Writer’s Workshop

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Writers Workshop: Writing Physical Descriptions

Whether you are reading a novel or a sim, visualisation is a huge part of the experience. We allow our minds to imagine the scene we are reading, the descriptions helping to form the pictures in our head. We are fortunate to have an incredibly talented bunch of people who help create images for our characters, but what about side characters – those specific to a mission, or a background character for example? Whilst we may have an idea of how our crewmates look, we may not always know just how those around them look.

In this article, we are going to be looking at how you can improve the descriptions that you write about characters.


Writers Workshop: Simming Wishlists

As we officially move into 2397 many people are thinking about resolutions, goals and changes for the upcoming year.  But how can you plan to maximize the fun and enjoyment you get from simming?

One exercise that works well for many players is a wishlist.  A wishlist means taking some time to plan out things you would really enjoy simming on several levels and then talking about that wishlist with your mentor, fellow crew and ship’s staff.  This not only helps you focus your writing into key areas that you enjoy the most, but it helps you communicate and collaborate with your fellow players to create a better game overall.


Writers Workshop: Interviewing Your Character

During your time at the academy, you were required to provide a short biography about your character, giving a brief overview of them and their history. This time we want to take things a step further, to help you create a living, breathing character that acts like a real, genuine person. To achieve this, it is important that you know as much as possible about them.

Today we are going to ask questions about our character and answer honestly from their point of view. Think of it as interviewing your character, which is a great way to get inside their head. Feel free to use as many or as a few as you want.


Writers Workshop: Token Tags

What is token tagging?

Token tagging is a phrase that you probably have never heard of before, but have probably been taking part in without knowing it. Put simply, token tagging is when somebody is tagged in a scene, without fully engaging them. Let’s look at some examples:


Writers Workshop: 25 Common Word Alternatives

Ever sit down to write a sim and find yourself stuck for words? Read through what you’ve written and realise that you tend to use the same words over and over again?

Below you’ll find a list of alternatives to 25 common words to spice up your writing. Let us know how it goes in the Writing Improvement Forum.

Angry:
Irate, enraged, touchy, cross, resentful, indignant, infuriated, wound up, worked up, seething, raging, heated, bitter, bad tempered, offended, frustrated

Bad:
Awful, lousy, poor, unacceptable, crummy, dreadful, rough, inferior, substandard, atrocious, appalling, dreadful, defective

Beautiful:
Striking, stunning, magnificent, lovely, charming, gorgeous, radiant, dazzling

Big:
Massive, huge, giant, gigantic, enormous, large, colossal, immense, bulky, tremendous, hefty, sizeable, extensive, great, substantial


Witty Wordsmith: Setting A Superb Scene

If you’re new to simming you quickly learn that strong sims include description alongside dialogue to create a whole scene rather than just a threadbare script.  But how do you set a good scene?  What elements should you include?  And where in your sims should you put this description?  Today we try to answer those questions to help you practice this important writing skill.

If you’re working on strengthening your simming skills, a good rule to follow is to start every sim with description.  The start of a sim lets you set the scene moving forward – it’s a great place to draw your reader’s attention to the situation your character is in and a way to help other players understand where in the action your sim falls.  Another integral place to add scene setting and description is any time the scene changes or important action happens.  Even if your character is not part of the action, if your character is aware of the action you should describe how they sense the action and how they react.  This not only helps keep continuity in the sims, but it helps develop your character by allowing them to feel and act not just speak.


Witty Wordsmith: He said, she said

Captain Kerk got up from his seat and headed out to the bridge. Kerk looked at the viewscreen where the ship was in orbit around planet Sigma Iotis. Kerk smiled, looking at the lush Class M landscape below. Kerk was hoping that it would be the perfect spot for shore leave.  “Let’s prepare an away team!” Kerk said.

The paragraph above shows a common issue that all writers struggle with, and that’s stagnancy in sentence structure. Many writers worry that their writing will boil down to a narrative of “My character said this, my character did that. My character went there and then my character did this other thing.” One of the reasons that this issue is a common struggle is because it is a fully functional way of writing, especially when you are focused on only one character’s point of view like we commonly do in our simming.

Because this is such a useful and functional form both for actions and dialogues, we can’t just get rid of it. No one wants to read paragraph after paragraph of needlessly complicated prose when the same thing could be said by writing “Captain Kerk was the first one to beam down.” So how can we keep the majority of writing straightforward while not feeling like every sentence is just a laundry list of things a character did, felt or said?

