What Came Before

The Ideal Bookshelf, Based on an original painting by Jane Mount.

The Ideal Bookshelf, based on an original painting by Jane Mount.

For the last month or so I’ve been helping out a friend with a sci-fi story he’s been working on, but never really done much with. I’d heard him talk about it multiple times, saying he had all his characters and a complete outline. But although he was more than happy to talk about it – he seemed a little hesitant whenever I prodded him to actually write it.

He’d wax lyrical about his ideas. The time, the place, the conflict. And to be honest it sounded really interesting, I’m a sucker for science fiction anyway and while his plot touched on a few common tropes, it had plenty that made it sound exciting. So when he asked if I could look over what he had, I said sure.

He had a lot more than I thought he would – about 12,000 words or there abouts, which was great – but it seemed more like an outline than an actual story. All the characters and conflicts he’d spoken about where there, but as I looked over the document one thing became startlingly clear…

The guy didn’t read.

His tone was passive and unsure about whether it was past or present. The dialogue was clunky and unnatural sounding. None of his characters were sure whether they were the main one or not (and so none of them were). He bounced around between cast members like the POV was inside a pinball machine. He went from the fall of the human race and a universal road trip to a battle on an alien world in five chapters.

“You stuff is cool, I mean it’s a rough draft and it needs work but mate, you need to read,” I told him later that night.

“Nah, I don’t read,” he said with a laugh.

We were on voice chat so throwing things at him would have been little help. He was across the Atlantic, and my aim isn’t all that good anyway.

I left comments in the .doc about him at least glancing through the wiki articles on Asimov and Phillip K. Dick (his plot touches on AI involvement in brining up human children); I don’t know if he’s taken the advice or not.

“I’m not even sure if it’s a novel to be honest,” he said in his defence. “I think I’d like it to be a video game, or maybe a comic?”

And that’s fine – either of those might suit the narrative. But it doesn’t negate the point I felt so strongly about. You can’t write a decent story in a genre you don’t understand the history of. How can you expect to give an interesting perspective on something when you don’t know what’s already out there? Clichés have a bad rep for a reason – and your target audience will happily tear you to pieces over your ignorance of them.

Perhaps I’ve just become a touch elitist as I’ve gotten older. But I just don’t see how someone can expect their work to have substance without at least a passing knowledge of what has come before it. Understanding the way science and technology (and the human perception of them) has evolved over time seems so intrinsic to me; I can’t help but feel frustrated at the idea of someone shrugging them off and writing blind – though I’m sure people do.

I’m still helping out my friend with his story and I know it’ll turn out great in the end, but I’m still going to nag him to read more.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

This post was inspired by Roshen Dalal and her blog post titled “To be a writer, one must be a reader” as part of today’s Blogging101 challenge! It’s a great post full of good recommendations with a little something for everyone, make sure to check it out!

13 thoughts on “What Came Before

  1. I liked this post. It nice to see you’re trying to get your friend to read. Reading is awesome! I recently started doing bed time stories with my little girl and its so much fun! realistically speaking, its just a bunch of poems with pictures but I love reading them to her and she loves flicking through them and looking at the pictures. I cant wait until she’s old enough to handle a chapter of a book before bed. I’m looking forward to introducing her to Harry Potter lol!
    I really like your header, did you design it yourself?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Reading is awesome! There’s nothing more bizarre than listening to a person exclaim that they ‘don’t like it’. And that sounds wonderful, what you’re doing for your daughter. You’ll have so many amazing worlds to help her discover!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I know! The last book I read wa a few months ago now but it was harder lee, to kill a mockingbird bird, it was soo good! I couldn’t put it down!
        The stories for my little one are reall good, even though they’re only short they have everything in them that a story needs to be interesting. I always enjoy the illustrations too lol

        Liked by 1 person

  2. really interesting post, tbh I can not belive people do not read. I always read and I mean always, it is just bizarre for me that ypu would write without reading, it is like a chef who doesn’t eat!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Familiarity with the genre and reading are invaluable to improving as a writer, for sure. Something I feel people think less about is how watching or playing can better your writing. TV shows and video games show you storytelling, character development, and dialog. Playing Borderlands has, honestly, helped me get a better feel for writing more natural sounding dialog. While I won’t say that TV and games are more helpful than books, they deserve some credit. At the very least, maybe your friend can learn through the media he consumes?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I absolutely agree with you. Both of us are gamers by trade as well, and I have no doubt that my love of RPGs like Mass Effect and Summoner have made me a better writer. And I’m pretty sure the route you describe is the one my friend is taking – his love of sci-fi comes from the media he enjoys rather than their written equivalents. And while it’s left him with some fantastic ideas, it hasn’t helped much when it comes to implementing them.

      I think a good balance of all these things is best in the end. (Also, now I want to play Borderlands again. There are just so many guns I haven’t tried yet!)


      • Your friend just needs to find the right book. With a genre as vast as sci-fi, I bet there’s something he’ll like. He’s lucky to have a friend like you who can help him improve as he attempts to grow as a writer.


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