No identification of self or mission;
No interference with the social development of said planet;
No references to space, other worlds, or advanced civilizations
The Prime Directive, from a story telling point of view, does a very large number of things at once. It is the best example I can think of using a societies laws to help teach your readers/views about them. If you understand what a person (or people) value most, you are on your way to understanding them entirely.
First it conveys a sense of humility, of admitting that some things are beyond you. It also tells you that those who hold to it value things more them themselves and their own people. Lastly it tells you that at some point in the past they fucked up, no other reason to need to have it.
From a more meta point of view it is a VERY good story telling device because it limited the Enterprise. One of the problems they had writing Star Trek was that the ship was just too capable, the transporter alone could solve too many problems.
The Prime Directive forced Kirk and co to use more indirect means to solve problems. If they got captured the enterprise COULD just beam down 100 red shirts with phasers and get them back, but that would violate the prime directive.
While, particularly for hard science fiction, Star Trek might not be the best example to follow it does have some things that almost every Sci-Fi writer can learn from.
One example of this is Vulcan’s, they are one of the more interesting fictional races of any science fiction. For me at least this is in large part because they feel complete and real in ways that say, Klingons don’t.
While you could give a short description of what they are, “They follow logic above all else and are emotionless.” That is only the surface.
You learn they DO have emotions, they have emotions so strong they nearly destroyed their civilization. They work all their lives to suppress them. Watching Spock and Sarek you see they do allow SOME emotions to guide them. They live in a paradox, trying to solve a problem they can never solve.
They believe in logic above all else, yet their culture has an element of mysticism. They believe in the immoral soul, a katra, that can be transferred from one person to another. Spock more then once bent logic to justify taking a moral action, such as risking himself to save someone who was almost certainly dead.
They feel complete because they are full of paradoxes and history, like any real people.
Sam Becket is working on a DoD funded project to time travel. If it worked it would send him back in time to inhabit the body of anyone, so long as it was within his own lifetime (so no going back before he was born). The project was being shut down, so he took a chance and used it on himself. It worked, everything but the part about being able to get him back when they wanted to. The show is about him leaping around time, inhabiting the bodies of various people from the 50’s to the late seventies. They can talk to him through Al, a hologram of his friend in the future that only he could see. Each leap he had to fix something, then he would leap out (almost all the episodes are one leap).
The show is a good example of using the vehicle of science fiction to tell very human stories. The things he fixed were often about changing people, or having someone not make a mistake that hurt them or others. For example in one he was sent back as a rich man’s servant. The rich guy was foreclosing on a mission around Christmas time. His job was not the save the mission, his job was the get the rich guy to WANT to save it, to see that money was not everything. He was there to save the mans soul. What he was sent to do were often turning points of people’s lives, trying to convince people to do right, but not forcing them to.
It was thoughtful and insightful about things in ways that modern
Hollywood isn’t anymore.
There are two kinds of thinking. Normal and deep.
Normal is taking the directions you were given to go somewhere. Deep is when you push deep into a subject and truly understand it, you go well past where most people would think would be enough. You understand the traffic patterns and the entire city map, you know why you were given the directions you were given.
If you want to be a writer you have to be a deep thinker. The only way to make a setting feel real is to make it deep and wide, you won’t show but a small part of it but you can’t just think about that part.
A society is not a jumble of unconnected things all taking place at once, its a complex system where everything touches everything else. Morals effect clothing, but so does utility and the economy. You can’t get everything but you should aim to go deeper then the average reader, so deep that your reader will never see the bottom.
The same goes for your characters, think about what motivates them, why they have their mannerisms, what their biggest disappoint in life was.
Again you don’t have to show everything, showing the tip is enough.