WIM 2014

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Revisiting the Plot: How to Create the Base of a Convincing Story

Without a good plot, or a story to follow, our characters are basically just muddling around in the dark. Every player knows that if there are no problems to solve, or crises to overcome, then there is little reason for our characters to even be there. At the heart of every great sim, and exciting moment aboard your ship, is the plot that you and your fellow crewmates are weaving.

So how do you add to it in a way that not only lends itself towards realism that can help bring a story to life, but also helps make things more exciting for you and those you sim with?

It might not always seem easy, which is why we think it’s a good idea to revisit last year’s Writing Improvement Month tutorial on Sowing the Seeds of a Convincing Plot. Within, you’ll find helpful information that you can use regardless of what rank you are. Put these tips to use right away and start improving the story your characters live in, while making it more fun to sim yourself. In the end, you’ll soon realize how helpful it can be to build on a plot realistically, enabling those around you to do the same.


Tension: The Story’s Warp Drive

Your story could transport readers to strange new worlds, but without tension in the right measure, it’s sure to be an unmanned mission. Tension is the warp drive that pulls a reader along the course you’ve set; it’s what keeps a reader (wait for it …) engaged. So how do you use tension to keep a reader on the edge of their seat rather than on the verge of sleep? Below are 10 ideas to kick-start a scene that’s missing a certain bite.

Pulled in all directions

Before  we can talk about adding in tension, there’s a big question to consider. How much tension do you need? And when? It depends on where you are in the story and whether it’s long or short. In general, tension must rise and then fall, but the exact course varies – you may want to release tension along the way so you can build it up again quickly near the climax. The charts below show what your story might look like if plotting tension over the course of the story.

Tension graph - Novel



Tension graph - Short Story

Tension graph - Sim rising Tension graph - Sim falling


Building and Releasing Tension

Knowing how much tension you need is moot if you can’t control it. When your writing needs a quick jolt or feels overwrought, try one of these methods adjust the tension up or down:

  1. Characterization: Without relatable characters, it’s difficult to get readers invested enough for anything else to work. Sorry, this isn’t a “quick fix,” but it’s what you need to get readers invested in the story. Start here.
  2. Secrets: A character keeping a secret builds tension, especially if the audience knows they’re keeping one but doesn’t know what it is. Uncovering the secret releases that tension, as long as it was a good secret! The DaVinci Code is filled with secrets kept from one another and from the audience. The uncertainty the reader feels toward them pulls them through to the last pages.
  3. Danger: Putting a character in physical, social, or emotional peril gives readers a reason to keep going. The greater the danger, the more tension in the scene. North By Northwest’s scene on top of Mount Rushmore wouldn’t pack the same punch if it happened on flat ground.
  4. Twists: Plot twists can keep readers fully engaged, but only if they can believe the twist. If it doesn’t seem plausible, it doesn’t work.
  5. Reveals: Allowing the audience a quick, incomplete peek at a mystery pulls them along. A memorable example is glimpsing the back of Darth Vader’s unmasked head. Letting the audience see the whole thing can release that tension.
  6. Humor: If you want to release a bit of tension, a quick joke or a play on words is a great way to do it.
  7. Time: Just like in real life, a clock ticking toward a deadline builds tension. In Apollo 13, the astronauts have to lower the cabin’s CO2 level within a short, known time frame, or they’ll die. That’s a great use of time and danger to raise the tension felt by the audience.
  8. Delay: If we can see an inevitable, dramatic event coming from a long way off, and it gets slowly closer and closer, it builds anticipation of what will eventually happen. If there’s a near miss, it has an even bigger effect. The film Titanic uses this effect well. The audience knows from the start that the ship will sink (spoiler alert!), which leaves them anxiously awaiting the event.
  9. The Unexpected: Bumping into something the characters didn’t expect can jumpstart the audience’s curiosity. This can be figurative, but it can sometimes be literal. Every time Indiana Jones and his companions suddenly discover the victim of a booby trap, we realize that they could be next.
  10. Language: Your sentence structure and word choice affect your readers’ reaction to the story. As the climax approaches, try using shorter, simpler sentences. Readers will feel like the action is speeding up and a dramatic turning point is just ahead.

Roleplaying in 3-D Event Today!

Looking to make your characters three dimensional without the use of special glasses? The good news is, it’s easy to do! All it takes is a little planning, a healthy dose of realism and some careful consideration of strengths and weaknesses!

