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Garry's Rules for Trek Plots

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Or: Why I do as I do and don't do what I don't do

Here are some of Epiphany Trek's plotting rules. These are "plot" ideas that I will not use because I think that they are; A) stupid, or B) vastly over used and therefore stupid. No one is required to agree with me. However I reserve the right to believe that Star Trek in general would be improved if they where followed by TPTB.

1) "The holodeck will never be used for anything but crew entertainment, and does not have 'interesting' failure modes."

Isn't space travel "interesting" enough that we have to take entertainment with us that is also dangerous? The first time the holodeck pulled a "The Big Good-bye" on the Kongo Tim Kirk would have it shut down and examined nanometer by nanometer for any sign of flaws in design, manufacture, or wear. If he didn't find any it would be ripped out and replaced with a fern bar. If something was found, it would be corrected, and the holodeck only put back in use once it passed a full engineering check, again. Second incident? Hello fern bar.

To my thinking, any holodeck "adventure" that cannot be reframed as a story outside the holodeck, doesn't need to be told. That doesn't mean that holodeck shouldn't appear in stories, but that it should be a setting, not a plot device.

Worse than holodeck malfunctions, the holodeck is used for "pretend" adventures when the crew could be having "real" adventures. In TOS you visit a Roaring Twenties planet, in TNG you run a Roaring Twenties program. TOS you take shore leave on a planet, and if you want to play baseball, you set up a diamond. DS9, you play baseball in a holodeck. Does this mark a trend were we want our world safe and sterile, and our dangers washed for bugs first? Perhaps. I want my characters to live larger.

2) "Warp cores and other critical technology do not fail for reasons outside of massive damage."

How long has Earth been in space by the time of The Next Generation? Some 400 years. How long have they had warp drives? Some 300 years. You would think that in that amount of time, something was learned about the making and maintaining of warp drives.

During the run of TNG I walked into my local hobby store and asked Mike, the guy at the counter. "Hey Mike, do you have the new Enterprise D model with warp core breach in progress?" He fell off his chair, and he isn't even a fan. Yes, it got to be that big a joke.

Why the necessity of placing the ship in danger? Is this false sense of drama needed? Does it mean that the writers can't do anything but cheap thrills? Towards the end of the run, I began to think so.

I assume that unless you have a Good Reason, technical glitches are not life threatening. Consider the US Navy's safety record. It is not perfect, but when you consider the toys they play with, and the sheer deadly nature of the carrier flight deck, the fact they don't lose a man a day per ship is testament to good technology and good operational doctrine. Why doesn't Starfleet at least have that?

Now flying on an airliner is safer than my car. My car, I have had it since 1998. Not once has it suffered a serious malfunction that was of any threat to me. And I have blown the "internal combustion core"! Auto technology is only 100 years old give or take. Cars don't have "interesting" failure modes. (Sorry SUVs roll-overs are 90% driver error, an SUV is not a car, and cannot be driven like one, but, different rant.) My car is very safe, but airplanes are safer still. Protocols are in place to assure this safety. Should an airliner fail, others of the type are grounded and a solution sought before anyone else gets hurt. Aircraft do have "interesting failure modes" that is because if it stops working in the air it is going to fall. You can't pull over to the nearest cloud and wait for the tow plane. So aircraft have more stringent safety standards

Why can't I expect a similar degree of safety from starships that have "been around" longer than either the technology of my car or the airplane? Yes there are technology failures, but once it fails that way, efforts are made to see it doesn't happen again. I expect as much from Trek.

Now, how do we get this degree of safety? Yes, I accept that machines will break. We get it the same way the Navy gets it and the airline industry gets it. Aggressive maintenance is the how.

Mean time to failure is known for each part, and it is replaced before that time. Why would Starships with the ticklish matter/antimatter drive be less well maintained than today's aircraft? Call it my machinist background, but mature technology will be stable and safe due to aggressive maintenance and an operational doctrine based on the 400 years of experience in space. Our Heroes will not behave as if all this was just invented and they don't know how to deal with it.

Therefore I resolve to do better. if a ship blows up in my stories, it is either a self destruct, or massive battle damage is involved.

3) "Transporter failures have been done to death, therefor we will not do any."

I don't think a lot needs to be said here. Transporters have been around over 200 years and they don't have the bugs out yet? McCoy and Polaski might have had the right idea.

See above, what goes for warp cores is double for transporters. Yes, mechanical failure is a fact of life. However if my car's engine fails, the fuel tank does not explode. In 200 years of engineering, transporters should be engineered for "safe failure" If something is wrong they don't do anything. If in the middle of a transport they hand off to one of the other five transporters on the ship. They shut down, not explode your guts across the pads.

Ever notice that? If one transporter is broken, all of them are? Yet every set of "ship plans", official and otherwise, indicates more than one transporter on any given ship except the very smallest. Often in TOS Kirk mentions "Transporter room three", for example, on the way down. Where are these presumed back up systems when the primary one is out of service? In any case. This leads to...

4) "The Transporter is not the Star Trek equivalent of the Philosopher's Stone, and will not be used as a plot device or worse 'Deus Ex Machina'."

At first they used the transporter to fix stuff the transporter did, I didn't have a big problem with that, until transporter failures got old. Then they started to use the transporter to fix stuff the transporter didn't do. That was beyond the pale (old word, look it up). If I have to use the transporter to "fix" my plot conflict, I need another plot conflict, or a better writer. Transporters safely and conveniently whisk people to and fro, and are not plot devices. It is over done.

We get back to "Why would people continue to use and tolerate death machines?" If two airplanes of a type crash in a six month period they ground the entire fleet and check them out. That is real life. Why would the 24th century abandon a fundamentally sound practice for when something potentially dangerous fails? I am reminded of the scene in Metropolis where the workers shuffle mindlessly into the maw of Mammon. Friz Lang ladled the allegory pretty heavily in that film. Having these incidents again and again makes the people of the 24th century look stupid.

