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The Virtual 6th Season Sentinel Writer's Guide by
Susan L. Williams, Executive Story Editor
(with thanks to Merry Lynne and Renae, who wrote the original)
Section I: Basic Guidelines (Return to Top)
Writing a virtual season is different from writing an ordinary fan story, or even an ordinary series of fan stories. Why? Because, in a fan story, your reign is supreme. You say how The Sentinel's canon is to be interpreted, you say what new aspects can be added, and nothing you do affects anything anyone else writes, because this is your little corner of the universe.
A virtual season is a shared universe. It's a communal sandbox where all of us have a chance to build our own little sculptures. Think of the first four seasons as the walls of our sandbox: you can build what you want, but you can't go outside the walls (or break the walls down). You also can't knock over anyone else's sandcastle, and you can't build something that takes over the whole sandbox and leaves no room for anyone else to play. It is, however, a big sandbox. There's plenty of room for us all to build something good. It's just that, because we've all been used to being alone, each in our own little sandbox (and thus being free to take over the entire space, or ignore the walls if we felt like it from time to time), it might feel a little confining at first to share one, no matter how big it is. (There's nothing like being demoted from Master of the Universe to Senator of the Galaxy to make a galaxy seem like a small place. (g))
There's a certain kind of fan story called the 'almost-an-episode' story -- it revolves around a plot (in TS's case, usually a crime), and it doesn't depart too drastically from canon. Because we're not filming for UPN, however (g!) or any other network, we can go outside the conventions of episodes a little more -- we don't have to have a major action scene every ten minutes, for example, or a BOTW every week, and we can show more loft-domesticity than usual... but still, each virtual season story should have a plot dealing with some kind of crime.
Also, stories should not change anything drastic about the characters. With "canonical" characterization, Jim, Blair, et al., are more or less what they've been shown to be in the past. This doesn't mean that it can't reveal something deep about the characters, only that you shouldn't spring any dramatic surprises: you don't say that Simon is really a deep-cover CIA agent, that Blair is really an Extraterrestrial Ambassador, or that Jim is really the reincarnation of Alexander the Great. No, Jim is a tough ex-Covert Ops detective with hyperactive senses, Blair is an intellectually curious ex-anthro major with an obsession about Burton's Sentinel theory (g), and Simon is a gruff but good-hearted police captain, divorced with a troubled son.
As far as personality goes, the episodes have established facts about everyone: a lot for Jim, Blair and Simon, some for Daryl, Megan, and Joel, a little bit for Brown, Rafe, Serena, Rhonda, etc. It's Jim and Blair, of course, that most of us want to obsess over, um, explore (g), so have fun, just:
- Keep the episodes in mind (when in doubt, pop a few in and re-watch), and
- Don't introduce any changes that would mess up another writer's fun with them. This includes the episodes from virtual season 5.
This brings us to pivotal episodes -- episodes that introduce/develop major points of continuity in the series. Episodes like Flight, Warriors, Spare Parts, Remembrance, Night Shift, Sentinel Too, and The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg. Realistically, there should only be three or four episodes like this in our season, including the premier and (presumably) the season ender. That means only one or two other eps can deal with this kind of major point.
In all fairness, your Executive Story Editor has decided that no major continuity points should be introduced or changed in the virtual season without being explained to the list at large, discussed, and voted on, much as we did for the Blair/Academy/Consultant issue in season 5. This is the only way to be fair to all the writers (as well as keeping the virtual season from becoming a soap-opera, moving our heroes from crisis to crisis until, realistically, they'd only be capable of lying straitjacketed in a padded room, writing on the walls with a crayon between their toes. (g))
So for now, when planning your episode, put emotional and physical stress on Jim and Blair by all means, but don't do anything that would, in RL, mean months of therapy or extended hospital stays.
So, our Major Guide-Lines:
- Have a plot, involving a crime and at least a little action -- TS is an action show, after all (g);
- No major universe changes without a list vote;
- No major characterization changes;
- No Life-Crisis-of-the-Week Syndrome (g);
- We encourage a sub-plot and use of the supporting cast wherever possible;
- Minimum length should be 70K (we want long, meaty episodes). Please note! This is 70K, text-on-the web size, not word processor file size. A very consistent way to calculate this is to set your story to 14pt type, Times New Roman font, single-spaced with double spaces between paragraphs, and 1-inch margins all around. Once formatted using those parameters, double the number of pages the story comes out to be. That will be the size (in K) of your story on the web. So, a minimum of 70K (or 35 pages as formatted above in your word processor). There is no maximum length.
