How to Write a Star Trek Story

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Title: How to Write a Star Trek Story
Creator: Brian Wilkes
Date(s): November 1986
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Trek
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How to Write a Star Trek Story is a 1986 essay by Brian Wilkes.

It was published in Grip #25.

The essay's topic is the boring, predictable cliched plots and assumptions that the pro novels contained. It is also a how to description of how to write a Trek story that would comply with the current Star Trek pro, for profit guidelines, something that was a hot topic in the mid-1980s.

While it does not directly state that fanfiction is better, its publication in a fanfiction zine should be noted.

Warning: this essay contains offensive language and statements.


Given the box-office success of the three STAR TREK films, the glut of novels and thinly-disguised film treatments flooding the science fiction sections of the local bookstores has gotten out of hand. What's even more disturbing. some of them have departed from the tried-and-true STAR TREK formula to boldly go where no scriptwriters had gone before...into plots and character development. This must break some clause of the Organian Peace Treaty, for it puts weapons into the hands of the Federation that cannot be matched by the evil Klingons, who haven't discovered canned laughter yet.


For the sake of continuity, make sure none of the crew have had a promotion. Who cares if Chekov is the world's oldest ensign? It's his impetuosity and cute accent we want.

Uhura should never refer to her life in Africa. As an officer, she must be counted on to act completely white at all times, just like all the other ethnic crewmembers. Occasional singing is permissible, as is modified African jewelry, the playing of drums, piercing of anything other than ears, or the drinking of blood-and-milk is strictly forbidden. Also, she must never be depicted with a radio larger than her earpiece comm receiver.

Don't bother explaining why Sulu has a Japanese first name, a Filipino surname, yet speaks with neither a Japanese nor a Filipino accent. Just be happy that one of the ethnics speaks real American.

Having established the love and/or lust interest, make sure that there are no distractions. This is best done by not letting anyone else on the ship get laid for the duration. We all know that there's more waiting for them at the next starbase than just tribbles and booze.

Don't get caught up in heavy scientific explanation for the various phenomena or gadgets encountered on this mission. If the public wanted real science, they'd be watching PBS. For example, don't try to explain the physics of warp drive: any attempt would confuse the reader and contradict Einstein, and who are they really going to believe, you or him? For ghod's sake don't try to explain what TRANS-Warp drive could possibly be. "Real, REAL fast" is sufficient.

Don't limit your thinking by providing a rational explanation for everything0 As Mro Spock once said, "It may not be logical, but it is often true." For example, don't waste time wondering why Scotty never takes along enough dilithium crystals to last the entire voyage. Maybe he's been trading them for Scotch, or Orion slave girls. Just be glad that the crystals can be counted on to wimp out at an important juncture in the story, adding yet another element of tension.

Never, never get caught up in Federation politics. In fact, don't bother explaining what the Federation is. We haven't known for 20 years whether it's a Republic, a Malthusian collective, a Limited Corporation, or an Interstellar Coven, and to date most Trekkies haven't bothered to ask. However, you can feel free to throw a few barbs at the civilian bureaucrats whose unenlightened directives always keep our friends in uniform from fulfilling their peaceful scientific investigations (with phasers and photon torpedos). As we know, peaceful scientific research is always carried out by sending the biggest warship in the fleet to scare the krawka out of pre- or semi- industrial planets. Perhaps the Star Fleet recruiting poster best summarizes it:

It has been long established that the harmonious development of the various cultures within reach of the Federation depends on strict enforcement of the Prime Directive of Non-Interference. Therefore, a thoughtful review of this basic rule is necessary BEFORE Kirk finds an excuse to ignore it this time. If he cannot find a plausible excuse to ignore it, you'll have to work that much harder to develop a plot.

The Bad Guys (Klingons, Romulans, Whatevers) should not include any attractive males. Males from alien conquering empires should be aggressive, sullen, hostile on their good days. Try to portray a combination of Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta, Idi Amin, and Ayatollah Khomeini. Or the average New Yorker. They should also treat women like garbage, including those of their own race/species/herd. Given the self-destructive nature of most human females, this guarantees that at least one crewmember falls madly and conpromisingly in lust with her conqueror.

The author should never explain why nobody on the starship drinks coffee. Despite one almost forgotten reference to heating it up with a hand phaser during a power failure (back when women still made coffee instead of creating, destroying, and re-foresting planets with high-tech phallic symbols), nobody seems to touch the stuff any more. This is highly illogical, since most of the Star Trek fiction is clearly written in the early morning hours under the influence of mega-caffeinated espresso, without which neither writers nor editors would ever meet a deadline.

Further Reading and Context