  1. Think about what is around the character. What is the setting they are in? Who is around them and what are they doing? Adding in some description not only helps add variety to your writing, but it helps create a clearer picture of the whole scene for your readers. In the above example you might focus on the setting of the planet Kerk has just arrived on: “Sunlight spilled through thick palm fronds on a white sand beach making Captain Kerk glad that he was the first person to beam down and experience this.”
  2. Focus on reasons why characters do actions, not just the actions. In the example above, if you put a reason why Kerk would be the first to beam down you might write “It was the job of a commanding officer to take lead, that’s why Captain Kerk always beamed down first.” This still describes the action, but gives us a little more insight into Kerk’s mindset.
  3. Picture the character in action and describe that action. This technique helps bring the scene action to life in a very descriptive way. Again, with the above example this might look like “Running ahead with a bouncing excited step, the rest of the senior staff held back to let Captain Kerk beam down first.” This is particularly good for scenes where characters are engaged in combat or a similar sort of dramatic action.
  4. Bring a ‘tight focus’ into the character and describe how they physically feel in a way that relates to the action or setting. Examples of this are feeling heat rise in the character’s cheeks from embarrassment or describing difficulty breathing from a alien poison. This puts the character front and center under a microscope, letting the audience know their inner workings before describing their actions. Working with the above example, you might get: “His heart was beating faster and faster, brimming with excitement – it had been too long since their last shore leave and Captain Kerk was absolutely itching to beam down first”
  5. Don’t sweat it. After all is said and done, straightforward statements are fast easy ways to cover ‘down time’ or explain simple things that don’t really matter to the meat of the story. Beaming down to a planet might be a big deal for a character – or it might be something totally boring for that character and writing “Kerk beamed down first.” is an easy way to move into action that Kerk and his writer are really invested in.

Hopefully this will help you consider new ways to describe scenes and actions, while also reminding everyone that sometimes just writing things out in a straightforward way to move the plot forward is the best way to go.


Witty Wordsmith: 5 Questions for Better Backstories

You’ve done it!  You have just graduated from the academy with a shiny new ensign!  Or maybe you just put yourself forward to play a pivotal new mission NPC.  Now you’re sitting with a blank wiki page and wondering how to flesh out a good character backstory that will make you and your fellow players want to read about and care about this character for months if not years to come.

1: Where does your character come from?

This is such an important question in defining a character’s backstory that frequently gets overlooked.  Say you want to play a human, but you want to make your human officer unique from other human officers on the ship.  Think of how different your character would be if they were born and grew up on a harsh colony world instead of Earth.  Or if they are a proud Lunar citizen and have a bunch of quirks that mark them as one.  Or maybe they grew up on a starship.  All of these locations turn a simple concept in a complex and interesting character.

Also consider – did your character grow up with lots of other species, or was everyone of the same species?  Or were you one of the only humans (or Vulcans or…) living in a very different culture.  Pick a location and build your character’s outlook, culture and quirks from that foundation.


Writer’s Workshop: Bouncing Characters

July 15, 2016 a new television premiered on Netflix. Written by the Duffer Brothers, Stranger Things has become of the the streaming services most watched and best reviewed series, due in no small part to its excellent characterisation and writing.

Karsten Runquist has devised the term “the character bounce effect” to describe the technique the Duffer Brothers used to introduce the characters and their roles in the story. Simply put, character bounce is placing characters into opposite sides in their initial scenes, highlighting the traits of each character and their beliefs, as people often show their true colours when something they disagree with is brought up.

Check out Karsten’s YouTube video titled “Stranger Things: How to Introduce a Character,” where he explains this technique and how it is used on the show.

Whilst you’re there, why not check out the rest of his channel where he has some fantastic video essays that talk about characters?


Witty Wordsmith: Acting vs. Reacting – How to Plan Better Stories

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything” Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

How many times have you gotten halfway into a mission or a story or a roleplaying encounter and started to feel frustrated because you didn’t have a sense of direction or your team wasn’t working together as a cohesive whole?  It can happen even to the most experienced players and best COs.  Once a story starts to go off the rails problems tend to increase as more players get frustrated and start reacting to what’s being thrown out in the plot; and reactions often prompt bad decisions and the situation can easily snowball.

A lot of things can derail a mission.  Maybe one team was more clever than expected and they solved a part of the story too fast so the player portraying the adversaries tossed out some unexpected new opposition to entertain that group while the other teams catch up.  Maybe too many players decide to escalate a situation until it becomes ridiculously tough to handle or maybe the mission leaders decide to spring a surprise on unwary players who react badly.  Derailing doesn’t have to be solely the fault of poor mission planning and it can happen to anyone.  But the good news is there’s some ways you can deal with it when it happens and plan to stop it before it starts.


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