Author's Note

I wrote this some time ago, but didn't post it because, by then, it had been announced that season ten would be the last season of Stargate S.G.-1. Why post it now? Possibly a knee-jerk reaction to a couple of depressing and dire episodes of my favourite shows in one week: Talion in Stargate S.G.-1. followed by Sunday in Stargate Altantis?

In the former episode, Teal'c's character was unrecognizable. The I.O.A. treated him as an alien interloper on a mindless Jaffa Revenge Thing mission. This is actually fair enough given that his canon character had been totally re-written for the episode, making him turn on his team mates and, in the final showdown, fight like a girl! Teyla would've made a better job of wupping the Cockney (huh???!) bad guy's ass. Teal'c is a centenarian warrior leader who's proved his loyalty to the Tau'ri time and time again over the past ten years he's been a member of S.G.-1, not a wayward adolescent, FCOL.

In the latter episode, T.W.I.C. decided to reprise their favourite 'let's-kill-off-our-popular-C.M.O.-for-no-particular-reason-but-just-because-we-can' motif. They also reprised their bomb-in-the-chest motif from Singularity to do it.

Come to think of it, Teal'c used the same bomb-in-the-chest motif to kill an enemy in Talion, too...


Bolting the Stable Door
~ or ~
Some Rules of Science Fiction

(for scriptwriters, television producers and directors)

1. Know your audience.

You may think that the 'typical science fiction fan' is a fourteen year old nerd called Kevin who likes space battles and fancy computer graphics, and that the favourite science fiction demographic consists of males aged 18-35. If that's the audience you're aiming at, you're missing out a large section of the fandom.

If science fiction conventions are anything to go by, female fans outnumber the 18-35 male fans by at least two to one. They have the commitment to turn up to convention after convention, and the surplus income to spend, not only on the convention fees, but on merchandising as well. Like the males, they are also represented in every age range from under ten to sixty-plus.

The 'Space Age' began nearly fifty years ago with the launch of Sputnik 1 on the 4th October, 1957. Science fiction is usually several steps ahead of science fact. So are its fans. They also take an interest in the sciences and are pretty well clued up, so don't try to fool them with pseudo-science. They just find it patronizing.

We are now in the 21st century. Females are no longer dumb bimbos, there for the dual purposes of serving the pleasure of the lead male star and providing 'eye candy' for the 18-35 male demographic. Get over it! Do not, under any circumstances, show a highly intelligent, mature, professional woman as a scruffy, weepy, dithering and incompetent groupie who's fixated on her leading man - at least, not if you don't want your balls frying in batter, and yes I am referring to Slept-her-way-to-her-latest-promotion Lt. Col. Samantha Carter here. I love the character which is why I loathe the hatchet job that's been done on her.

Yes, for some females, there's a window in their teens (around 15-17 years) where they may enjoy the occasional romantic dalliance. Thereafter, they will realize that these, along with all the space battles, fancy computer graphics, and running-up-and-down-corridors [TM], are just fillers used by lazy and/or incompetent writers who can't be bothered to put in the effort to write a full-length plot.

2. Cherish your characters.

Yes, a good plot is important, but not as important as your characters. These shouldn't be merely two-dimensional cartoon people whose sole purpose is something to peg the plot on. If your audience isn't interested in your characters - doesn't care about them - then their interest in your work will soon dwindle and, if they continue watching, it will simply be as a stop-gap until something better comes along. Then they're gone.

Character development: Everyone changes with the passage of time, and this should be reflected in your show's characters. The ones we see today should not be the same as they were three years ago, but should reflect both the passage of time and their experiences.

Building a three-dimensional character is best done with deft brushstrokes here and there that drop tantalizing hints, not in large explanatory chunks of episodes devoted to a character's backstory. That is a sterile tactic which leaves nothing for the audience to do. Make them wonder; make them ask questions; make them use their imagination. Hints at a life outside what is seen on the screen give depth to a character - adds that essential third dimension.

It doesn't matter if the audience's speculations are wrong. That happens all the time in real life; we don't know everything there is to know about those around us, and are constantly surprised when we find out something we didn't know about them - like Fred Bloggs next door has a species of dinosaur named after him. It makes life so much more interesting.

A good example of how to bring a character to life occurs in Stargate. Daniel asks, "Don't you have people who care about you? Do you have a family?" to which O'Neil responds, "I had a family."

Now, as this was a movie, a one-off, we had already been shown the tragedy behind those four words, but in an episodic series - and where the loss of his son was not known - it would show very clearly that the character had a life before the show began - that he exists beyond the reach of the camera lens.

The import is one of great sorrow, tinged with bitterness, which elicits both interest and sympathy from the audience; we have begun to care about the character. And all it took was four little words.

