SG1 Series Part Four: Hooks, Hangers and the Sequence of Events

A primary writer’s tip involves the importance of your beginning. The first sentence, first paragraph, first page, first scene, ‘begin’ your story and are, perhaps, the most important words of your entire book. The final page/paragraph of each chapter is also significant and so is the ending.

These are Hooks, Hangers and the Sequence of Events. The Stargate SG1 Series is masterful with these three elements. It offers a fantastic opportunity to learn not only the importance of hooks, hangers and the sequence of events but key points in making your own effective.

How To Begin – The First Sentence Hook

“In medias res” = “into the middle of things” (Latin)

Every episode of Stargate starts where the action is. I mentioned the importance of action in Part Three: Action and Dialogue so you already have some idea what makes action/showing (involving the senses) an effective way to begin your story.

It is often tempting to digress into exposition, prologue, history, and scenic/character descriptions (telling) but these tend to be less captivating for current-day readers. There are some brilliant books that start with less dynamic openings but are rich and engaging. Classics particularly are fond modern-day rule-breakers. Older story structure allowed a slow build up of tension over the first pages but these days it is more common to start with a bang. Times have been changing and present-day readers trend toward fast paced openings. They want to get to the good stuff right off the bat and won’t wait for lengthy scene-setting or information dumps. Book buyers often scan an opening sentence, paragraph or page when deciding to purchase so it is vital you grip them. Leverage your sale potential and ensure they won’t put your book back on the shelf.

After the opening scene you have an opportunity to backtrack or fill in your readers with the details that brought your character to this point. (If it’s necessary.) Often, the vital facts can be fed through the story without interrupting the flow but sometimes it’s important to clue up your readers about exactly how we got ‘here’ in the story since most direct-to-action openings are dramatic situations full of conflict and the first climatic clink.

Some fantastic guidance about hooking your reader is available in Les Edgerton’s “Hooked”. I recommend it to all novelists.

Page Turning, Chapter Turning – Cliff Hanging or Sun Baking?

It’s up to you, your characters and your story.

There are two choices as each chapter winds to a close and it’s occasionally challenging to decide which to make. Should you close the chapter “cliff hanging” or a gentle “sun baking”?

Hangers are designed to keep the reader turning pages. Many readers use chapter breaks as an opportunity to put a book down (we have to sleep sometime). Of course, we don’t want our readers to put the book down do we? We want them to read it cover to cover so we can be sure they finish it. (Admit it; you have a collection of half-read books on your shelves.)

This is where the hanging ending comes into effect. Stargate often ended episodes with a fantastic hanger. It was especially effective for the end-of-season episodes because writers left enough questions to entice readers to hold out for several months off-season to find out what happens next. Viewers dread those evil words, “To be continued…” but they truly work. Those viewers will be back next episode to find out what happens.

When it comes to writing a book you can also entice your readers to keep turning the page. Leave a few choice questions unanswered or close the chapter on the brink of climax. In a way you could “in media res” your chapter endings. Close the chapter while “into the middle of things”.

To the other extreme you may choose to offer a “bake” option to your readers. Some books are better suited to giving your reader a chance to close the covers.

Intense stories can be draining and long stories can be time consuming. By creating an effective ‘pause’ chapter ending, you give your readers the opportunity to come back later. This is really just a reversal on the “hanger” option. Rather than leaving your characters on a cliff bring them down to earth. Close the chapter with a contented sigh of relief. You still need to leave some questions unanswered but they are less immediate.

Either option can work well and it comes down to your personal choice and what suits your story. Sometimes the characters will decide on your behalf. If you’re a planner you might choose in advance while a pantser may have to carve out and edit their chapter breaks in the second draft.

Some books don’t even have chapters but these elements can be played into all areas of your book. The chapter isn’t the only place a reader may steer away from finishing reading. Follow your instincts.

Going in the Right Direction – Always Charging Onward

The Sequence of Events is vital! Keep your facts straight.

In every novel there is a Sequence of Events. Readers start at page one and read consecutively through to “The End”. This sequence never changes and it often takes careful planning/editing to keep the sequence of events from sending mixed messages to readers.

While stories do not have to be chronological and time is flexible there are still some primary elements that must be considered to keep all details consistent and concrete.

I mentioned the remarkable foreshadowing and plotting involved in the Stargate SG1 Series in Part One: Story-Arc, Plot and SubPlot. These two atoms of every story are key factors in maintaining a solid sequence of events.

A literary technique that will strengthen your sequence of events is Chekhov’s Gun. Based on Anton Chekhov’s quote, “”One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.”
This covers two factors:

  1. Don’t waste words writing about anything that is not vital to your story and
  2. You can weave significant facts into the story from page one.

Stargate continues to build upon events with the introduction of many seemingly insignificant situations, people and events that later prove to be major elements in the plots. Writers must remember that the momentum is building, ever upward, tension rises until the final confrontation, the final climax when the story comes to a head and all (or most) is revealed.

Tip of the iceberg?

Sorry it’s so long.

This proved to be a rather lengthy entry but I hope you’ve learned a few things that you can carry into your current writing projects. There is much more we could cover and I probably would have done better to break this into three posts. I’ll have to make sure we come back to these topics in the future. They are intriguing enough to warrant more in-depth exploration.

As always, if you have comments, suggestions, or ideas of your own, please comment. Your thoughts are very welcome and I’d love to know how you’ve dealt with Hooks, Hangers and The Sequence of Events in your own writing. Do you have any resources you recommend for finding out more? What do you know that I didn’t cover today?

