Tag Archives: The Martian

The Martian – Every Writer’s Dream

The MartianWho wants their debut novel be that quintessential novel lauded by readers, swooped up by Hollywood and flocked to be seen by millions? We all do. And if not the first, make it the sixth. It’d be amazing to have millions as enthusiastic about a project as we’ve been. So for that, I tip my invisible hat to Andy Weir and his novel turned movie The Martian.

I enjoyed the novel even more than the movie only because I could immerse myself in the techno-babble. As a scientist, I am always wondering how things are made, how one would get out of a situation, what something means, how something be fixed. What made the technological realities of this story satisfying was that they were well researched and experts aren’t arguing over it. The TV series MacGyver was always one of my favorites because MacGuyver was a mild mannered secret agent who fought the bad guys by using the ordinary materials he found around him to make The Martian 3unorthodox weapons. MacGuyver’s ingenuity always amazed me. Step in Mark Watney who must “…science the s— out of this” and he becomes my MacGuyer of the space age. How would you grow a potato on Mars or make water? The technology and ingenuity in this story tells tell us that our dreams of living somewhere else in space are possible.

The movie did something that the book could not – it visually put me on Mars and it felt like a virtual reality experience. The cinematography was superb, the musical scores weren’t greedy, and the pacing was quick (it was a short 142 minutes!). The Martian was suspenseful, smartass, well acted, and eye-rolling touches like the disco music the commander left behind accent Mark Watney’s interminable and almost intolerable situation superbly.

We always knew how the story would end – Mark would survive and his team would come back, somehow, to rescue him. But the question was always ‘How?’ How would Mark survive? How would he find the air he needed? What would he eat? Find water? How would he overcome the disaster of the storm, when his efforts to obtain the basic necessities resulted in disasters? How could he even communicate he was alive?

It wasn’t just these questions, or Mark Watney’s MacGuyver attitude that made this movie entertaining. It was the talented cast who didn’t overact, whose banter and disagreements felt real. Matt Damon’s character was a scientist with a wry attitude who came close to a breakdown at one point. I especially enjoyed Donald Glover’s portrayal of Rich Purnell, an eccentric, socially awkward scientist who doesn’t know his director’s name. Or, Jessica Chastain’s portrayal of Melissa Lewis, Commander of the Ares 3 Mission, and her crew who faced the tough decisions like leaving a man behind, mutiny to save him and ingenuity to make the rescue mission work.

Matt Damon did an excellent job on the man vs nature, man vs himself, the pioneer aspects of the movie. The rest of the cast tackled the man vs the-cost-be-damned-because-it’s-the-right-thing-to-do, man vs the corporation, tossed in with difficult science, small windows of opportunity, vast distances, and slow communication with Mars. As writers we know we must make things more and more difficult for our characters. It’s in overcoming obstacles that the character and readers experience cathartic moments in our stories. And this story has those difficulties in in every aspect of the story. The hero’s troubles escalate and as time passes and stuff happens, they become critical. His support systems, his ship mates and NASA, face the impossible and after we’re told that the science won’t work, a failure to launch happens, the possibility of rescue becomes minute and the chances of failure increase. It’s daunting as is the spirit of those involved.

The Martian 2It’s where human spirit and ingenuity prevail where people not only do the right thing, but they do it despite the odds. Space may be the final frontier, but when go forth to make the dream a reality – we want to be Mark Watney – ingenious enough to survive despite the odds while our support systems do everything they can not to fail us. The Martian isn’t merely a movie about the first steps of colonizing Mars, it’s about hopes, the cost of dreams, survival at its most basic. It’s about the pioneering spirit and about us taking the first steps to know if we’re alone I the universe. It brings our beloved space operas closer to reality, makes science fiction feel a little more real.

As a space opera fan and as someone who yearns to travel across the universe, The Martian fuels my love of space stories and makes the dream of space travel and colonization feel one step closer. And, as a writer, Andy Weir’s accomplishment reassures us that the dream of an outstanding debut novel is possible. I thank him for his vision and his execution of that vision and I thank him for a most entertaining story.

Memorable Characters – Who Do You Like?

No matter the genre or the plot, every story needs memorable characters. Characters areThe Martian the reason readers keep coming back to a particular story or a series. Characters sell books and movies. A current example is The Martian. In this story, Andrew Watney struggles to survive (man versus nature) after he is presumed dead while others struggle to save him. He is quintessentially smart, stubborn, witty, yet emotional. We like him, we cheer for him.

What traits do characters need to be memorable?

We’ve all been schooled in what makes a character great, and numerous books and blogs have been written on how to develop character. Character development includes backstory, key external qualities (appearance, clothing, etc), value systems and life philosophy, habits, opinions, and flaws.  Once all this work is done, the question remains: Is the character you’ve created memorable?

What makes a character memorable?

Is it a quintessential trait? I’ve read many thriller series and cozy mysteries where I felt Agathathat the characters weren’t very deep or complex. Some are very Stuart Woodssuperficial. Yet, they are exceedingly popular. Why? Because the author focused on quintessential traits. Every time I pick up one of those books, I know who to expect and what to expect. Sometimes these character are endearing, sometimes frustrating but always, they are consistent in their quirks, their approach to life, their heroics, their dedication, and in their flaws.

Perhaps it’s the world that makes a character memorable.

That world maybe the present. People coping with hardships that we can relate to or Tanya Huffunderstand in our society makes it easy for readers to engage with. Here, characters find themselves in worlds which blend the fantastic with the present, like in the superhero and urban fantasy genres. Other readers need to have those dramas played out on other worlds in fantastic settings. In Harry Potterthese science fiction or fantasy worlds, readers become explorers and how key characters function in these worlds grabs the imagination and makes the entire milieu memorable. The Martian, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings, and Tanya Huff’s latest series Peacekeeper, are examples of this.

Or, are characters made memorable because of who we are at the time we experience a character in book, theatre, or film?

Which character we resonate with may be determined by: our life stage (child, teen or parent, senior), our personal fears about the present or future, current world politics, 220px-Silence3personal hardships, or our fascination with the future or imagined worlds. Thus, our personal psychology and needs determine what we engage with and what satisfies our entertainment need at any given time. There are times when I want a comedy, mystery, or fantasy world to escape into and not a horror story where people are hurting others, no matter how engaging or memorable that story and its characters may be. There are adults who refuse to read a young adult or middle grade book, no matter how popular the characters are. Others will read only literary genre dramas because they can’t fathom the characters created in any fantasy.

Nancy DrewFor some of us, the greatest impact a character can have is when we experience him in our childhood and teen years. Harry Potter is the quintessential wizard for many, while Merlin is for others. For me, Nancy Drew and her ability to solve mysteries grabbed my imagination when I was eleven and I’ve loved mysteries ever since. It is debatable if she’s a well-written character or not, but for an eleven year old, she is certainly memorable for her sleuthing and heroics. 

Because of all these factors, different characters resonate with us. Memorable characters aren’t necessarily the protagonist, for they can also be a secondary character, a villain, or a minor character,

This month, join us and our guests as we explore memorable characters from movies, books, and comics. Many of these characters have inspired us to create our own memorable characters and hopefully, our inspirations will inspire you.