Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lessons From the Pros: Ernest Cline

If anyone can be considered a 'Pro' after one sale, it is Ernest Cline. Cline worked for ten years on his first novel, READY PLAYER ONE, and it was, as they say, an instant classic. Here's what I learned along the way.

Cline wrote a dystopic story set in the future where everyone loses themselves in a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) that doubles as online school and digital economy. The game is OASIS, and before he died, the game's developer left instructions to award ownership of the game and its massive wealth and influence to whoever uncovers and solves a series of progressively difficult 80s-influence pop culture easter eggs. READY PLAYER ONE is a first novel, and it shows in places, but it is also a passionate love letter to our collective youth, specificially focused on pop culture from the 80s and 90s.
  1. It's a fiction writing cliche, but write what you know.
    Cline was enamored of all things 80s pop culture; video games (like Pac-Man and JOUST, which were played on big consoles in places like Aladdin's Castle in the Mall), music (Ladyhawke), movies (recreating a scene from War Games from memory and having to get every quote exactly correct), anime (big fighting robots!), and role playing games.

  2. Go ahead - wear your passion on your sleeve.
    Passion overcomes a multitude of evils. Check out these quotes from serious genre fiction authors:
    “A nerdgasm…imagine Dungeons and Dragons and an 80s video arcade made hot, sweet love, and their child was raised in Azeroth.”—John Scalzi, New York Times bestselling author of Old Man’s War
    “Completely fricking awesome...This book pleased every geeky bone in my geeky body.  I felt like it was written just for me.”—Patrick Rothfuss, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Wise Man’s Fear 
    The praise goes on in that vein for quite some time. The point is, if you're passionate for something, there is a very good chance someone else may be as passionate. Instead of setting that passion aside, mine it, exploit it, throw it carelessly on the floor and roll around in it while giggling like a maniac. You may find you're not alone in the rolling and the giggling. Use that shared passion to your advantage.

  3. Write your Big Idea right out of the gate.
    In Cline's case, he took ten years to hone and rewrite his idea, and there are places where the writing could use a little extra editing. And you know what? Nobody cared. His ideas were so big and his approach so audacious that people overlooked the little nits here and there and just settled in an went along with the ride. True, it's a calculated risk, but fortune favors the bold.

If you like science fiction and anything remotely related to the 80s, read this book. If you've never tried science fiction, read this book. USA Today called READY PLAYER ONE “Enchanting…Willy Wonka meets the Matrix. This novel undoubtedly qualifies Cline as the hottest geek on the planet right now. [But] you don't have to be a geek to get it.”

I finished this book in two days (two /work/ days). I immediately proclaimed it the best Sci-Fi book I've read in 20 years. Will Lavender wrote: “I was blown away by this book…A book of ideas, a potboiler, a game-within-a-novel, a serious science-fiction epic, a comic pop culture mash-up–call this novel what you will, but READY PLAYER ONE will defy every label you try to put on it. Here, finally, is this generation’s Neuromancer.”

I had a rollicking good time reading READY PLAYER ONE. Learning something more about the art and craft of writing was just icing on the cake.
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