 2 or 3 officers may be given a more nebulous task, such as "figure out why we've sustained a 12% power loss"; this supplies a task, but does not hint at a specific cause or give the investigation any real direction- THAT is left up to the team of officers assigned to the task.

Your job, in the case of any of the above examples, is to "pick up" the hook, to answer it, and write about it in your next post. Or, if you leave a hook for someone else, then it becomes HIS or HER job to pick it up and answer it.

Hooks are one of the two most frequently used methods of getting others involved in the development of a thread.

Joint Posts

Joint Posts are the second most frequently used methods of getting other writers involved in thread development. A joint post is exactly what it sounds like- a post written jointly by more than one player. Usually, they are done in pairs, but are also frequently done in groups of three and even sometimes groups of four. Usually, this is done to more directly spur on player creativity or as a guard against misplaying someone else's character (we'll get into that later).

Regardless of how they come about, joint posts are always started the same way- someone begins a post, writes a certain amount, and sends it off to another player; that player then edits and adds as he or she sees fit, and then either sends it on to another player, sends it back to the first player, or posts it. Usually, such terms for the joint post are agreed upon beforehand.

A joint post has the advantage of allowing two or more players to work more closely together- you often find this type of post being written by a team assigned to a task- than one would by leaving hooks. It also has the advantage of not compromising character consistency by allowing each player to write for his or her own character exclusively. However, joint posts generally take longer to write due to there being "more hands in the pot," so to speak.



Respecting the Creations of Others

Sooner or later (probably by the time you finish your first real Star Fleet post), all writers of shared fiction have an epiphany: it is impossible to write ONLY for your own primary character. A player will have to include other characters in his or her writing. Sometimes these characters are "NPC's" or non-player characters. These are generic, rather flat characters which are open for use by anyone. However, sooner or later, a writer finds him or herself in the position of "putting words in another player's character's mouth." And it is here that we have to be careful.


Aiming for Consistency

We all write for each other's characters from time to time; when we do, we should strive to make sure that what we write is not markedly different in style and behavior than what the creator has already established in previous posts. In other words, we must make sure the character stays "in-character." For instance, if a character is firmly established as being one that does not drink, it would probably not be appropriate to have this character passed out in 10-Forward from a drinking binge without good reason. This is not to discourage a writer from using another's creation, but rather to encourage respect for the hard work and creative efforts of the player who created the character. Respect for one's teammate, if you will.

A good piece of general advice would be to clear any deviant behavior you plan on writing for another's character with the creator before posting. If you want, you can send the post along to the creator for approval first, but this is not usually necessary. Just an OK from the creator is usually enough.

Now, NPC's are treated a little differently. They are usually created for use by the whole crew, and are usually not as deep as the primary characters; as such, most players don't get too picky about the character's portrayal so long as he or she isn't killed, maimed or lured into some sexual contact without permission first. Again, as with PC's, if you are planning a "major" event involving an NPC, check with the creator before doing it.


Forgiving Small Errors

Despite our best intentions, sometimes we do something that another player feels is inconsistent with what he or she has envisioned for his or her character. There is really no way around this; since we all are looking at things from different perspectives and experiences, we don't interpret actions the exact same way. It's human nature. But that doesn't mean that some players won't get very upset when their characters are portrayed "incorrectly"- to many players, their characters are an extension of themselves, almost like children. Whether we agree with this or not, it is not our place to say- we MUST respect this.

However, most mistakes made by another writer are honest ones (no harm was intended) and are almost always small enough to fix with relative ease. Therefore, please be at least a little forgiving with small mistakes and instead of complaining about it, just send a simple note to the other writer explaining the inconsistency without any malice or anger. Communicating these small mistakes ina non-threatening, constructive manner will encourage everyone not only to write more but work to 'get things right.'



Editing Posts

Since we are using a written medium to tell our stories, some basic rules of grammar and copyediting must be followed.


