Here are ten things from the planet Mars that might apply to something you are writing, especially if it’s a serial novel.
Ray Bradbury’s writing is equal parts imaginative science fiction and poetic prose. He’s a favorite of mine but somehow I missed reading his short story compilation THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES until recently. It did not disappoint.
My favorite of the 28 short stories were THE SUMMER NIGHT and THE EARTH MEN.
I listened to the audiobook version read by Stephen Hoye. Hoye definitely reads in an emotive style that could be described as a titch over-the-top. But you know what, most of the time that kinda works for stories about Mars!
This list focuses on tips for writing serials or short story compilations in particular, though many of these apply to writing in any genre or form:
- PLOT: Each short story is part of a three-part ‘futuristic history’ sequence driven by two primary crises: the impending annihilation of Martians and the impending annihilation of Earthlings. Within each story, plot is handled superbly, with a self-contained story arc. Each story also advances the larger plot arc of the chronicles. A story within a story. It made me consider that some stories might be better told from this approach–particularly one of my own, THE SALT SHEEN PARADOX, which I am now converting to a serial with episodes. The first will be available beginning January 2015. So, thanks, Martian Chronicles!
- BEGINNING PAGES: The chronicles begin with a passage that is more prologue than story called THE ROCKET SUMMER, where “rocket summer” is a phrase repeated among members of a community. A trendy phrase is something we are all familiar with–something recognizable to which readers can relate before things get super strange. This prologue connects what was happening on earth to the upcoming tales of what was happening on Mars.
- MAIN CHARACTERS: Though the chronicles include many characters, each story episode focuses on one or two main characters and probably no more than a handful of relevant supporting characters. Also, the first Martian we meet is a woman, which regular readers of my blog know I tend to appreciate in stories–you know, the existence and hopefully full-development of female characters! Even though these are shorter stories, many of Bradbury’s women could have been developed even further, but the ratio of male and female main characters in THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES is pretty good, especially for something sci fi published in the 1950s.
- SUPPORTING CHARACTERS: I reflected most on those supporting characters who advance the plot in some way, such as members of the exploration team in THE SETTLERS, who made choices about how to respond to the rogue and philosophically-complex Jeff Spender. Their respective responses increase the story’s gravity and stakes.
- POINT OF VIEW: Bradbury’s third-person narration is strong because it describes not just action but the feelings, thoughts, and motivations of main and supporting characters.
- SETTING OR WORLD-BUILDING: This really took off with the second chronicle in the series, YLLA. The first paragraph describes the house of Mrs. and Mr. K, who are Martians. Typically, I’d be pretty bored taking a ‘house tour’ in the opening pages of a story. But this is a house tour on Mars, so of course I want to know about the golden fruit growing out of crystalline walls or how Mrs. K cleans using magnetic dust. It doesn’t go on very long, though, which is a great general take-away for writers.
- MOOD & PACING: The mood of these stories is a bit playful. Because stories of Mars can be so epic, I think Bradbury’s often casual and down-to-earth mood works really well throughout the chronicles. Contrasting with that, the pace is always clipping along and building toward an episode’s climax.
- ENDING: Purposefully being vague to avoid spoiling the ending, I will say that I loved the zinger which the last chronicle, THE MILLION-YEAR PICNIC, ends with. Bradbury uses a beautiful visual image involving reflections in water to powerfully hint at how a new sense of identity will shape the characters going forward. So while this ending is still wide open for more tales, the overall plot arc of the chronicles resolves beautifully at this point.
- LANGUAGE: I love poetic description mixed with more mundane language. In THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, poetic phrases are used more like a seasoning than a main course, so that it wonderfully surprises you and enriches the overall flavor without being distracting.
- QUIRK FACTOR: Quirkiness is pretty much default in a story about Martians, but what really sucked me in was how Bradbury’s description of Martians was completely different from my preconceived mental picture of what Martians look like, act like, and live like. I found this unique enough to want to keep reading this story about Martians.
So there you have it. Please add your two cents or consider picking up THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. It’s a really fun read!