The arbiters of said Guide-Lines will be yours truly, and our Executive Producer, Mackie. If your interpretation seems like a characterization change to the Executive Story Editor, I'll tell you so, and give you a chance to defend your thesis (g), using examples from the original episodes as evidence (i.e., "Jim eventually was able to work with Detective Whatshisname in The Debt, therefore he could work with visiting Detective Guggenheimer at this point in my story, even though he's usually shown as being a hardass. He can work with people when he has to."). I'll listen, consider, perhaps suggest minor changes or compromises -- in short, we'll negotiate.
If you (the writer) and I (the Executive Story Editor) can't reach a consensus (that is, if either of us is still unhappy with something) we'll appeal to Mackie. If a compromise still can't be reached, we might (in extremis) suggest another List vote. It's important that writers be willing to negotiate -- to sometimes give up small things for the greater good of the season. It might be crucial to your story to have Jim let a murderer go, or Blair learn to respect a destroyer of the environment, but it's not going to happen often, and you have to give them sufficient motivation to do so. Why is this situation different from others we've seen them in? Give them a reason to act differently, and it will be believed (as the writers of Warriors and Poachers did -- Jim refused to arrest Incacha, knowing it would kill him, and Blair admitted respect for Tommy-the-cute-pirate-poacher-guy after hearing his defense of his cultural traditions). To prevent frustration, whenever possible this discussion should happen before you write your episode.
Section II: Submissions (Return to Top)
Very simple -- send us an idea or brief synopsis. Send it to Susan Williams and Mackie. Be sure to indicate that this is an official episode idea that you are willing to write, and not just an idea you're tossing into the hopper for anyone to pick up. Put Episode Submission in the subject line. We'll answer within two days, either asking for more info, or telling you what problems we have with it. We'll go from there. Please be patient, though. RL sometimes slows things down.
Once your idea has been accepted, you will be assigned your own personal FPP Editor. Your editor will work with you, answer questions you may have, and may even beta if you have no one else to do it for you. Please be sure your editor knows about any fancan your episode may introduce.
The steps of episode development include:
- The Synopsis: This tells us the basic idea of your story. We'll be able to determine if we have a similar idea in the Production Schedule, at which time we'll tell you if we already have enough Blairpain plots (g) for the season. (The previous comment was from our much-harassed Exec Producer, Jimbabe extraordinaire.)
- Detailed Outline: The outline should indicate act breaks and scene descriptions. This will help our storyboard editor see the "meat" of your story -- plot development and flow, use of supporting cast, the 'B' story line if you have (or need) one. This is perhaps the most crucial stage of development.
- Rough Draft: We all know what this is. At this point, we'll spot any Virtual Canon -- whether corrections or points subsequent writers must observe -- and help with any arc considerations that may need foreshadowing for later episodes. There shouldn't be any major surprises by this point, but if there are, we'll catch 'em here.
- Final: The episode should reach us fully edited and spellchecked, although we have Staff willing to help. Due to many last-minute problems with Virtual Season 5, the final episode must reach us no later than eight weeks prior to airdate.
The final submission should follow these simple formats:
- Please save the story in TEXT ONLY.
- Text should be single-spaced, but double spaced between paragraphs. No indentations.
- To denote italics, place the word/phrase between '*'. Example: to italicize our Executive Producer's name, you would write *Mackie*. Please keep all quotation marks, periods, exclamation points, and question marks outside of the '*', as in the above example.
- To denote bold, same rules apply as for italics, except place the word/phrase between '@'. Example: to bold our Executive Producer's name, you would write @Mackie@.
- For special formats (i.e. Jim writes a grocery list), either leave it to the pagemaster to make it stand out, or e-mail Jane (Hephaistos) well AHEAD of time so that the correct 'look' may be achieved in the coding.
