On New Year’s Eve 2017, I was sure that this year was finally going to be the year of Once Upon My Mind. Instead it sort of turned out to be the year of Stargate instead. I watched the original 1994 movie on New Year’s Day with my dad, watched all 10 seasons of SG-1 and 5 seasons of Atlantis over the summer, and ended the year seeing Aquaman with Ronon Dex in Atlantis once again.
While this wasn’t the most productive year for my own writing until after returning home from the JASNA AGM, I gleaned a lot of ideas about satisfying story-telling from the SG-1 team, the Atlantis expedition, and their wide casts of memorable supporting characters that reinvigorated my muse during my “Jane Austen in Bath” period. Here are just a few examples:
It’s okay to have a formula at the start
Stargate SG-1 lasted 10 seasons with over 200 episodes, and that was mostly due to the fact that they had a pretty unshakable formula: The team goes through the Stargate to another planet. Something’s wrong on that planet. They have to solve the problem before they can go home. The End (until next week.) Later episodes were able to go beyond (and make fun of) this basic premise because they had the characters and situations developed within this formula as a foundation.
One of the main reasons I held off on starting Time and Tenacity, Volume II for so long is because I thought, “They can’t just lose the time machine again.” Then, in Kansas City, thinking in part of Stargate, I thought “Maybe some plot elements just get used over again because they work.” In the process, I actually found that using my own formula as a launching pad helped me develop some fresher complications for my time-travelers.
Let everyone participate in the “magic” as much as possible
One of my least favorite episodes of SG-1 was one in which all the male members of the team switched bodies and the team’s only female member, Samantha Carter, was the one who figured out the solution to switch them all back. The writers probably thought they were being really empowering by having Sam be the one who saved the day, but honestly, as someone who got into writing in part because I wanted more women to travel in time or save fantasy kingdoms, I just really wanted to see Sam switch bodies with someone too. In fact, my favorite episodes of the series were the ones in which Sam was just a normal part of the team instead of being the strongest, smartest, etc.
As I was realizing this, I also realized one of Rachel’s team members in the Once Upon My Mind series was being reduced too much to the character who just reacted to watching magical things happen to the others, and a lot of that was a result of her character being severely underdeveloped. So she got the double benefit of much more character development and a more fun role in the plot!
In the words of the Doctor, let “everybody live” once in a while
2018 was a year marked by personal loss for me, as it was for many others. While addressing death in writing is an important and at times necessary thing– I wouldn’t have stuck with Once for more than 15 years if I didn’t believe that– I found part of what kept making me want to watch another episode or four of SG-1 and Atlantis every day was that were episodes when it looked like one of the characters was going to have to make a sacrifice or be the ultimate demonstration of the danger everyone was in that things pulled together so they lived in the end. Even characters who did die sometimes came back in a sense, through science-fiction ways including clones or alternate universes, for some amount of closure. A story can still be deep and meaningful without killing any characters. After all, isn’t part of the reason we watch and read stories is because they’re better than real life?
Michael Shanks makes every story 10,000 times better
Okay, I haven’t figured out how to apply this one to my writing yet, but I’m working on it…
2018 wasn’t the year I had hoped for in many ways, but many constructive lessons resulted from it that I will be able to carry into 2019 and beyond. I’m excited to spend the beginning hours of 2019 working on three new projects. I’ll share some more about them soon, but until then, I hope your New Year’s celebrations are safe and most diverting, and this new year is the continuation or the start of a new productive time in your life.