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:
::Kelly realized the prisoner was lying to him. He turned to the brig officer and signalled for him to restore the force field. Kelly left the cell, then turned back to the prisoner…::
KELLY: Are you sure you can’t remember what happened?
CLARK: That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it…
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.
(Written by: Rear Admiral Brian Kelly)