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Rebecca Laffar-Smith

Rebecca Laffar-Smith is a publisher, children's writer, and novelist. In 2010 she gave up a successful 12-year freelance career to focus on her three loves; family, community, and fiction. She self-published her debut novel The Flight of Torque in June 2014 and the first three titles in the P.I. Penguin series in from Aulexic in May 2015. At The Craft of Writing Fiction, Rebecca shares her journey of creation and learning with readers. She loves getting to know her fellow readers and writers and can be contacted through Twitter and Facebook, or Email.

15 thoughts on “SG1 Series Part Four: Hooks, Hangers and the Sequence of Events”

  1. Have you read any of the Stargate novels? Generally, I’m not a big fan of novel tie-ins for TV shows, but the Stargate Atlantis novels actually got one of my favorite writers to work on two of the books: Martha Wells. Wells is truly excellent at crafting the sorts of books you simply can’t put down.

  2. Very nicely said. Sometimes I crit people who have a great voice and a great concept, but no sense of in media res or hooks or dramatic tension. In media res and hooking can be taught, but dramatic tension falls in with pacing (imo) and is harder to learn. You almost have to have an ‘ear’ for it.

    M

  3. Thank you for not suggesting that all chapters end with a cliffhanger. It’s okay sometimes, but gets exhausting to read. My nine year old loves the Hardy Boys books and this is their formula. It may work for a 9y0 boy, but I get tired of it and it’s predictiblity.

  4. @ Thursday: No, I haven’t read any of the Stargate novels. I usually stear clear of fan-fiction and tie-ins but I might have to chase down a few by Martha Wells to check them out since you’ve recommended them. 🙂

    @ MRasey: I think dramatic tension is something you can come to learn only through experience. It is one of the reasons it is so important to read a lot as a writer. In time we tune our ear to pick up nuances that we might not have noticed before. Five years ago I’d never have learnt all this while watching Stargate. This year, my ear is tuned to the intricate weave the writers role plays in create a captivating story on the screen. Practice and experience is a vital element in the growth of a writers craft and talent.

    @ Soccer Mom: Gosh, it would be exhausting if EVERY chapter ended in a cliff hanger. It’s important to give readers a chance to breath from time to time. The baking endings give us a chance to reflect and consider what has gone on before. It also gives us a chance to sleep. Well told stories can bake a chapter end and still hold readers over to the next chapter if the reader isn’t ready for the break. That’s why it tends to be best to use both options. The tricky part is deciding which to use when.

  5. Mesmerizing post, Rebecca! It amazes me that I really don’t care for Stargate, yet your series pulls me in! Isn’t that strange? Goes to show that you’re such an amazing writer you can grab the attention of a reader who doesn’t consider that topic a favorite one. Neat!

    As you know, I’ve been focusing mainly on non-fiction. But thanks to you, I know I’ll be all prepared when/if I decide to dabble in fiction 🙂

    Thanks, Rebecca!

    Michele

  6. I think it helps that my posts are entirely featured around writing rather than the series. I try to avoid going into detail about the actual program because this blog isn’t about Stargate, it’s about writing. The truth is, most of these points could be compared with other television series and some movies. I just happened to be deep in a full run of Stargate seasons one through ten when I clicked about how much I was learning about writing and decided to share it with you all. 🙂

    I’ll have to make sure I get back into some non-fiction related topics after this series is finished. Do you have any suggestions for something you’d like to know more about?

    Thanks, as always, for reading and I’m glad the SG1 Series hasn’t kept you away.

  7. I just LOVE these posts. They are so informative. It is wonderful to have these ideas floating around in my head while I’m writing. And you’ve given us a checklist, of sorts, to compare to our manuscripts during the editing process. Thank you!

    I am one of the few people who really hate cliff-hangers. I don’t mind them SO much in writing, as I will forfeit a few hours of sleep to continue reading. As long as they come at the end of the chapter!!! What really really (did I mention REALLY) gets me is when the cliff-hangers come at the end of book 1 in a 3 book series.

    I’ve recently gotten sucked into two new novels that ended book 1 with a cliff-hanger.. or ended right in the middle of what I consider the serious action. That just pisses me off! I’m going to read books 2 and 3 ANYWAY! Don’t torment me by not wrapping up book 1 to a satisfying conclusion. And.. just to be sure.. it was two different Best-Selling authors who did this. Nora Roberts and Karen Marie Moning. DANG!!

    Anyway – thanks for this great series of posts. They are more helpful than you realize. 🙂

  8. Thanks Kathleen, I’m glad you’re enjoying the series.

    I no longer buy/borrow only the first book in a series because of this problem. I’ve taken to waiting until they’re all written and available. I get the whole series at once so I can read them all without worrying about that annoying cliff hanger that forces us to wait for the next book. Even the series books that doesn’t leave us hanging on a cliff are incomplete enough for me to feel like I need to read the next book right away. So, series authors may find sales of the first and second book down but a boost when the final book is release from all the consumers like me who only buy complete sets. 🙂

  9. 😀 Thank you Elrena. I’ve been worried that this series is TOO chock-a-block full of information. They’re much longer then would be ideal for this medium. I break a number of my own blogging rules. But so far there have been no complaints. I promise, after the series is over I’ll try to give everyone’s eyes a break with some shorter posts and more variety for a while until another series idea sparks.

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