I wanted to wait a few days to simmer on Charlie Stross’ ‘Why I barely read SF these days’ blog post. He makes some solid points as to it’s hard to write good science fiction and I encourage anyone who’s trying to create their own sci-fi universe to take note. That said, I wanted to respond to it because my first thought about his post was ‘Is it still okay to write sci-fi, if this is how people feel about it?’
I thought about that for a long time, and then something occurred to me that set my mind at ease. I’m passing it along in case you had the same question:
It’s okay if Charlie Stross doesn’t like my stories. I’m not writing them for him.
Let’s face it: Charlie Stross is an immensely talented author and writer, but he isn’t my ideal reader (see this blog post for more info on who an ‘ideal reader’ is). My idea readers are boys and girls ages 11-13, of various ethnic and economic backgrounds. I remember many happy hours at that age, discovering new worlds and ideas. When I started to write Mesh, I wanted to write a book that kids could enjoy in the same way.
Not everyone will enjoy Mesh, and that’s okay. I wouldn’t expect Mr. Stross to enjoy my reading, just like I wouldn’t expect a child to enjoy ‘The Laundry Files.’ As ambitious as it would be to say ‘I want to write a story for every sci-fi fan,’ that’s silly. That’s saying ‘I want to be the Budweiser of sci-fi’ and we can all imagine how bland a story that might be.
That isn’t to say that his advice isn’t useful for us. Stross gave me a great way to look at world-building in sci-fi and I plan to take it with me as I continue to edit Mesh: “Worldbuilding is like underwear: it needs to be there, but it shouldn’t be on display.” You may find gems of your own that help you develop your storytelling craft and I hope that you do.
Another gem to pass along is the idea behind the picture to the right (->): don’t write for yourself, unless you plan to be the only one that reads it. 99% of storytelling’s fun comes when your words translate into a picture in someone else’s head. Don’t rob yourself of that. Tell stories that others can relate to.
In closing, take Charlie Stross’ essay with as many grains of salt as you need, and then move on. Nobody gatekeeps your awesomeness, except you.