There are all kinds of things in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's arc that seem like they could have been decided on the fly or have been planned from day one. How much of it was mapped out? Some examples:

The existence of the Dominion
Odo finding the Changeling homeworld
The Changelings as the ruling species of the Dominion
The Dominion War
The Cardassians rejoining the Dominion
The Cardassians re-taking the station
Sisko's mother possessed by a Prophet

  • 1
    I do not think that any of the listed events seem planned. When JMS tells you the first three Babylon stations were mysteriously destroyed, but never bothers to explain why... that was planned. These seem like they might have been shat out the end of the Random Star Trek Plot generator software.
    – John O
    Sep 25 '12 at 1:44
  • 1
    @JohnO Parts were definitely random, but as DS9 was an "arc" series, there was definitely some planning going on - just doesn't seem like it was ever more than a season ahead.
    – Izkata
    Sep 25 '12 at 1:51
  • @JohnO and JMS also said that Babylon Station, 1, 2, 3, & 4 were already trademarked. He wanted the name Babylon and the #5 was the first available.
    – Jim2B
    Mar 26 '15 at 1:39

Over on the Rules of Acquisition episode page (episode 2x07) on Memory Alpha are these notes (bolding mine):

  • This is the first episode to mention the Dominion. The Karemma are also mentioned for the first time. The decision to locate the initial mention of the Dominion in an otherwise inconsequential 'comedy' episode was one which was very purposely taken by the writers to throw the viewers off - the idea being that viewers would think to themselves 'the Dominion can't be very important if it's being mentioned in a Ferengi episode.'
  • Of the creation of the Dominion, which at this stage was simply a name, as the writers hadn't developed any definite plans yet, Ira Behr notes, "The existence of the Gamma Quadrant next door to Deep Space 9 would not help the series if it remained just unexplored space. They did three years of that on The Original Series, and seven years on The Next Generation. We needed to define that space."

The page on the Founders at Memory Alpha has this note about the Changelings (split into two, bolding mine):

Although the concept of the Founders had been established in the DS9 second season finale "The Jem'Hadar", the writers hadn't made any firm decisions about precisely who the Founders were.


During the hiatus between seasons two and three, Michael Piller called a production meeting and, thinking the writers would reject the idea straight away, he suggested that perhaps the Founders could be Odo's people. When Piller suggested this, Ira Steven Behr burst out laughing, as he and the other staff writers had come up with the exact same idea, but they hadn't thought that Piller would accept the proposal so they hadn't pitched it to him.

The page on the Dominion has a note about the war itself, from the Season 3 DVDs. Unfortunately, it doesn't really say when they came up with the idea:

One idea that the writers had that was never actively utilized on-screen was that the Dominion knew about the Federation long before the Bajoran wormhole was discovered, and that they were developing a long-term strategy to deal with the inevitable contact. As Wolfe explains, "The Dominion knew the Federation was out there long before the wormhole was opened, and they had plans to deal with the Federation when the Federation was projected to enter their space in two hundred years, and they were building slowly towards that, that's why they sent out Odo in the first place. But then the wormhole opens up and suddenly the Federation is in their backyard today and it just throws everything into question for both the Federation and the Dominion."

Those seem to cover the first half of what you have in mind. Unfortunately, for the rest of it, nothing comes to mind nor have I found anything online.

So, only earlier today did I realize that the examples in the question made me exclude two very important parts of the DS9 storyline: It has 2 multi-episode arcs. One was originally supposed to encompass the entire Dominion War, (6x01-6x06), and the other was the finale and was even named "The Final Chapter" (7x17-7x25/26).

Both of these required a lot of short-term future planning and coordination due to the parts being written pretty much at the same time by different writers.

6x01 - 6x06 (Quotes are from the first one, A Time to Stand)

  • The original plan for the multi-episode arc was that it would encompass the entirety of the Dominion War; as Ronald D. Moore explains, "The initial thinking was that we would end Season 5 on a cliff-hanger with the Federation plunged into war, and then we would come back and do a multi-episode arc, and the war would last that long." Originally, the arc was going to be four episodes, but Ira Steven Behr extended it to five, and eventually to six.
  • Ira Steven Behr says essentially the same thing; "The guys were coming in saying, 'What are you writing?' 'Are we gonna do this?' 'Where's Kira at right now?' 'What's Odo doing?' There were a lot of phone calls, a lot of running into each other's offices, a lot of 'Should this go before this?' and 'Wait a second – does this track?' The fact is, the show isn't geared to work like that."

7x17 - 7x22 (Quotes are from 7x17, Penumbra)) (Bolding mine)

  • Although taking the show serialized may have seemed inevitable to viewers, the specifics of how that serialization might work hadn't been planned in advance. As Ira Steven Behr explains, "We didn't lay it out at the beginning of the year. We planned each episode as we were doing them. That allowed us to find great stuff, but occasionally, it put us into situations where we were saying to each other, 'Well, what do you want to do with Dukat and Winn now?' 'I dunno, what do you want to do with them now?'"
  • Moore has also commented; "We wanted to pay off as many things as we could pay off. And so all of our conversations tilted in that direction; what's going to happen to Quark, what's going to happen to Rom, are we going to kill any of the main characters, who's going where, who's going to end up on the station, is Bajor coming into the Federation? All of these sorts of questions were continually chewed around by the writing staff endlessly. From season six forward, there was a focus on the end, of trying to wrap up the show by the end, but then along the way, you're still coming up with new ideas, and new threads are starting and new stories are starting, and so what begins as this small piece of fabric becomes this enormous tapestry that you're trying to get your arms around and trying to wrap. I'm sure there are things we didn't pay off, I know there are certain aspects of it that we never paid off, but it was the focus of our attention for two solid years."

So to the original question, in one case, plans for The Final Chapter began a full season in advance.

  • Well, given that most of the rest of Plutor's questions rely on what the Dominion is and how it operates (Cardassians joining the Dominion, Dominion War, Cardassians retaking the station during the Dominion War), I'd say that it's strongly implied by your evidence that the writers didn't plan those arc elements in advance, either. Sep 25 '12 at 8:45
  • Great answer, and I agree with the above. I'm shocked to learn the answer is "they didn't really plan much that far in advance".
    – Plutor
    Sep 25 '12 at 12:38

When writing long stories of this nature it is quite common to keep things vague at first and fill them in as you go along. Therefore they would most likely have a general idea of how things would proceed for a series (maybe more than one series) and would try to leave openings in plot so they could fill them in later if they got a chance and if nothing else came to mind. That way they could still direct the show along lines which seemed to be interesting and were getting good feedback whilst having a consistant story arc to base things on.

A simple example would be a throw away comment about a planet being destroyed by an alien species (or perhaps the planet used as a MacGuffin for an episode) - later they could perhaps flesh this out into more planets being destroyed or some other way of introducing a villan. If the villan is one which is very powerful that leads to the potential of another species being introduced that is even more powerful and dangerous and the heros must team up with the previous villan to fight it.

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