- Please INCLUDE A GUEST CAST LIST. This is just a list of all speaking (or important) characters within your story who are not 'regulars' on The Sentinel. Check out an aired episode's title page to see what we mean. If you wish to include actors to play the roles of some or all of your guest stars, feel free!
By submitting an episode to Faux Paws Productions, the writer agrees to have it featured exclusively on the website for one month. Of course, the author is encouraged to link from her own website, if she has one. At the end of one month, the writer may also post the episode, although Faux Paws Productions will keep it in the Episode Archives for as long as the site exists.
We'll announce your episode to Cascade Library and Guide Posts by episode number, title, and author. After the one-month exclusivity, the author is free to have the story archived in whatever manner she wishes.
Authors are responsible for answering feedback for their episode. Faux Paws Productions will make every effort to forward LoC's to the author in a timely manner.
Section III: Plot (Return to Top)
The plot is simple. Think of the episodes! There should be a crime that Jim and Blair are trying to solve, either as the main point of the story, or in the background of a more personal storyline. Provide action. Provide suspense. Think about the Act Breaks and try to end every one-fourth of the story with a semi-cliffhanger or teaser. Think commercial breaks!
Section IV: Characterization (Return to Top)
Recurring/Leading Characters: Please keep the characterizations as true to canon as possible. If you are uncertain as to a characterization, talk to your editor and/or e-mail the VirtualTS list and discuss it with the others involved. Try to keep Jim and Blair as balanced and as equal to the story as possible (though some stories are definitely about one or the other, so we understand this might not always be possible). Use Simon -- he's very popular! No crying, whimpering Blairs, please, and no father-like, strict, domineering Jims. Obviously you can write a crying Blair or a strict Jim, but you must have a compelling, believable reason to do so within your episode.
Original Characters: These are yours -- have fun! Try to keep these characters as interesting and well-rounded as possible, without letting them take over. Share these characters if you wish with other episode writers when appropriate.
Using Another Author's Original Character: People have returned to Cascade in different episodes, such as Uncle Gustavo, and Maya. If you need a bad cop, and a bad cop was used by another author in an earlier episode, ask her permission to use him again. Try to stay true to the original author's characterization. As a courtesy, let her read your final draft if she wishes.
Section V: Canon and Continuity (Return to Top)
For the sake of continuity and adherence to canon, we include the following facts (based on the original airdates of The Sentinel and its opening/closing credits):
If you have questions or anything to add, please contact Mackie or Jane (Hephaistos).
- Jim and Blair met in March of 1996
- For our Universe, Rafe's full name is Ray Van Rafe
- Again, for our Universe, Blair is a Case Coordinator (i.e. consultant) assigned to Major Crime to do fieldwork with Jim. The position is very similar to his "observer" work in the first four seasons. He may also work with other detectives. Although required by regulations to carry a pistol (he is, after all, a police detective), he prefers not to, and this reluctance is accepted and understood by his co-workers.
- Official spellings of oft-differently-spelled names:
Section VI: Virtual Canon (Fancan) (Return to Top)
Story Arcs: As yet, there are none for Season 6. As soon as there are, this section will be updated.
Wildeskind is keeping track of specific fancan. Please be certain that both Wildes and your editor know of any fancan to be established in your episode.The fancan page is for episode writers only, so please e-mail Mackie or Jane (Hephaistos) to get the URL.
Section VII: Links for Reference (Return to Top)
There are hundreds of excellent sites chock-full of great information. Here are just a few to help get newcomers started...
Becky's Page of Links -- Becky has compiled a very comprehensive list of sites to satisfy just about anyone's curiosity.
Nightowl's Nest -- A resource site for all things The Sentinel.
The Cascade Hospital -- Robyn has gathered a wealth of medical info to help the fanfic writers add authenticity to their stories. She also answers questions.
Legal Clinic -- Dawn has created a great site filled with good information to help writers keep their characters behaving professionally.
Lois Balzer's Fan Fiction and Tour Site -- Great pictures of the loft and other sets/locales of interest to writers looking for accuracy in their stories.
Chaomath's Page -- Beautifully detailed blueprints of the loft and other sets.
Guide Posts -- Archive for The Sentinel fanfiction.
Cascade Library -- Another great archive for The Sentinel fanfiction.
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This page last updated 2/27/03.