New writers can learn from The Martian

Posted by Yvonne Barlow on Monday, March 7, 2016
Let me begin by saying I don't enjoy science fiction. I have never yearned to read more sci-fi than I have ever tasted.
I read The Martian because I had to - it was a reluctant purchase for book group and I feared never getting beyond 20 pages. I hadn't seen the film and didn't care to, no matter that it was tagged as 'comedy'.
However, I have to say The Martian is brilliantly constructed and many new writers could take lessons from its author Andy Weir.
Throughout the read, I desperately needed to know if Mark Watney made it home. We are told little about him other he is a botanist and mechanical engineer. Later, we learn that he has parents in Chicago. Yet, with so little information, I cared. There is no information dump to tell us why he went to space, whether he had a girlfriend, what his hobbies were, his love of science, etc. And yet I, the reader, was so on board with the narrative that I read furiously fast to ensure Watney made it home. I wanted his quest to succeed. I cared.
Similarly with the other characters - ground crew and the other astronauts were given names and an occasional reference to a personal life, but we didn't need more. We were all on the same team, all dedicated to getting Watney home.
On the science front, the technological stream of chemistry, physics and electrical setbacks and successes were logical and concise. It didn't feel like the author was dazzling us in research. It was simply part of the tale.
The story moved fast, we understood the problem, knew what our reluctant hero had to overcome - although not all the setbacks that would befall him on the way.
A clean story, well told, by an author who trusted his readers with the minimum of background information. He likely had lengthy character sketches of Watney's likes and dislikes and they were revealed in the character's reactions - to setbacks, loneliness, seventies sitcoms. As a result, we grew to know Watney slowly. And even though he was the only human on a planet, we never grew bored with him.
So new writers learn from The Martian. Don't throw everything you've ever conceived about a character at us - as long as you know the character, you can paint him.


Tags: "the martian" "andy weir" "new writers" "information dump" 
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Yvonne Barlow Editor at Hookline Books - where book clubs and readers choose the novels that go to print.

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