Plot ideas, narrative ‘n’ stuff

Plot ideas, narrative ‘n’ stuff

By Rear Admiral Hollis Calley, CO, USS Kodiak

Recently, I asked my CO, Fleet Admiral Hollis Calley, about how he comes up with his ideas for plots. I’d expected a short list, but Hollis came up with such an in depth analysis, that, with his permission, I decided to share it with you all.

From: Rhys Bejain
To: Hollis Calley
Subject: Question
Date: Wed 20/7/05 4:07pm
Body: Where do you get your plot ideas?


From: Hollis Calley
To: Rhys Bejain
Subject: Re: Question
Date: Thur 21/7/05 8:45pm
Body: My muse.

You ask a really tough question. How does one create a plot?

Be open-minded to a wide variety of sources for ideas. Movies, books, histories, radio commentaries, comics, news, and real life all have the potential to help one create a solid plot. Items taken from current events or history seem to have the greatest impact. You can see the truth of this in some of the best Star Trek episodes. My admiration from the original series is that they were utterly unafraid to tackle the issues of their day even at the risk of moralizing.

After that I would is be open to allowing your ideas to grow. Once an initial idea is simmed others have a right to act on it. An idea will evolve as you sim it. You must be willing to let the idea change, but strong enough to keep true to the original intent.

Be aware of the theme of your theme and mood you set. Do you want to create humour, suspense, action, or horror? Also make sure to switch the mood between missions.

For the vampire plot[1] we wanted to create a darker atmosphere that exuded menace. Having a mysterious villain who appeared civil, even romantic helped set the feel. The current plot[2] was a Kodiak saves the universe plot, but I wanted to capture the uncertainty of the original voyager plot for the junior officers. Pulling the Commanders into my ready room to give the secrete knowledge created a wall between the ranks which normally does not exist. It worked perfectly creating a story with in the story. How will Kodiak stop the Omega particles, and what is the command staff up to.

You can only ask some one to suspend belief once. Once a plot is set up, it must follow it’s own internal logic. Be aware of that logic. Characters, devices, political entities must all act in a rational systematic way. Even insane characters operate with their own logic. Repeatedly violating internal consistency will wreck a plot. For example, Kodiak is too small a ship to take on a huge force head to head and destroy it. However, we can still beat a large force of enemy ships if we carefully sim the reasons we should win.

Plots have key elements. There is a background, beginning, foreshadowing, development, climax, and conclusion. Make sure that you pay attention to each part. You can jump to the exciting part of any plot, but then you loose the chance for developing the setting and characters. Plots are best that are allowed to simmer for a while. But, if your plot is dying a slow death don’t be afraid to move to the next plot element.

Sub plots are items that should be watched carefully so they don’t over shadow the main plot. They need to contribute energy to the main plot. Sub plots that are detracting fro the main plot need to be shut down.

Don’t be afraid to set limits on what simmers can introduce. They may not always like it, but limits force people to be creative. Borg should not show up in a diplomatic plot. The ship can’t be sabotaged every mission. SFI, isn’t at the root of all evil plots. When you start a plot be aware of what you don’t want it to become and tell people.

It is important to end plots when they are done or when people are done with them. A plot can go on for ever if you want, but ending allows the group to get on with a new adventure.

At plot’s pacing is one event per week I’ve found. A briefing, a battle, a transport, etc … they always seem to take at least a week real life in simming. Plan accordingly. Start a mission briefing on Sunday and ended it with orders on Thursday or Friday. End it to soon and the crew doesn’t get to contribute. Take to long and the crew get bored.

Now lets apply what I’ve talked about.

Recently I heard about a young Australian woman who was in Indonesia and got arrested with drugs in her luggage. She has spent several months in jail, and may be sentenced to twenty years in prison or even death. She may or may not be guilty, but the public isn’t happy that there is nothing the Australian government can do. I may have the particulars wrong, but this is how I remember it. It brings up issues of cultural differences and the rights of states to interfere in the internal processes of each other.

How can we place this idea in the realm of Star Trek?

Let’s place a Federation citizen in a similar predicament. We can make her a young woman on a non-aligned world who is accused of breaking a taboo. She is being held and may be executed. Her family has asked Star Fleet to intervene on her behalf.

Now lets think about the theme of this plot. What do you want it to be about? Should the plot be about politics? Or maybe innocence endangered is more interesting. Then again, maybe you want to focus on cultural differences.

The setting depends on the theme.

Political The woman is a university student whose father was a high ranking Federation Council member. He actually almost became Council president ten years ago, and is still highly influential. His daughter or soon was part of a protest movement that crossed the neutral zone in several old shuttles to draw attention to a Reman penal colony. She in her other protesters are currently being held on a Romulan planet and face possible execution unless a settlement can be negotiated.
Innocence Endangered A Federation citizen and merchant is arrested by the Ferengi for selling in what they consider a Ferengi monopoly zone. If she is convicted, she will be fined and sent back to Ferenginar to work off her debt for several years. She managed to contact the embassy on the world that has contacted your ship.
Cultural Differences A Risian Star Fleet officer on a visit to Arbaza is arrested after having a romance with a Arbazan woman. His advances are considered immoral and he will be imprisoned for several years for having a liason with her. He did nothing that would be considered immoral on Risa, but Arbaza (look it up in the life form index) is not Risa. Your ship’s Captain as the ranking Star Fleet representative in the area has been asked to defend the young man in an Arbaza court.

Thus you see how essentially the same idea can be spun on in different ways depending on the point you want to make.

At this point you could write up a sim being contacted by the involved parties for aid, or jump to a briefing sim. I prefer to do the background sims before the briefing to create some interest.

Is this what you had in mind? Also would you want to use this as an article for your news group.


[1] Recently, the Kodiak did a mission involving a Vampire, who was killing people on DS17. The crew eventually found the creature, and eliminated it.

[2] The current plot involves the destruction of Omega Particles, and the rescue of 100 000 Tzenkethi scientists who created the particles. The continent they are on is sinking as a result of the now-destroyed particles

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