May 9th, 2012
The Voice had it’s finale tonight. It’s an example of the reality show that gives talented amateurs/young professionals a chance to be recognized and nurtured into stars. There’s a million of these on tv now, from American Idol to Top Chef to Work of Art. A couple of my favorites are directly genre-related: Scream Queens and Face Off.
We as a society don’t need these shows. And the record industry, the culinary world, the art community, special effects houses, and casting directors, don’t need shows like these to find talent. But these shows are a lot of fun and manage to create excitement and launch the careers of some talented people. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
Now, I’m the first to recognize that making a similar tv show for writers would likely be boring, even for avid readers who put down their books to turn on their televisions. It might work for screenplay writing, if the stories were dramatized, but that’s a hard sell, too, and would involve a lot more than writing.
The closest we in the science fiction community have are probably writing contests, with Writers of the Future probably being the most visible. Enough big name writers have been published by that contest that seeing the credit means something to me. It’s of course still possible to break through selling stories or novels to publishers directly and competing with established writers like they already compete with each other, but there’s often no extra launch to such a career that a reality show, or a well respected contest, can bring to a winner.
I attended the Clarion West workshop in 1994. There were 20 of us then, and we each wrote a story every week, and we got about four per day to read and critique. While it wasn’t set up as a competition, there was an energy associated with the stories from week to week. You saw some participants get better and better, some rise and fall, some take daring experiments, and over the weeks you figured out what people were about thematically and stylistically. It was almost like watching one of these reality shows, except we all got to win at the end.
Writing, like a lot of other professions, as much as some are loathe to admit it, is a competition. You have to beat out other writers for slots in magazines and with publishers. I like to think that a good enough story will always find a home somewhere, and that now with ebooks there’s always a home, but all writers compete for a reader’s limited time.
I don’t know if there’s a large enough audience, but I would get a huge kick out of a competition for new writers styled after one of these reality shows. We start with some number that is whittled down by votes and/or purchases of their weekly (or monthly) efforts. It could be funded by purchases of electronic versions of the stories, which could be sold based on a sample and a teaser. That would likely be a workable model for a non-profit like Clarion West that doesn’t have a lot of money to put up. Another possibility would be for a venue like Tor.com to develop and feature new writers, offering publication.
Every week would have a common theme and a word count limit (which could increase as the number in the competition dwindled). Robots one week, alternate history the next, then first contact stories.
I think it would be great fun!
I don’t have time or resources to make this happen, although I have an idea I might be able to get NASA or NSF money for this if I enforced themes in astronomy and hard science. Set stories on a particular exoplanet, in interplanetary, interstellar , or intergalactic space, illustration of conservation of angular momentum, themes/premises like that. NASA has been cutting back on money for innovative public outreach, but it could still happen.
I do actually have a NASA research proposal to work on, deadline looming at the end of next week, and I best return my focus there for now.
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