|That last image on the right isn't in my backyard.
That is an actual gorge in Canada called Rock Glen.
While I didn't go there whilst writing "Gaiden," I've
been there a few times, and definitely had it in
mind during the writing process.
The Writing Process
I will not bore you with the details of the writing process. It basically amounts to me sitting down in
front of the computer and typing. It's usually later in the evening, and I have some sort of music
playing in the background. I have 17 hours of MP3's taking up space on my hard drive... and I usually
get through the entire playlist while writing an episode... this is not all in one sitting, mind you. It's
usually one or two hours at a time... three if I'm on a roll.
And here is where I have written almost every single episode of
The Final Frontier. My computer is a Dell Dimension 8100... and
here are its stats:
• Pentium 4, 1.4 GHz
• 140 GB hard drive
• 1152 MB RAM
• 48x DVD ROM Drive
• 40x CD Burning Thing
• 19" NEC LCD Flat Screen Monitor
• NVIDIA GeForce FX 5700 LE Graphics Card
• Sound Blaster Audigy Platinum Sound System
• Altec Lansing 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound Speakers
In other words... it's a monster. I LOVE to crank up the music and
sit watching some crazy visualizations...
Anyway, once the episode is complete, I will read through its
contents to make sure I like what I see. I will somtimes tweak the
dialogue or iron out some of the technobabble, but unless the
episode has serious problems, I usually send it on over to Peter
Bossley for editing. And you should all thank him for what he does,
because you do NOT want to read through these episodes
And the the episode goes online! Wow, that was reasonably dull!!!
A slight addendum to the above paragraph, which falsely claims that
the proffered system specs equate a monster of a computer. That
might have been true when the text was written, but is obviously
NOT the case any longer. I don't even have that computer any
more. Here is my current computer...
• Pentium Core 2 Duo Processor, 4.0 GHz
• 250 GB hard drive, +120 GB second hard drive
• 4 GB of RAM
• 48x CD/DVD ROM Drive
• 21" LCD Flat Panel Wide Screen Monitor
• NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GS Graphics Card
• Sound Blaster X-Fi Sound card
• Altec Lansing 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound Speakers
|The Evolution of an Episode
|Creating an episode of Star Trek: The Final Frontier is no simple task. If you've had the misfortune of
hearing me rant about such things in the past, this won't really come as much of a surprise... But the
vast majority of readers know nothing of the evolution of an episode, and will therefore find this
treatise moderately enjoyable.
Every episode begins with an idea. The episode in this instance is "Gaiden," the Season Five episode in
which Kendall Johnson goes back in time to kill Alan Christopher. I chose this episode as a focus
mainly because it is one of my favorite episodes... and it had a reasonably interesting development
At the beginning of each season, I make a very rough outline for the entire season. That basically
consists of me jotting down ten or eleven episode titles and hoping that I can remember the plot when
the time comes to write the episode in question. Most of the time it works, but there was a Season
Three episode called “Dark Breed” that never saw the light of day because I couldn’t recall any of the
story’s finer points (but if the title is any indication, the episode probably wasn’t going to be any
“Gaiden” was not included in the original outline for Season Five. It was instead the result a mid-
season brainstorming session. I will occasionally plop down in a dark room, turn on some loud music,
and then let my mind wander. I would like to say that I thought up “Gaiden” in such a brainstorming
session, but in all reality, the idea struck while I was in the bathroom. At that point in Season Five, I
think I was writing “Dimensional Analysis.” In that episode, Kendall really gets his temporal groove
going, and he realizes that he can do just about anything with the technology. I had already
established that Kendall had little love for Alan Christopher, but I had always assumed that he would
work through those problems in “The Oracle of Ages.” But that fateful bathroom break got me
thinking… What if Kendall actually did it? What if he eliminated Alan? I knew right then that I had a
pretty good idea—but then I took it one step further (this was a long bathroom break): Kendall
eliminated Alan to win over Erin. But what if Erin still doesn’t have feelings for Kendall? Oh yeah…
The notion wasn’t entirely new to me. During Season Two, I tinkered with the idea of bringing Q into
the fold—I was going to have him show Kendall several alternate realities, but I never did the episode
because it felt a little bit too much like TNG’s “Tapestry.” Still, I liked the idea enough to keep it
filed away in the back of my mind, and when the time came to write “Gaiden,” I decided to salvage
what I could—mainly the stuff from Starfleet Academy.