Use a Spellchecker

Most e-mail and word editors today contain some sort of spell checking tool- make use of it! If you don't have one, search for a third-party one you can download for free (they're out there). Bad spelling makes for annoying reading (think about how you feel when you read something with numerous spelling mistakes) which only encourages your crewmates not to read your entire post- and therefore miss hooks, joint post opportunities, etc. Using a spellchecker is always a good first step before posting.

However, don't stop there- reread your post and visually edit it. Remember, many spellcheckers won't check the spelling against proper grammatical usage- they won't know if the proper form of "there" is being used- it is only a database of words, period. So go over it visually after it has been spell checked.


Check Your Grammar

This is always the most annoying part of writing, but it has to be done. No one is expecting all ASR writers to become English language majors and be perfect with grammar...but at least making sure to follow the basic rules of punctuation, capitalization, pronoun usage, etc. is absolutely necessary. Remember that there are some members of ASR who do not speak English as a native language- that means that, in all likelihood, they learned it in a classroom like many of us learn French or Spanish. Using improper grammar around people who have learned it from a textbook is only going to confuse such players, and this is not what we want. The goal of any communication is to convey one's ideas clearly- using some basic grammar sense goes a long way towards this.

If you are not good with grammar, many word processors have grammar checks built in; Word and WordPerfect both have pretty good ones. If you don't have one, you can find them online to download for free or you can find web sites which will check your text for you, usually for free. There's no reason to pay for this service, so don't.


Formatting Posts

All posts should have the same basic format- it should be in plain text (not HTML, as the newsgroup doesn't post in HTML format), and should not have lines longer than about 60-70 characters in length. Now, most e-mail and word editors will automatically handle the formatting so it will fit properly when posted...but not all of them do this. If you are using a plain text editor, you need to be careful here. If a line is too long, it will show up as a whole line followed by a partial one in the post. This, like poor spelling, is disconcerting to the reader and will only encourage someone to ignore your post.

Obscenities

Lastly, a word about obscenities. Star Fleet has people from many different walks of life, many different cultures, and varying ages. We must respect this if we are to ensure the happiness of everyone in the unit.

As such, obscenities should generally be avoided. This does not mean that, should your character get hit in the stomach with a bat'leth, it would not be appropriate for him or her to say "shit." It might very well be- we ARE trying to make the characters behave realistically, after all. If a character is "hoppin' mad," a stray expletive or two might just be apropos. But using such language for simple shock value or for no real reason should be avoided, out of respect for those who do not condone such flippant use of language.



Final Thoughts

Everything on this page has dealt with the idea of respecting one's crewmates and involving them in our work. However, remember that no one is perfect here in Star Fleet, and that we do this voluntarily. This means that, if someone steps on your toes a little bit regarding character or language, the best thing to do is to either let it go (if it's not that big a deal), or just send the offending party a friendly note saying, "Hey, no big deal, but you did this and I didn't like it." If you do so tactfully and with respect, you will almost always get a positive response.

The WRONG way to go about bringing a mistake to someone's attention is to send out a ship-wide NRPG message and chew the person out in front of everyone; all that will do is embarrass and possibly enrage the offending party who most likely simply made an honest mistake. Talk to the offending party one-on-one first, without anyone else watching. If the same mistakes keep happening after that, THEN you contact your CO and XO about the problem. It is OUR job to take care of it, as it would be in a military unit. It is NOT yours. To do so is disrespectful, and we don't operate that way here, whether you think the offending party deserves respect or not. Remember that everyone makes mistakes, so stay cool.

I would also encourage everyone to allow for some small discrepancies in character portrayal and the like. I'm not saying that major problems should be ignored, but if someone used a manner of speech for your character that was a little off, let it go. It's not worth making an issue about- I would simply continue to work hard in my own writing to further establish patterns of speech so as to make it easier for others to grasp. We should always consider that, if mistakes are made in how others view our characters, WE are probably as much to blame for portraying them poorly as the offending parties are for doing the same.

Please feel free to send any thoughts, comments, suggestions, additions, etc.


Respectfully,

Scott Lusby
CAPT Jack Veld
Commanding Officer
USS CONSTELLATION NCC-1017
STAR FLEET: ORIGINS