Top 10 Authors – Michael Crichton

When I started the top ten list I only had 9 authors picked out. I figured the tenth would be revealed long before I got to the final entry. The day before this entry went live I still didn’t know who I was going to pick. I had four in the running, but two were scriptwriters, so I figured they could be part of a new list. That left two novelists…

I’ve picked Michael Crichton because I think his stories are the closest to what mine might one day be. Michael Crichton immersed himself in the science of his stories and made sure they always sat true to what was known at the time, and he did it in an engaging and entertaining way. I’ll never forget learning about dinosaur DNA trapped inside mosquitoes in amber and a few years later seeing a movie based entirely on that discovery. I loved it.

Anything that makes science, and more specifically biological or environmental sciences, mainstream is wonderful in my opinion. If you can educate people without them even realising it as they join you in a fantastical journey in a novel, then I think you have something of which to be truly proud. I try, no doubt clumsily, to do it in my work.

Michael Crichton died in 2008. I think it is tragic that we won’t get to see his spin on all the new and amazing discoveries that are happening in the world of science today. I’m sure there would have been many more blockbusters that could have come out of the pages of the science journals.

I know a lot of people criticise writers who take content from ‘nature’ or ‘science’ and turn it into a story, but the fact is most people don’t read ‘nature’ and ‘science’, it is authors like Michael Crichton who translate these discoveries into a language the average person can understand. That is top ten worthy in my eyes.

Un-reality

I wanted to get a pasta maker. I eat a lot of pasta and I had seen the expensive machines on TV and they looked great, but I would have to eat about twenty years worth of pasta to justify the cost. Then suddenly the sales were on and it was reduced by 2/3rds of the price to make way for the new model. I got it, and for a month ate a lot of homemade pasta. Then I went back to the much easier store-bought variety. Then I wanted a Bokashi composter…

Even when we know we have been raised in a consumer society, and we know that historical purchases haven’t actually filled any gaps in our lives, many of us cannot resist the urge to acquire. It is hard to fight when around us consuming is encouraged on all levels. So it has struck me as odd that I can’t think of a single book where a character has been constantly purchasing crap.

The common factor in most books is that instead of filling their lives with more stuff (requiring, in turn, bigger houses with more storage) characters are chasing life. It might be love, survival, redemption, success, justice or any one of a million other life-changing things, but it is never a pasta maker.

Maybe when we write fiction we can drop the consumer glasses that have been fitted to our eyes at birth and we realise that all that meaningless junk is just junk. I wonder if we dropped our quest for consumables in real life we might turn our focus onto the bigger and more important things in life, like living? I think it is time to give it a try.

What to leave out?

I’m writing a fantasy story set in a desert. This has presented a number of problems; what do you build your houses out of when you have very little wood, where do you get water, what do you eat? I have spent a very long time working out the answers to these and many other questions. So how much of that does the reader need to know?

Obviously the first thing to consider is the length of the work. If it is a short story you probably don’t need to go into detail about the politics of the day and how the city is physically able to run if those things are not pertinent to the story. On the other hand, if you are writing a novel then you may want to sprinkle at least passing references to those things.

The story I’m writing is a novella, so I don’t want to over-burden the reader with proof that I’ve thought about how the world could work, but I also don’t want to bug the reader with them thinking what I’ve got happening isn’t possible in a desert. It is a fine balance to strike, and I’m pretty sure that what is enough for one reader will not be enough for another.

Perhaps in future, along with the map and the cast of characters that some fantasy novels are adding these days, you can have an appendix of how the world works? You could attach all your notes about the reed species used in the water filtration, the method of creating durable building materials and the political set up. Then again, maybe that stuff is best left in the bottom drawer?

NaNoWriMo 2016

Every November writers around the world take part in NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that you do 50,000 words in a month, or around 1,700 words a day. I have never stuck to a NaNo ever. This year is shaping up to be no different.

I don’t know what it is about NaNoWriMo that rubs the wrong way with me. I love a deadline, so you would think I would relish this, but for some reason it annoys me. Sure, there is probably a bit of jealousy that others can manage 50K in a month, but I think a big part of it is that I feel like NaNo’s only purpose is to get words on the page, and sometimes writing involves not putting words on a page.

Yes it is easier to edit words than blank-page write them, so you would think that having 50,000 of them would be a bonus, but I have heard too many stories of people rushing off in a direction they could feel was wrong for their story, however they were determined to push on so they could get their 50K for November. So come December they cut out 30K of what they had written. That is disheartening for anyone.

I am a big believer in going with your gut, and if it feels like the story is going in the wrong direction you can bet that it is. I think the best thing to do if you hit that feeling is stop and brainstorm. Think about where the story is going, think about where else it could go and think about where it might have gone wrong earlier. All these things take a bit of time and don’t necessarily get 1,700 word per day onto the page.

Then there is also the fact that in Australia November is always incredibly sociable. We get good weather after months of winter cold, and the build up to Christmas starts earlier and earlier each year. So I’m going to skip NaNoWriMo yet again and think about doing WriMoFoFo (write more for four weeks) in the New Year.

Good luck to all of you giving NaNo a go!