Ferengi Rules of Acquisition and Fiction Writing

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.


About Jodi

I'm an aspiring novelist working in fantasy and suspense, for now. I also have two pretty awesome blogs! https://myliteraryquest.wordpress.com and http://jodilmilnerauthor.wordpress.com
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11 Responses to Ferengi Rules of Acquisition and Fiction Writing

  1. Actually, that rule to leave room applies to just about all genres, doesn’t it?

  2. Bryna says:

    Great advice! One thing that worries me as a writer is maintaining continuity as I finish this novel (fingers crossed!) and begin on the next. Hopefully, remembering the Ferangi will help…. but we better not tell them, or I’m sure they’ll want to capitalize on our success. : )

    • tsuchigari says:

      Yep, you got that right – if you claim that they helped in any way they are going to want their cut of the profits! Continuity is a huge issue, it helps to have a few detail oriented friends give things a read through to catch the things that might have slipped by.

  3. Excellent post. I do timelines, character traits and names of people and places, butI hadn’t thought of the need for this type of tracking. I’ll add it to my list.

    • tsuchigari says:

      I wish there was an automated system that tracked important concepts and what not so that all I had to do was consult an index. I guess that’s part of the work of writing, in the end we have to do everything one way or another.

      • Actually, for the poor beleaguered writer of the Game of Thrones series, he has ended up paying one of his super faithful photographic memory-type readers to do that for him. This person always points out the little things he doesn’t detect, like whether the MC’s horse if brown or black, or male or female. It’s hard to believe that anyone would have that sort of memory, but it might pay to look for one down the road!

  4. Alexis says:

    I like how you tied this into Star Trek. It’s interesting how many ideas can occur to us to easily relate to writing.

    • tsuchigari says:

      If I’ve learned anything in writing this blog is that anything, and I mean anything, can be tied back to writing. I read posts about everything from alcoholism to gardening being used. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. When writing the old TV serial Dark Shadows (a Gothic soap opera with a very convoluted plotline), occasionally the writers would get stuck on a specific point. When this happened, they’d go out into the corridor and ask the fans (who were always clustered there, hoping to get autographs from the actors). The fans always knew.

    There’s one continuity hole in my writing. I’m eagerly awaiting the day that I’ll have a reader who is involved/obsessed enough to find it (it’s pretty obscure).

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