While “Gaiden” was evolved from several “What-If?” scenarios, most episodes are either logical
progressions of the ongoing plot, or are built around a specific idea. “Eleventh Hour” was about the
end of the universe; “Spectrum” dealt with affirmative action; “Nature of the Beast” was about
preservation/conservation. There are dozens of examples throughout TFF, and I usually just stumble
upon these ideas while watching CNN or something. I wouldn’t exactly say TFF is ripped from the
headlines, but on occasion, I like to tell a story that is relevant to the goings on in the world.
And then there was “Ghosts.” From the start of Season One, I wanted to have an episode called
“Ghosts.” I didn’t have ANY idea what it would be about, but I always added the episode to my
outline at the beginning of each new year. And each year, I came very CLOSE to using the title, but
then… the story never came together so it just got shoved into the next year. I finally managed to
write it at the end of Season Four—and for an episode whose sole inspiration came from a strong desire
to use the title “Ghosts,” it turned out pretty good. That was one of the few episodes spawned from a
strong desire to use a particular title (“Toccata and Fugue” and “Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec” also
come to mind), but “Ghosts” was by far the most elusive story-wise.
Once I have an idea in my mind, the next logical step in an episode’s evolution is the outline. In most
instances, that consists of a five-page, hand-written treatise on the episode’s plot. The outline for
“Gaiden” is situated on the left side of the screen; you can click on each image to see a larger
version… And yes, I used a pink pen to write the outline. Almost every outline is written in pink—
mainly for good luck. In the beginning, I would always use a black or blue ink pen to write the
outlines… but when I was writing “Strange Counterpoints” back in Season One, my blue ink pen died,
and I was forced to write with a pink one. I don’t know if the pink pen actually had anything to do
with it, but “Strange Counterpoints” is easily one of the best TFF episodes ever written… Thus, I went
out and got several pink pens—and to this day, most of those outlines are written in pink.
In general, the actual episodes tend to follow the outlines fairly closely. I will frequently deviate from
the outline dialogue, mainly because that is little more than a crude rendition of what NEEDS to be
said, rather than the more eloquent dialogue that frequently graces TFF’s many pages. Many outlines
also contain scenes that I don’t use in the actual episode—like the one with Chief O’Brien. It was a
good idea—I really wanted to see the Chief in “Gaiden,” but as I wrote the episode, I realized that, as
nice as the scene might have been, it was not at all necessary to the plot.
If an episode requires me to do some research, I will almost always do that research during the process
of making the outline. I tend to get side-tracked while doing the research (I have to check my email,
and then see if anything interesting is happening over at IGN (the GameCube section, of course)… and
then maybe, fifteen minutes later, I’ll finally reach my destination and wonder what the hell I was
researching in the first place. Obviously I can’t be wasting time like that whilst writing the actual
episode, so I figure it’s best to get it out of the way while making the outline).
“Gaiden” didn’t require much research. I already had most of the temporal jargon in my head, so the
only real help I needed was reacquainting myself with Starfleet Academy. I perused a few sites with
data on the Academy, visited the excellent Daystrom Institute Technical Library (www.ditl.org), and I
also watched the VGR episode “In the Flesh” since it contained both the Academy and Boothby. That
was easy enough...
Whenever the Starlight crew visits an alien world, I try my best to research the landscape they will be
visiting. In this case, Kendall and Alan were visiting a forested gorge in the Canadian Rockies.
Obviously, I wasn't going to travel all the way to the Rocky Mountains to see a gorge... so I simply
journeyed forth into the wilderness behind my house for inspiration. Now, I'm not always able to do
this; when the Starlight visits a desert world... well, there is nothing nearby for me to relate to, but
thankfully, in my myriad journies across the state of Michigan, I have come upon and traversed
immense sand dunes. So a lot of time I just have to use my memory... but if at all possible, I really like
to get out into the wilderness to see things for myself. Here are a few snapshots I took whilst
preparing for "Gaiden."