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12 tips for writing Star Trek fanfiction & roleplaying

Star trek characters comic

Star Trek fanfiction is as old as Star Trek itself, and heavily dominates the world of online roleplaying. There’s many giant Star Trek roleplay clubs, like Starbase 118 and Star Trek: Borderlands. We’ve even got Star Trek games running on OngoingWorlds (see here). Here’s some tips for anyone who wants to write fiction in the Star Trek universe:

Don’t stereotype the races

Star Trek has many great alien species to choose from, each with their own traits. Klingons like fighting, Romulans are sneaky, Ferengi are out for a profit. But your characters don’t have to follow these traits exactly. People are individuals, and not everyone from a planet is exactly the same. Not all science officers have to be Vulcan, not all Tactical officers have to be Klingon. Mix it up a little bit!

There’s an entire universe out there

Even though Star Trek does have some great alien races, it’s also a show about exploration and discovering the unknown. Invent a new type of species every now and again that your characters meet. Your main characters can also be new and different types of aliens that you’ve made up, which is a great way to explore an interesting new type of species.

Also don’t be afraid of playing a Human character. Even though there’s a lot of exciting aliens, Humans are pretty special too.

Avoid too much technobabble

Actually it’s not the technobabble that’s the problem, it’s overly-complicated situations based on a scientific theory that make your story waaay too difficult to understand, and too complicated for your other players to keep up with. Keep your plots simple, running with one out-there theory at a time, so it doesn’t get too insane.

Do your research

A series as long-running as Star Trek gives you a lot of starting material, but make sure you’re not writing anything that contradicts something that’s already canon. That being said, don’t let canon handcuff you, there’s plenty of exceptions to any rule made up by the show if you give a good explanation.

Avoid characters that are related to characters we know

It might seem a good way to legitimize your character by relating them to an existing character, like Kirk’s cousin, or Picard’s long-lost nephew. But it can also be tacky, especially if everyone does it. Also, remember the point above about doing your research, Picard’s only nephew died.

Give your characters goals

This isn’t related specifically to Star Trek fanfiction or roleplay, it’s just good advice. Make sure your characters are well-rounded and have goals, and ways of achieving those goals (more about character goals here).

Go easy on the hybrids

Many people like to make their characters a hybrid of different races. Spock was half-human, half Vulcan, so this is in Star Trek’s very nature to explore this concept of a character being from two worlds, but never really fitting into either. But I’ve seen people make characters with such a mixed and complicated heritage that it becomes ridiculous. If you want to write about a Hybrid, it’s probably best to keep it simple and leave their grandparents out of it. The galaxy isn’t ready for a Trill-Klingon-Bajoran-Cardassian yet.

Also think about whether the species can actually breed first, as aliens might have very different mating and birthing practices. For example you’d better have a very good explanation of how a Vulcan/Tribble hybrid even happened!

 Avoid Q-like characters

We’ve got many articles about why an all powerful character is a bad idea. Here’s a list:

Use the vastness of space to your advantage

Space is BIG. And you can use this to your advantage in certain situations. Star Trek is mostly about exploration so you’ll probably have situation where your crew are out on the frontier and unable to call Starfleet Command for advice or backup. This means the tough decisions will be forced upon your Captain and crew, who will have to stand by any decision they make.

Put realistic limits on sensing devices

The idea that a character can look at his magic sensor display or tricorder and learn everything about a situation, down to the DNA of the aliens aboard an approaching ship that’s thousands of miles away, has robbed many a Star Trek story of the mystery and danger of space exploration from which the franchise theoretically derives much of its appeal. Don’t let this happen to you. So what if it happened on Enterprise or Voyager? Don’t let yourself be bound by other people’s lazy writing choices. And don’t feel obliged to “explain” via technobabble infodump why your ship’s sensors can’t instantly tell what color underwear the people on an approaching vessel are wearing. Figure out the parameters in your head and then simply have the story abide by them without overexplaining.

Use parallel universes/time-travel/cloning etc to your advantage, but don’t overdo it

There’s a lot of scifi concepts in Star Trek that you can use to create fantastical adventures, but don’t rely on this every single time or it’ll soon get boring.

Don’t get caught up in the technicalities

Star Trek is a geek’s dream because of all the exciting technology and gadgets, but it’s important not to get bogged down in all of this. At it’s core, Star Trek is a show about people. Gene Roddenberry’s original pitch heavily stressed this, which is why you should continue this in your own fanfiction.

Technology like tricorders, ship’s scanners and phasers are useful tools, but your characters still need to make the important decisions to get them out of a scrape.


 

Some of the tips were inspired by comments from this comment thread on Trekbbs.com.

  • Mrxanadu

    In Olympia we have a respect for canon but I also emphasize making personal contributions to the game universe. What’s the point of playing in your favorite canon if you can’t add some of your own content?

    We’ve already got new planets, species, and ships being added to the canon and will probably see a healthy growth as time goes on.

  • Zev TheClusterLizard

    One other thing about “Star Trek” fanfiction: please, please, no more OCs who are average young Humans from Wonder Bread USA. The Federation is made up of humans from all over the planet Earth, and it’s offworld colonies, as well as countless alien species. OCs should be used to explore or represent groups we haven’t seen enough of onscreen; not place your boring self on a starship.