Join Fleet Captain Diego Herrera Today, Saturday, February 22nd at 1pm PST/4pm EST/9pm GMT in the Writing Improvement Month chat room and pick up tips on all aspects of planning, developing and writing for characters! Whether you’re looking to roll up someone new or develop an existing character, bring your questions along with you! You may be looking to write an interesting plot arc during your next shore leave. You might have the beginnings of an idea but you’re not sure if your character will work. Or, you might find that you want to breathe some life into one of your older characters. Whatever the case drop on in to pick up your 3D roleplaying tips!

Revisiting Characterization: Adding the Spark of Life to Your Characters

There’s one thing some long-time members know well; if you play them right, and you give them enough of a spark of life, your characters will actually grow into their own. This doesn’t mean that they necessarily become their own human beings in cyberspace, but they will, in many ways, become live characters with desires and personalities of their own.

Sounds strange, right?

It’s really not, and all it takes is a little characterization. What your character says is good, and often necessary to move a plot forward, but it is the words in between what’s said that really brings a character to life. How they react to what’s said, how they perceive the environment around them, and how you describe them in general will provide the sparks that ultimately bring them to a new level of life.

Want to know more? Revisit last year’s tutorial on characterization and start writing your character in a way that will bring them into a new realm of realism. And don’t forget, be sure to share your successes with us here or on the forums!

Even More Character Questions!

Last year, we bombarded you with 25 questions to really get you thinking about your character. This year, the list is a little shorter but more in depth – just how much thought has gone into your character and where can you flesh them out more? It’s always great to see well-rounded characters aboard ship and, quite often, when there are a group of them all in one place they have a tendency to develop themselves! Have a read through the questions below and answer them as honestly as possible. If necessary, ask your character to help you! Once your PC has gone through the gauntlet, throw your PCs at it too and see what happens!

1. How would your character sum themselves up in 3 words or less?

2. How would you sum up your character in three words or less?

3. What are your character’s immediate goals? Why do they have those goals?

4. What are your character’s long term goals and why?

5. Why did your character join Starfleet? What do they hope to get out of it? Are they career driven? Do they want to see new sights? Is there something else that motivates them?

6. What characteristics do they appreciate in other characters? Who are they likely to make friends with?

7. If they are confrontational… why are they confrontational? In what circumstances could you see that changing? If they aren’t confrontational, what would push their buttons to make them reach that stage?

8. What is your character’s biggest weakness? Are they aware of it? Does that weakness hinder your crew in any way, or is it more personal?

9. How do you think the other writers on your ship see your character? Have you asked them for their opinions?

10. Do you have any plans for character development that include other characters aboard your ship? What are they? Have you spoken to the appropriate writers about them?

11. What changes do you have planned for your character? How do you plan to see them grow over the next mission/6 months/year?

12. If your character was an acquaintance or friend of yours in real life, what would you think of them and why?

Definitive Tips on Including Exposition in Your Sims

If you’re looking to include more exposition in your sims, but you’re not quite sure where to start, we know you’ll get something out of this week’s Writing Improvement Month tutorial.

We know that it can be difficult to meet the expectations or levels of writing that you might see around the fleet, but not because you don’t have time or desire. If you want to give your sims more depth, and you want to offer your fellow crewmates more inspiration and paint imagery that you may get from some other’s sims, then consider the tips included in our newest tutorial; Forcing Good Habits: Halting and Avoiding All Dialogue Sims.

Regardless of how much you don’t think you are a writer, the tips included in this tutorial will be certain to help you improve your sims. Sure, setting stipulations on your writing, and following simming ‘rules’ might seem counterproductive, but for those who have implemented this approach, success wasn’t far off. Yes, it takes some work at first, but if your goal is improvement, and you just can’t force it naturally, consider the contents of this tutorial.

And if you give it a try, be sure to come back and let us know how it worked for you. We’d love to hear your experiences and any tips you might have for other writers following the same path you have already traveled.


Revisiting Exposition: Adding That Magic to a Sim

There are two kinds of sims out there that you’ve probably read; ones that are simple and answer the directives given by others in prior sims, and those that really add ambiance and feeling to a scene. It is these latter sims that we tend to remember, even as we move forward and write more to the scene itself. It is this base that we add on to, and the feelings invoked that we tend to carry over.

