If you follow Star Trek, the phrase “Rules of Acquisition” is likely to mean something. For those who don’t, here is a short crash course.
Among the race of beings called Ferengi, trade and profit are a way of life. No, scratch that, trade and profit ARE life. Everything in their culture revolves around worth and resale value. If a Ferengi can find a way to buy something and sell it at a profit, he has found happiness. Because the culture revolves around this mentality, a series of “rules” was created to guide and direct them. I use the term rules loosely, they are more a collection of short aphorisms than anything else.
Officially, there are 285 rules – and no, not all of them have been mentioned on the series. Yes, people do actually keep track. No, I’m not one of them. Here are a few:
- 6. Never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity.
- 8. Small print leads to large risk.
- 27. There’s nothing more dangerous than an honest businessman.
- 48. The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife.
- 76. Every once in a while, declare peace. It confuses the hell out of your enemies.
- 192. Never cheat a Klingon … unless you’re sure you can get away with it.
To see the rest of the Rules of Acquisition as heard during episodes of Star Trek, click here.
Now, to apply this to fiction writing. At the first mention of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, the script writers of Star Trek only wrote the rules that applied to the scene. Writing all 285 Rules would have been a foolish waste of time, especially when only one was being cited. Whenever they needed a new Rule, they came up with a phrase to match the scene and then assigned it a number. By doing it this way the script writers left themselves a great opportunity to use the Rules of Acquisition over and over and make them an iconic part of what it means to be Ferengi.
In novel-writing the same idea of leaving room for growth can be used. While the book is still being written and revised it is possible to return to earlier scenes and change details so they agree with later scenes. However, once the book is published this becomes impossible. Any sequel needs to agree with what appeared in the first volume. This is where it’s important to leave some ideas not fully explored when they are first introduced. When returning to the same idea a different aspect can be explored without changing the fundamentals. Without this wiggle room, the writer is stuck with far fewer options.
Naturally, the Star Trek writers needed to track which numbers had been used for which rule to keep continuity and keep the critical eye of the audience happy. Although it’s especially important with a numbered series of rules where any error is easy to spot; it should be done for any concept introduced, even if there is no possibility of it being used again. That way, should a character need something and a similar concept already been introduced, the writer can draw on and strengthen what already exists in the text instead of coming up with a new concept.
So, if you are writing a book, especially something in the realm of fantasy or sci-fi, remember that it’s a good idea to leave yourself a few openings throughout the writing that can be expanded on later. Created worlds are just that, created. You have control over which concepts are shared in detail and which are only mentioned in passing. By keeping track of these different concepts you’ll have an easier time using them later on and in turn making them stronger.