This morning I finished listening to the audiobook of The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey. I started listening to it after having seen the trailer for the movie. I wasn’t aware of the book until then. How did I miss it? There are a great many books published each year. The cover didn’t communicate anything to me in particular about the book. After having read the book, the cover makes some sense. It works well online and has a creepy factor that’s good. It’s iconic and recognizable, so much so that the publisher has used it as a sticker on other books. This morning I thought about why I liked the book. I narrowed it down to one key element. It has kick.
Stories With Kick
What do I mean by a story with kick? I’m looking at stories with impact. Stories in which the author didn’t flinch. They showed something, wrote something that doesn’t duck the consequences in favor of an easy or comfortable answer.
Example: A massive planet-killing asteroid hurtles on a collision path with Earth. It’s really moving. An interstellar body propelled across the galaxy, one pellet of a supernova explosion millions of years ago, it’s trajectory puts it on a head-on collision with Earth. Both objects are bound to intersect at the same space-time point. It’s not just going to wipe out our civilization—it’ll turn the Earth into a dusty ring of debris around the sun and cause the Moon to go into a looping trajectory through the system until it crashes into Jupiter in fifty years. Without a significant presence in space, humanity has few options and less time.
Except then a hastily cobbled together mission actually manages to get to the oncoming planet-killer, triggers the alien device kept at Rosewell, and successfully deflects and slows the trajectory to cause the planet-killer to become a second moon orbiting Earth at a safe, but accessible distance, which gives us access to all of the resources it provides. With renewed enthusiasm for space exploration and colonization, the event becomes a watershed moment for humanity.
If this scenario happened in reality, the planet (and humanity) wouldn’t survive. The concept might make an interesting story, with fun characters, and a positive ending. Nothing wrong with it. But it’s a case of the author flinching because it’s so implausible. A mission getting launched. The alien device. Obtaining a stable orbit without causing planetary seismic destruction. Failing to address the potential political and economic squabbles around the new moon. It’s the easy answer.
Stories might have kick in other senses. Emotional impact. Complex, challenging situations that cause the reader to question assumptions. Topics considered taboo or off-limits.
A story with kick is remembered. It stirs the reader’s emotions. Others might be entertaining, but ultimately not much other than that. I have nothing against entertaining. That’d be great. Certainly better than a story that doesn’t stir any emotions.
It’d be really great to write entertaining stories that pack an emotional wallop. Stories with kick!
This blog post by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.