If you have to break sound real life practices to get a good story, it's not a good story. You just created a five minute plot. We endeavor to do better, and assume that our characters are not stupid or suicidal.

5) "Captain James Timothy Kirk does not have a girl in every port." (When the Hell did Tomcat have the time to get any Starfleet work done? :)~~ )

Nothing wrong with a girl in every port, but that's not the character's personality. No rant required.

6) "Time travel has been done to death, et all." (I bent that one badly, but to good effect I think. See "Time and Again")

Repeat of the transporter rant, and one more. "The Big Red Reset Button". Time travel is used as a way to make horrible changes in our characters, and then make it all go away by magic. It never happened. I don't buy that one. If I am making changes in the character that is the point of telling the tales. They learn something, they take something away from the experience and that deepens them. The reset button is a cheat. It's the author cheating the reading public out of a good tale, and himself out of better characters. Therefor...

7) "I will never use the Reset button, never ever. If something happens in my Trek universe, the characters, and the universe, eat the consequences."

8) "Klingons will be treated as creatures with brains, as will other villains that have them." ("Our brains shrank" --Barf, Sev Trek)

Klingons are too often treated as honor on a stick. No thought behind the same, fight to the death every last one of the puppies. Truth is if the society was that way, there wouldn't be many Klingons left. So, Klingons in Epiphany Trek have brains under the ridges.

Star Trek villains need brains. More than that they need to be people too. Remembering that "No one is a villain in their own mind." is a very much a Star Trek principle, I have villains that have a wife and kids, hopes and dreams. Such villains are simply at odds with our heroes. If I cannot get you to see inside the villain's motivation I have, at a fundamental level, failed the tale as Star Trek.

9) "I will not introduce a neat new technology and have it vanish never to be seen again at the end of the story."

One of my pet peeves about Trek is that they introduce the test tech of the week, and we never hear from it again. OK, M-5 was a failure, but no one developed an M-6 from the experimental data? If I intro a whiz bang device and it is good, you will start to see that device in use. Does the device fundamentally break the Trek universe? We'll then I shouldn't use it, no matter how neat a plot can be woven around it.

10)"'Dark and scary' is not an indication of complex background and plotting."

DS9 started this Voyager leaned on it, and now Enterprise is falling back on the same hack writer trick. The "Dark and Scary" setting. This and the pragmatist "hero" are the two worst things that have ever happened to Trek. The most Basic of Trek tropes is that Our Heroes live the Ideals of the Federation even if it hurts. They have a better world and upholding those ideals is the only way they will keep it. Yes we will not be perfect, but unless we strive to be perfect we have no chance at it.

Section 31 is an abomination. It is against the very ideas that the Federation itself have been said to be founded on. It is an admission that the good guy code doesn't work, and that hard men willing to do evil things are required for good to win. I must fall back on the Bible here; "What profit it a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul." Picard is the patron saint of those principles of Star Trek. It is Picard that stands up again and again to state "What kind of people are we?" Again and again he confirms that we are a people that hold truth as the highest virtue. We are a people that hold you cannot defend a principle if you break it. James Kirk also has his moment at the pulpit. "Yes, we are killers, but we will not kill today!

Enterprise kicks these two fine men right in the teeth. Voyager does it again and again. "Ooo dark and scary" and "The ends justify the means" are never "principles" that will succeed in Epiphany Trek. Tim Kirk and the other Heroes in my tales will adhere to the principles of "the First Duty" and "The Drumhead". there is no Section 31 in Epiphany Trek. The Federation itself adheres to those principles as well.

11) "Epiphany Trek characters will never save the Federation, nor will they save the Earth."

The former is bigger than any single threat, the latter has been over done.

My Star Trek is about people, not epic threats to all civilization. Epic threats are huge. They are not caused or solved by a single person. I want my Trek to remain focused on faces, single people and single people problems. While larger events can and will happen, the focus remains on the single character.

Saving the Earth.... Never has one planet required saving so many times. Too Hollywood and Vine for me. My Star Trek is about out there, not back here. Earth will be seen, visited, and talked about, but Earth will not be the focus of any story I write. A story might happen on Earth, but Earth is not the focus.

I am of the opinion that there is a reliance on the gimmicks listed above, and it is found in filmed Trek and unfortunately followed by many a faithful-to-canon fan-fiction site. I eschew such gimmicks because they have been used to the "gimmick" point. I think anything they have to say, has been over said, badly.

What I am saying is the flash and glitter will not make up for a rotten foundation. If you don't have a good plot with good characters, free of rationalization and plot holes, or inconstant behavior, all the fancy words and bright dialog you can write will not hide the facts so stated. Your foundation must be real, and firm. Nothing can replace that.

Look at it this way. I can walk on stage with the fanciest costume ever designed to dance in, it can be worth thousands of bucks. However, the audience is going to figure out pretty quick that dead elephants dance better than I do. Gregory Hines can walk out in a white t-shirt and black stretch pants and wow their socks off. The difference being that Hines is a master of dance, I barely manage to move without hurting myself. Most people you meet are at least smart enough to know the difference.

The written word or filmed tale might fool "most people" a little longer. But if you don't put in the beef, by the time they get around the tale or film the smart ones are saying "Where's the Beef?"

I question my ability to write using these tired old gimmicks because I don't believe in their base concepts. I write under the assumption that if I cannot believe my words, no one else can either. Sure, I could sulkily churn something like that out, but I wouldn't vouch for the quality.

However, the Narn Bat Squad is not going to visit your house if you write one. I haven't found their number yet. ;P

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