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.
(Written by Lieutenant Colt Daniels)