But how do you create the magic of such a sim? How do you design a sim that invokes feelings and paints a mental picture for other members of your ship to build onto? It might seem like pure magical ability, that some of us may lack, but the truth is that anyone can really write an amazing sim. Anyone is able to add the magic that will carry through in future sims, if you just remember a few simple things.

In order to learn how to add this special edge to your sims, be sure to revisit last year’s Writing Improvement Month tutorial. With solid examples on how to weave your words in a most intricate manner, in order to build a base that your fellow writers won’t soon forget, you’re sure to walk away with something you didn’t know before.

And while you’re at it, take this chance to put these things to work in your next sim and see what kind of reaction you get from your fellow crewmates. You might be surprised at the amazing injection of creativity a little ‘magic’ really adds to things.


Scene Setting Prompts for Writing Great Sims

Setting the scene well is important because it’s what brings the environment to life and can transport the reader to strange and new places. It can spark the imagination, add depth and help hold the reader’s interest. Setting the scene can set the tone for what’s to come and you can give the same environment a different feel with the descriptions you use. Compare the following:

((Abandoned Settlement, Uncharted M-Class Planet))

::The five man away team beamed down to the abandoned colony; their goal was to search for any clues about why the settlement was abandoned and where the people may have gone to. They materialised in a small cobblestone courtyard and there was a cluster of buildings off to the right, which may have been houses, and a much larger building dead ahead of them. ::

((Abandoned Settlement, Uncharted M-Class Planet))

::The five man away team beamed down to the abandoned colony; their goal was to search for any clues about why the settlement was abandoned and where the people may have gone to. They materialised in a small, weed ridden, dusty cobblestone courtyard. There was a cluster of rundown buildings with chipped and peeling paintwork off to the right. They had broken roofing and boarded up windows, they might have been houses once. A much larger building, with weeds trailing from the guttering and trying to climb up to the windows, lay dead ahead of them. It seemed a long time since anyone had lived here and the place had gone to ruin. ::

((Abandoned Settlement, Uncharted M-Class Planet))

::The five man away team beamed down to the abandoned colony; their goal was to search for any clues about why the settlement was abandoned and where the people may have gone to. They materialised in a small, well-kept cobblestone courtyard. There was a cluster of buildings with unblemished, fresh paintwork off to the right. They had well maintained flower boxes and clean windows; they might have been houses once. A much larger building with a gleaming name plaque lay dead ahead of them. It seemed the place was well maintained, that people took pride in it, and to look at it you’d think the population had vanished in the night. ::

There are three different descriptions of the same place. The settlement layout is the same and very little has been added to the second and third versions of the scene. With just a few simple descriptions the second and third scenes paint very different pictures. The second depicts a settlement that may have been long abandoned – or which was never well maintained. The third depicts a clean, well-kept place that seems too well looked after to be long abandoned. You also question why a whole population would want to leave someplace that’s so nice. You could see the plot panning out differently in each case and they bring different questions to mind. Both are more interesting to read than the first and as you can see it doesn’t have to take a lot to bring a little more to you scene setting.

The following is a list of prompts to refer to when setting the scene. Not all of them should be used in every scene, instead take them as inspiration and see how asking questions about where your character is, how they relate to the scene and the overall story can help you write more in-depth, engaging descriptions.

Where does the scene take place?
What do the immediate surroundings look like?
What is the weather like (if they are outdoors)?
What time of day is it?
How does the character feel emotionally?
What do they feel physically ?
What do they hear and do the sounds remind them of anything?
What do your own and other characters’ facial expressions look like?
What are they physically doing at the moment?
Do the current events or scene remind them of anything else?
What can they smell and do the smells remind them of anything?
Can your character taste anything?

Starbase 118 Welcomes Author Melinda Snodgrass

As part of our Writing Improvement Month, Starbase 118 would like to extend a warm welcome and sincere thanks To Melinda Snodgrass, Author of the urban fantasy stories This Case is Gonna Kill Me and Box Office Poison.

Box Office Poison is the story of Linnet Ellery, a human lawyer in a world where vampires, werewolves, and elves co-exist. Or do they? When beautiful elven actors begin committing horrible crimes against humans, Ellery must find answers, answers that will lead her back to the story of her very life.

Fun Grammar Test Answer Sheet

So how did you do on this week’s grammar test? Here’s the answers to the ten questions we asked. Be sure to read more of our tutorials or contact your mentor (or commanding officer) for more help!

1. B or D
2. A
3. B
4. B
5. A
6. B
7. A
8. A
9. C
10. B

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