SG1 Series Part Five: Formula – Making a Success Key Mould

Earlier posts from the SG1 Series:

What, Why, Who, How – Questioning Formula?

Many writers learn to emulate or procreate success by following or developing a specific formula. We begin the journey of a writer in the footsteps of our favorites, the classics and contemporaries who walked these hallowed halls before us, but in time we learn to strike out on our own. We develop our own voice, our own techniques and our own formulas.

Television Series are almost entirely dependent on formula. Formula allows multiple writers to follow steps to create a consistent product. Category Romance are often formulaic as well. Indeed many aspects of business (writing or otherwise) coexist around formula, from business models to time management and of course content.

Formula is about reusing what has proven to work. While there is little point in repeating actions that were unsuccessful, we know that success can often be recreated by following similar steps. The Stargate Series continued to produce successful seasons, year after year, thanks to their carefully structured formula. Category Romances are enjoyed by thousands of women around the world because we all know they have happy endings, it’s part of the formula. Success, developed into a success formula can recreate success.

For first time novelists this might seem like information you can’t use. After all, we need to have those first successes to create a success formula, right? Nope, not at all. That’s where emulation plays a significant role in the early success of writers. It is one of the reasons a love of reading is almost a prerequisite for writers. The more you read the more you will absorb the method and technique, the formulas, of other writers.

Worship at the Author Altar by Reading

Books should obviously be our first love. After all, as novelists we are determined to spend hour upon hour in company with them every single day. When we aren’t writing our own we are, hopefully, kicking back with one of the many books that gather in teetering piles on any available flat surface (or stacked neatly on a bookshelf if you’re the rare mythological being, a neat writer).

The books we read offer lessons to all writers. With time and experience writers develop an eye that tends to transform the reading process. The luckiest of us don’t find this dilutes the joy of reading but sometimes it can feel like we are still working in our off hours.

Read as much as you possibly can. Don’t be afraid to deviate from your favorite authors, genres, or first publication dates. Read classics, thrillers, fillers, any book that stumbles into your hands both fiction and non-fiction. Become your libraries most loyal visitor and steal moments to read whenever you can. This firm foundation of language and technique is the cement pad on which you’ll build a house of writing.

Pester, Prod, Ask Questions, and Be Interested

We have a surprising number of opportunities throughout life to learn. Writers’ conferences, talk shows, podcasts, blogs, writers’ groups, book readings, etc. all provide a marvelous chance to pick apart the brains of other writers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you show a true interest and a willingness to learn most writers will be available for you (to a point). You can learn a great deal about writing and success from published authors, interviews, and the media. Absorb and question, analyze and compare. Become an avid busy-body and learn to ask the right questions to get the answers you can use.

Recreate a Success Formula – Write!

With what you learn from reading and questioning, from watching television and movies and listening to the world you will have found consistencies you can use to begin to develop your own success formula. Publisher guidelines and writing magazines are another place to dig. By pulling these threads of knowledge together you can structure the walls of your success.

Recreate and emulate the successful techniques you’ve discovered but be prepared to grow and adjust. A formula never works perfectly if it is identical every time. You must change as needed. This takes practice and the only way you will succeed is to learn to fail. Writers never get it right every time. We get better with failure, we learn, we develop, we grow into success.

The Book’s Formula

Just as you’ve created a formula for success many books can follow a formula that also aids their success. It is done in much the same way. By learning what works and working what you’ve learnt. Remember to adjust when needed and to practice. A Book Formula is most common for book series and some very specific genres. Many of the most prolific writers have learnt to use formula to produce multiple books that stand alone on their own merit but follow consistent patterns that fans enjoy and come to expect.

Don’t be afraid to emulate formula while you begin as a writer but don’t forget how vital it is to discover your own voice, and walk the path in your own shoes. Yes, you can learn to be successful by following in the footsteps of successful people but the most successful learn to strike out on their own, they take paths less traveled and that makes all the difference.

Published by

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.

16 thoughts on “SG1 Series Part Five: Formula – Making a Success Key Mould”

  1. Rebecca, a great post, as always. It’s such very good advice, especially the part about reading. I think that as writers–especially when we are knee-deep in our WIPs–we forget to continue to read. I know, I do at least, partially out of the fear of having something get into my brain and then get into my writing that you accidentally forget to cite, because it got into your subconcious rather than being something you were actively taking notes about. This is probably more true though for non-fiction writers than fiction writers–although I guess it depends upon what you’re reading while you’re writing. I suppose if I’m snuggled up with the latest Vince Flynn, and I’m working on a book about bees, Flynn’s work isn’t going to creep in accidentally.

  2. I agree with wordsmith. This is an awesome post! You’ve really made us think. It’s great to study, read, and set out on paths other great writers have created but what’s most important is for us to dig deep, be brave, and make that path our own…

  3. @ Wordsmith: I’ve found when I’m deep in a WIP I tend to focus on books about writing. It is non-fiction so isn’t as likely to creep into my fiction novels but it also offers motivation and guidance that inspires and educates me as I go through the often daunting and challenging stages of novel writing.

    @ Barrie: I love the fact that as professional writers all the books we buy and read are tax deductable. It’s a business expense. 😉 No guilt at all!

    @ Michele: Thanks, Michele. I guess it’s important for us ever-learners to seek knowledge for every available source. While it is important to find your own voice the easiest way to do that is to recognise the voices of others. When you can hear other’s voices you’ll begin to hear your own whispering in the darkness.

    Of course, if famous writers could bottle their success formulas I’d be first in line to order a lifetime supply. 😉

  4. When you can hear other’s voices you’ll begin to hear your own whispering in the darkness.

    I love this sentence you wrote! It particularly stood out to me, spoke to me… I guess it’s because I love writing in the still of the night 🙂

  5. I’m glad it reached you, Michele. I love to write in the darkness too. The hum of my PC is the only sound to keep the tapping keys company. Alas, I don’t get to write as late as I’d like because my little ones demand me alert and functional the next morning.