Character consistency: Your characters' core values and abilities - what makes them what they are, and what makes the audience love them - should not change, however. For instance, a character noted for protecting his fellow team members at all costs should not suddenly become reckless of their safety without a very good reason, and a mature and capable officer of smart appearance should not regress into an untidy adolescence which interferes with her ability to do her job. Yes, I'm referring to poor Samantha Carter again. ::sigh::

Please note that it is extremely irritating to the audience when characters act out-of-character. The demands of the plot are not good reasons for doing this. If you must do it, you had better provide a rational and plausible explanation for it. If, for instance, your engineer reveals a hitherto undisclosed knowledge of the medicinal values of plants necessitated by the plot, a line of explanation should be given such as, "My grandmother was a herbalist." That's all it takes. We accept it and move on.

3. Avoid 'relationships.'

This is a bit of a Barnumesque conundrum, but with a little care, you can please most of the people most of the time. Your audience is comprised of four principal groups: 'gen.' fans, ''shippers,' 'slashers' and 'noromos.'

—>......The largest group is probably the 'gen.,' or general fans. These have no particular interest in any specific relationship. They do not mind the occasional romantic liaison with a guest star so long as it doesn't become a standard ploy to pad out a weak plot.

They would very much prefer not to see any two of the principal characters romantically involved, as the show then ceases to be science fiction and becomes a soap opera. If they wanted that sort of thing, they would be fans of Harlequin/Mills & Boon nonsense, not science fiction. Basically, they just want a rattling good yarn involving characters they respect.

—>......''Shippers,' or 'relationshippers' tend to be young single women who visualize themselves in the role of the leading female character. They want to see romance - with hugs and kisses - between their on-screen surrogate and one of the leading male characters, regardless of a lack of romantic chemistry between the two, or how unlikely this would be in The Real World. Resist the temptation to give in to the demands of this exceptionally vocal group.

—>......'Slashers' tend to be gay fans and older married women. I know. It's bizarre, but there you are. They like to imagine - but not necessarily see on screen - a romantic/erotic relationship between two of the leading male characters (or female characters for 'fem-slashers.') They also tend to have plenty of spare cash and a willingness to spend it on your merchandising, so however homophobic you may be, suck it up and deal, or it will hit your bottom line. In a manner of speaking...

—>......'Noromos' - an abbreviation of 'no romance at all, thank you very much' - do not want to see any romantic interaction involving any of the leading characters, full stop, period. Ever! They are so not Harlequin/Mills & Boon fans.

So how do you manage to avoid alienating at least one group of your fandom? Easy. In a single word, Friendship. All groups will be happy to settle for a strong, mutual and inclusive bond of friendship between all the major characters, such that they will move heaven and earth to protect each other.

Hugs are fine. They are to be encouraged in fact, providing that they are quick hugs of encouragement in a tight spot, or consolation when things go wrong. A solid bear-hug when things go spectacularly well is also acceptable; romantic clinches with one person's head on the other's shoulder are not.

If you can manage to insinuate a few lines of heterosexual or homo-erotic sub-text, so much the better. The 'shippers and slashers will adore you for it and the gen. fans and noromos will be able to ignore it.

If you can avoid showing any particular pairing 'in yer face' on screen, most of the fans will love you for your forbearance. They are more than capable of reading between the lines and filling in the off-screen blanks in their fan fiction. A word to the wise. Whatever you may feel about fan fiction, do not discourage it. It is the cement that holds your fandom together.

Does this emphasis on Friendship mean your audience wants everything to be sweetness and light with nothing to disturb? No way. Friendship does not preclude acrimonious arguments between your characters, even to the extent of knock-down, drag-out fights. But, where bad feeling has been generated, this must be resolved within the next three episodes or by the end of an 'arc,' and harmony and camaraderie restored.

Tension is great, but not if it drags on too long or remains unresolved. That just leaves a bad taste in the mouth that will alienate at least a part of your audience.

4. Do some research.

You can only reverse the polarity so many times - like once, and it's already been done. To death! So take out subscriptions to scientific journals and find out what's going on in various scientific fields. Once you know what people at the cutting edge of science are working on and worrying about, you can extrapolate this into exciting and futuristic stories.

Research should also extend the setting of your show. If you are going to have a character state, quite categorically, that the town near which your show is set has no zoo, make sure that this is the case, or you will have fans on the other side of the world leaping up and down in indignation.

It does not make this any better to pass the snide comment that the character is so focused on her work that she could drive past said zoo to and from work for eight years and not notice it. It's demeaning to suggest that she's not only unobservant but also not competent enough to drive and read road signs. Yes, Sam Carter. Again...

In conclusion, fans of your show probably do know more about it than you do, but they don't want this confirming. You're getting paid for your writing so you might at least try to look professional!

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