For my first Post: Review of Robert J. Sawyer’s Lecture on “Idea is King”

So I’ve made a blog, and a website, and I should probably get some actual blog content up here. Since this will be mainly a writing related blog, I will start with some great writing advice from Robert J Sawyer.

At Keycon I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Robert J. Sawyer about how to write a novel that will sell, and he said in no uncertain terms that the stories that will be remembered, are the ones that take a position on something and argue a point.

People may disagree with you, but they’ll talk about it, and every person you get talking about it is free publicity.

He gave a couple of examples; first, he didn’t name the author, but he referred to an author he met at a con who advocated the best way to get published it to write as much as you can and publish as much as you can. This author had published 100 books in the 20 years it took for Robert J. Sawyer to publish 20 books. *But*, this other author had 6 books still in print, while all 20 of Sawyer’s books are still in print, 20 years later. The difference was not necessarily quality of writing, but the fact that Sawyer’s books each had a theme and a position, whereas the other author’s was purely for entertainment.

His second example was the 2009 oscars. 3 sci fi movies made the short list; Star Trek, Avatar, and District 9. Only two of them were finalists – Avatar and District 9. Sawyer posits that the reason Star Trek didn’t make the finals was the fact that it was purely for entertainment, and made no controversial statement.

The difference is the way people talk about the story. If you ask someone what the new Star Trek movie was about, they’ll give you a plot synopsis. If you ask what District 9 was about, they’ll tell you it’s an allegory of racism and appartheid. They’ll tell you Avatar is about respecting the environment. And it doesn’t matter what side you fall on the arguments the movies make, they get people talking. The Star Trek movie didn’t do that.

When you make a point with your fiction, you get people talking, not just about the plot of your book, but about the issue itself. There will always be people who disagree with you, but that just means you’ve made your point well. (He mentioned getting an email from a reader who disagreed with one of his novel’s position, and he answered it wishing the reader “All the best in one day getting a soapbox as large as mine.”) By opening up dialogue about issues that everyone has an opinion on, people can discuss your book in ways that they can’t discuss a book that is written purely for entertainment.

Anyway, so says Robert J. Sawyer, and I personally agree.

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3 responses to “For my first Post: Review of Robert J. Sawyer’s Lecture on “Idea is King”

  1. Thanks for this. Have you read Sawyer’s WWW series yet? All three books (actually all of his books as I’m sure you know) explore interesting and I suppose to some controversial views about the way the world could be. I just completed Wonder (the first two books in the series about the internet gaining concsciousness are Wake and Watch) and I have to say it is my favourite book because it kept me thinking long after about the ideas presented not just because it was entertaining.

    • I have the first two books, but have not read them yet – the third was not in paperback yet at keycon, and I’m a bit anal about either getting them all in paperback or all in hardcover. My husband has just finished the first two, and enjoyed them, and it’s made him want to read more of his work. But this is exactly what he’s saying – get people talking about the ideas you’re presenting, and it’s free publicity.

      • Exactly. I’ll bet your husband can’t wait for you to finish the books too so he can discuss the ideas Sawyer raises. I’m waiting for my son to finish them for the very same reason and might actually buy them on audio books as well to hurry him along. : )

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