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.
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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!