  6. Just stumbled across your site on a Google search for anything regarding writing for the Stargate series. I had independently come to the conclusion that their writing was an absolute model of classic-modern storytelling, and they even acknowledged their method through helpful tips and hints to other writers embedded in dialogue. I am convinced of it. I’m doing a NaNo at the moment so just thanks for the articles on Stargate writing. For me, it’s like figuring out directions from watching the sun and then coming across a road map staked to a big sign: you are here.

  7. I’m glad you enjoyed the Lessons from Stargate series for writers. SG1 and SGA DEFINITELY used formulaic writing. I think part of what disappoints me about the new Stargate Universe is that they’ve deviated from the old formula. Each week I keep hoping it will return to the good, solid, and familiar formula that worked so well with the other Stargate series. I guess that is one downside of formulaic writing, regular readers grow accustomed and have certain expectations for the future.

    Quite a lot of writing follows specific formula. The majority of the romance industry, for example, are tied to the formulaic requirements. Part of Stephen King’s success is due to his personal formula which many horror writers try to emulate. Other science fiction television series, such as Star Trek, Sliders, and Andromeda have base formulas that are used in the construction of each episode. When working with several writers a formula can be vital to maintaining a consistency that keep readers entertained.

    Good luck with your NaNo!

  8. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

    Just an addendum: As you note SG1 and SGA evolved into a serial approach from free-standing episodes, so it can be hard to follow for new viewers. It may be worth mentioning to your follows that SG1 Seasons 1-8 are available for free, legally, via HULU.com through April of next year. Writers and others can watch nearly the entire series sequentially whenever they want. I think someone could design a course in TV writing using SG1 as the textbook.

    I personally lost interest in SG1 about its fourth season when I couldn’t follow the storyline after missing some episodes. It seemed to me then to be stylized reproduction of “COMBAT,” the 1960s ABC-TV WWII series, where a small foot patrol, led by a fearless if not indignant leader, undertook weekly missions behind enemy line to secure intelligence or save the French maiden, with the Germans playing the part of the Goa’uld. That was before the X303.

    Watching the series in its entirety is a truly satisfying experience for critical viewers looking to see mythic stories (in our own time) with classic heroes. Plus all the back stories get played out. That is writer’s dream job.

    Again, thanks, and now back to wrimo.

  9. I’ve actually been thinking recently of writing a couple of follow-up posts regarding some of the TV series that were released this season. For example, while Stargate Universe doesn’t seem to follow the same formula of Stargate’s earlier success there is a very strong continuity from one episode to the next. It is, again, the kind of series one really needs to watch from the beginning to truly enjoy. It develops character and is very character-based, so far, and, as a writer I’ve been very curious to watch the storyline develop.

    Another such series is Flash Forward and there are some brilliant writing techniques at work in this new series. Foreshadowing plays a significant role with aspects of the plot leaking through to viewers piece by piece. Each week ends in a twist, an aspect that transforms our perspective to some degree, leaving one wondering how the story will evolve. As a writer, I wonder how they will close out the season. It feels like the plot must have been completely scripted before production began and I wonder if that means there could only ever be a single season. After all, at some point they’ll solve the mystery, then what?

    I think one of the reasons Fan Fiction is so popular is because readers and writers ache to have more story after the fact. As writers, we understand that there is a point you begin, and a point you end. You tell the story that comes between those points but even that is only a part of the fuller story. What comes before and after is left to the imagination. Some writers will delve into it with prequels and sequels but it is impossible to tell ALL of a story, even if you cover a lifetime we wonder about the lives that were touched in that lifetime. The story is never fully told and the opportunity to explore that potential is why Fan Fiction continues to flourish.

    I hope you’re enjoying your Nano adventure.

  10. I was just watching an SG1 episode and noted in one scene where Gen. Landry (successor to Gen. “Two Ls” O’Neill) first meets LTC Mitchell. Landry asks Mitchell, “Well, what’s your (character) flaw? Everyone has one.” Here I think the writers here are talking to other writers.

    The lessons I learned from SGI, et al, are not just for writing SCIFI. “Indeed,” as Teal’q might say, the techniques shown on screen can be used with any fiction that follows mythic hero story arcs — 90 percent of popular adventure fiction. You don’t need to be a SCIFI fan to appreciate SG1. The close cooperation of the very well-grounded USAF in the production and the public reception of actress Amanda Tapping in the role of a strong, secure modern female reveals the broad appeal (perhaps like Linda Hamilton in “Terminator.”). The series may be more popular now than during production, perhaps the Star Trek Effect. And while others may pan SGU (and it does have flaws — we need water, we need air, we need batteries, we need light bulbs, and nobody loves us ) the serial appeal and painfully necessary character development will help. Otherwise it is just “Lost in Space” with unscheduled wormhole activations.

    (Sorry for my strong opinions but it is my Nano talking. I am in character and need to stay there for the remainder of a big scene. I should get to 25K today. I fell back 800 words yesterday. I have plenty to write about but the burnout monster in hiding in my closet — smoking fine cigars and watching football.)

    Again, thanks.

  11. One of the things that makes Stargate particularly fun for writer’s is that there are many occasions where the shows writers talk directly to the audience through plot or character dialogue. These little “inside jokes” lighten the moment and are one of the reasons I love watching with my writer’s cap on.

    I appreciate the conversational aspect of your “strong opinions”, W. Knox. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, especially during such a busy month.

    I hope you enjoyed your Nanowrimo experience.

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