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.

SG1 Series Part Three: Action & Dialogue

All Show, No Tell – The Audio/Visual Experience

One of the greatest lessons writers can gain by watching television series (and movies) is the importance of action and dialogue. In today’s world, we expect richer, active, even sensual experiences. We fill our entertainment hours with games, movies, soap operas, drama, theatre, ballet, situational comedy and reality television. Tangible, engaging experience involves interactions with all of our senses.

Thankfully, written media offers a wonderful opportunity to reach readers on a level of expression that goes far and beyond other forms. With words we can cause readers to see, feel, taste, smell and hear. The only way to truly allow a reader to experience a story is to show it, rather than tell it.

The Stargate Series, thanks to its audio/visual medium, is ALL SHOW AND NO TELL. Viewers watch the characters through every interaction, through every scene. We never experience internal monologue or exposition. Every vital element must be expressed to viewers through action and dialogue. The writers and producers of the Stargate SG1 series have mastered the subtlety needed to get the vital facts to viewers. They cut the chaff and engage viewers in this rich, science fiction environment.

ACTION – Something is ALWAYS happening.

In fiction we can resort to other forms of narration to tell the story but the most engaging, interesting and enriching is to ‘show’ the story through a series of SCENES. (Note: Fiction isn’t ‘all show’ and ‘no tell’ – read more but “show, don’t tell” is a vital writer tip – learn why.)

Every move your characters make, everything they see and experience, everything that happens to and around them is action. Whenever the SG1 step through the Stargate they’re taking action. What they do on the other side is action-packed.

Action isn’t always about guns blazing and car chases. Simple things like dinner, work and even sex involve action. The important thing to remember is anything you show happening must move the story forward. Every scene should take the story toward its climax, its ending.

DIALOGUE – Communication with purpose.

Getting characters to communicate is a significant action that offers writers a chance to use language between characters to share other important information. All dialogue should serve a purpose in your story. It could be character development, fact expression, or relationship based but it must move the story forward.

I’ll go into dialogue more in future Writer’s Round-About entries. Meanwhile read more about dialogue, writing dialogue, dialogue tips, and dialogue in scripts vs. novels.

Television series are rich with elements that involve viewers. We reach into the stories, interacting on a cerebral level that generates interest in the characters and what happens to them. We see it happening, we hear it happening and the audio/visual cues pull us into the action. The exact same scene could be written in two different ways, ‘show’ or ‘tell’.

If you tell the story to someone it creates the distance of a second-hand account. As writers we want to close that gap as much as possible. Sometimes it’s appropriate to give your readers distance but most of the time readers want to be fully engaged. Pull them in by showing them the action. Then they can use all their senses to experience a story, rather than just read about it.

Related Articles:

SG1 Series Part Two: Character Development

Characters are an elemental part of every story. An intriguing plot with a good story-arc is important but without approachable characters your story will never connect with an audience. Readers need characters. Characters are the socket for your stories power supply. It is through your characters that readers can plug into the plot and experience the life of your story.

The Stargate series introduces a multitude of characters in various stages and of differing quality and consideration. Some play bit parts as extras or body count but others grow into the story, we come to love them or hate them, we come to care for the part they play in the story, their injuries and deaths bring anguish and grief or heartfelt cheers.

SG1 – Jack, Daniel, Sam and Teal’c

The original SG1 is a team of four diverse characters. Their differences create an initial challenge; they struggle as a unit until they learn to use each others strengths to counter their own weaknesses. It shows the importance of bringing opposites together. These characters are unique in their own fields. It is their united purposes, each individual to their character, which brings them together. A bond is formed that gives this eclectic community a solid friendship. We see the bond develop and grow with the characters as the series progresses.

It is important to blend characters but avoid carbon copies. Each character should be unique and individual. Distinguish them with separate goals, established histories, areas of interest and technique.

The SGC and General Hammond

The Stargate Command is an entity in its own right. It is actually a collection of individuals that work in regulated ways to create a standardized base of operations. There are many faceless characters lead by the General. Most of the time we don’t connect with these individuals but General Hammond represents the unity. His personality molds the actions of the SGC.

Larger forces need a strong head character to represent their interests. Armies can seem like a long column of faceless men but a charismatic leader will show a distinguishing command of his forces. Each of his men is ultimately the voice of this man and a solid leader is one whose men will lay down their own lives to support the orders he puts forth. This is true of the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ guys.

