Am I writing for the 1960s/1970s audience?
My Science fiction novels tend to be stand-alone military science fiction novels, mostly having to do with an invasion. I asked for recommendations of a book in that genre and sub-genre and found that there were none as a stand-alone novel.
There are plenty of series, but no stand-alone.
Well, according to some of the people that I interact with on Twitter’s #WritingCommunity, it’s because that is a book for audiences with an “older” set of preferences. Specifically, it was suggested my target audience would be more a 1960s, maybe 1970s at best, audience.
Then, I got suggestions to read Heinlein, Herbert, Asimov, Dick, you know, those guys.
I read a lot from them, also from Bradbury, Clark, Anderson, Le Guin, Crichton, many others.
Then, of course, right on the heels of “Alien” (1979) and “Star Wars” (1977) there were many science fiction movies and TV shows, which I watched avidly.
So, I confess, I am very much influenced by all these. My style probably reflects that preference.
I love the attention to detail. The exquisite world-building involved in those works. The details on the aliens and their physiology and anatomy.
I remember when I first saw the movie “Alien”, it scared the daylights out of me. I, of course, got the book the very next week and read it in about two days.
I also remember asking myself, “OK, the face-hugger is a scary, scary, scaaaaary concept. But. Biologically, it makes little sense.”
Let me explain my twenty-something self. I figured that the idea was great. Here was this spider looking monster (by the way, I’m a little arachnophobic on top of it all, so you can see why I had to rationalize everything so that the nightmares were manageable), that attached itself to peoples faces, introduced a tube down their throat (Esophagus? Trachea? They never made clear which). It ventilated the victim, so it did not kill them outright, and planted an… embryo? Let’s go with embryo. Planted an embryo in the victim’s chest.
OK. Here goes my twenty-something self:
Well, that makes no sense at all. How does an organism that develop and evolved on another planet fit the human anatomy and physiology perfectly, so that it can go through the mouth, a hostile environment as any hamburger or stalk of celery can attest to, and plant anything inside the body? Where did it plant the embryo? In the stomach? What about the acids and peristaltic movements? In the lungs? What about the diminished breathing capacity? In the pericardiac area (not the pericardium itself because that’d be that for the victim)?
Of course, the reason none of those questions were relevant, was because it was a Science Fiction/Horror movie. Emphasis on Fiction and Horror.
It was a great device to shock people to have the alien egg/face-hugger first attack the victim, take possession of their body to use as an incubator, and then have the chest-burster… er… explode out of the victim.
The idea, very successfully executed, was to make it so shocking on so many levels that psychologically you’d be unable to look at the movie and make rational attempts to explain… well, anything at all. It was supposed to attack our senses and psyche from all sides. The alien had no eyes, the head was a monstrosity, literally, the subtle sexual messages were there too, which the director absolutely loved, so everything was designed to make sure we suspended our disbelief and rational thinking. There was an even more shocking alternative ending that Ridley Scott pitched at the studio, but since they threatened to fire him after hearing that version, he went with the story as we know it today.
Of course, later movies have explained away a lot of my questions, and they’ve even joined Predators and Aliens in both movies and games.
The reason for that walk down memory lane was to illustrate what I liked about the novels, TV shows, and movies of the era. I liked the intellectual exercises, thinking about them, how it all worked, and why.
I very much enjoyed the “Lucky Star” Asimov series, he wrote them under the pseudonym “Paul French”. I found the foreword especially fascinating, where Asimov explained the glaring errors in his stories because they were “hard science fiction” and were heavily based on the science of the time. There were many errors, or rather inaccuracies, because of the lack of understanding and hard data. He commented on the corrections he’d make based on the contemporary science understanding of the planets of the solar system.
On a much, much lighter note, lightsaber technology was another thing that kept me awake at night. A laser beam limited in length was a fantastic thought exercise. One which I spent many, many hours going over and talking with people in the physics department. Fortunately, they did not decide I needed phycological help but rather were intellectually curious enough to indulge my questions.
So, you see, I love what we call world-building. Going in and thinking about the explanation for the things I want in my novels.
Contragravity, transporter technology, faster than light travel, inertial dampeners, it is all fascinating.
Today’s audience, however, wants all of that implied. No lengthy explanations, just enough world-building to make the environment understandable for the reader. They want it as a frame for the story, but the drama, that’s what’s important nowadays.
Today’s audience, according to everything I’ve read and the courses I’ve taken, want ACTION.
Any and all current writing advice tells you that you must “grab your reader by the throat with the very first line.”
“I rushed in and the room was red with blood. Everywhere. Even the ceiling was red.”
That kind of first line.
I’m going to give the perfect antithesis of that line, but it is a very famous first line, quoted many times, by many different people:
“Call me Ishmael.”
That is a very famous first line. It’s from Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, written in 1851.
According to modern writing techniques, neither Moby-Dick nor The Hobbit, for that matter, would make it in today’s literary world.
My early novels were heavy on the older technique.
“It was cool under the trees.” Was the first line of one of my early novels.
The editor that looked at it said, in short, that it was a weak first line. No action at all and it even talked about the WHEATHER, today that’s a cardinal sin. According to him, it would be tough to come up with a worse first line. Three paragraphs later, my protagonist was in the fight for his life, but the editor told me that by that time it was too late. I’d have lost the reader by then.
Now, my first lines are much more aggressive. I work hard at keeping the action up, the tension palpable, etc.
The first line from the first novel I’m going to publish (hopefully in 2021) is a “soft” first line. Here are the first two sentences from the novel:
“All funerals are sad. Funerals with small white caskets are exceptionally sad.”
According to my editor, I can get away with this. She was still not satisfied, but she said it was good enough.
It may be sufficient to engage a modern audience enough for them to ask. I wonder what happened? And read on.
According to one of the people that read the book, I’d have killed it in the 70s. But it’s the 20s, so my 70s style might be hurting rather than helping.
I’m struggling to bring my writing into the 20s, I am.
I hope that the readers will give me a chance and read beyond the first couple of pages. I hope they enjoy what they find.
What do you think? Should a book open with a dynamite first line? Be addictive at first contact? Do you give a book a chance?
Let me know.
Thank you for reading and have a great day.