"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." - Walt Disney

Thursday, December 10, 2015

3 Lessons Every Writer Can Learn from The Martian

A year ago, most people had never heard of Andy Weir. Even if you you were a follower of his blog, or had purchased a copy of his self-published The Martian, you had no idea what lay ahead for him. Today, he is a New York Times bestselling author receiving royalties from his movie deal.

I truly enjoyed the book, and wasn't disappointed in the movie (something that frequently happens to book lovers - especially if story changes are made). After reading this story and watching several interviews with the author, I realized there are three basic lessons any writer can learn, or have reinforced for them, from Weir's work.

1) First lines are important - We are frequently told that opening scenes matter most. Their job is to lure the reader in, and force them to continue. Some authors have condensed this advice to "hook them with the first line." Weir does an excellent job of this... I'm pretty much fucked. Your feelings about use of language aside, the reader is immediately invested in this character and this story. They already want to know what went wrong, and if it's possible to fix the situation. Curious how some of the best books ever written have begun? Take a look at these 100 opening lines.

2) Write what you know - Weir's father was a physicist, his mother an electrical engineer, and his own admitted hobbies include space travel, orbital dynamics, astronomy, and the history of manned space flight. Even when you specialize in a field, or have completed hours of research, believeability is more important than reality. When you know your material like a pro, you can take liberties with the facts and readers will follow you anyway. See more here.

3) Characters are more important than plot -  Even people who don't particularly care for science fiction were able to enjoy this book because of the characters. The main character had a personality you couldn't help but enjoy. And the author spent time allowing a glimpse into the lives - emotions and relationships - of the minor characters as well. If your reader becomes invested in the characters, it doesn't matter if your plot has a small hole in it; if the details aren't all there. The readers won't be able to put the book down if they love the people inside the story.

Curious what Adam Savage and real-life astronauts thought of Weir's tale? Check out the panel discussion with the author below.

Did you read this book, see the movie, or learn anything interesting from either?


Rosaria Williams said...

What a neat story. Thanks for bringing it to us.

Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

That IS a great first line

Susan Kane said...

We did read the book and then listened to the audio book on the way to Salt Lake City. Then saw the movie.

Great lines, just as you quoted.

Tamara Narayan said...

I loved the book and thought the movie was excellent. It was so refreshing to here that a writer who put up chapters, invited feedback, and then self-published without much thought to a fancy cover made it so big. It gives the rest of us authors hope that a great story can triumph.