The Goa’uld

While the Goa’uld are a nasty bunch in their own right they are an ideal antagonist. They aren’t evil. They have solid reasoning and a collection of emotional reactions that allow readers to associate with them. The Goa’uld act entirely out of an arrogant sense of self preservation and domination. As a people (um… symbiotic race) they act with rational, intelligent thought. They are challenging but not insurmountable.

Antagonists should be normal people. You can create more impact with a sympathetic antagonist then with a diabolical freak. If a reader can see themselves in a protagonist you have a good story but if readers can see themselves to some small degree in the antagonist then you have a charged situation that will keep a reader tied to the outcome.

There are many more characters involved in the Stargate series. Each new person (or group of people) is shown in snippets. Base motivations appear and personality traits are revealed but characters always have an element that remains unseen. It is impossible to know everything and it is important that characters can still do something unexpected or unpredictable.

Over time, we get to know the main characters. Their own personal stories are revealed and delved into. The primary characters are challenged with personal situations forcing them to make choices that distinguish them. Whole episodes play a vital role in adding depth to these characters and introduce situations that push their qualities forward.

  • Use time in your story to slowly reveal your characters.
  • Allow their actions and reactions to portray the depth of their beliefs and desires.
  • Each scene should use your characters strengths and weaknesses.
  • 3D characters have sides we cannot see.
  • A characters relationships reveal vital clues to their personality.
  • Characters always continue to grow and change based on the situations that occur in each moment of their lives.

Finally, just because your story has reached ‘The End’ does not mean your characters have. Characters should still be imperfect in the final scene. Their growth remains incomplete. Some of your characters may have died but most will live on beyond your closing paragraph and while they began at one point and progressed to another in this story there should always be another world to save, another enemy to fight, another day to live and another dream to follow.

Related Articles:

Five Part Series: Writing Lessons From Stargate SG-1

It’s interesting to watch television in the writer frame of mind. What would be, to the average viewer, an enjoyable and almost effortless opportunity to relax in the world’s of our fictional friends, becomes an intriguing weave of technique, language, structure, and seamless formula; a masterful journey through character development, plot, sub-plot, continuity, hooks and hangers.

I’ve been watching Stargate SG-1 for hours this week all in the name of research. (I wonder if I can write the DVDs off as a tax deduction.) Often the trusty t.v. is the portal through which our brains seep but I’ve found that there are also some incredible lessons we can learn. Stargate isn’t the only television series to offer these lessons. My other personal favorites are Dark Angel, House, Californication, Heroes and Charmed.

What these six television series have in common is their complex meta-story and character development. I’m sure there are other series that have shared this asset. Each of these series starts from episode one, season one and tells a story, through every episode which ties to every thread from the beginning to end of the series as a whole.

Other shows, such as The Simpsons, Futurama, and NCIS each take a cut of life. Their episodes could be watched out of order, with zero continuity and still be as enjoyable but with my favourite six, if you miss an episode you’ll have a significant gap in events. Every episode is important because they are woven together, like a brilliantly structured series of novels.

In the coming weeks I’m going to explore what I’ve learnt in a five part series.

  • Part One: Story-Arc, Plot and Sub-Plot
    We’ll explore the familiar curves of story arc over episodes, seasons and series then delve into the complex unity of plot and the careful techniques used to tie sub-plot into a cohesive story.
  • Part Two: Character Development
    We watch the growth of loved and loathed characters as they develop through a series. These characters share their past and present with us; we develop emotional connections that leave us intimately involved in their future.
  • Part Three: Action and Dialogue
    Why t.v. and movies are a fantastic way to encourage powerful writing. All “Show” and no “Tell”. How can we incorporate this audio/visual experience and translate it for written media?
  • Part Four: Hooks, Hangers and the Sequence of Events
    How t.v. series writers have mastered the “Story Hook”. They grip us in the first few minutes pre opening credits and leave us hanging as the final credits roll across the screen. How does the sequence of events hold an audience? We’ll explore the finer points of when to push and when to pull your viewers/readers.
  • Part Five: Formula – Making A Success Key Mould
    The most successful t.v. series follow a very specific formula, so do many writers. What keeps this formula fresh and interesting? How can we make a mould of our own successes so we can replicate them in the future?

I hope you’re as intrigued by the idea as I am. If you’ve been looking for a legitimate excuse to spend a few hours watching old episodes of your favourite t.v. shows you now have one. Consider it homework if you like. Watch t.v. with your writer’s mind fully switched on and tuned in. What do you learn about writing from your favourite t.v. series?