Originally, I had planned to post a joke review today. This was because I’d just learnt about an infamous novella from the 1970s called “The Eye Of Argon” by Jim Theis. It is a story that is so badly-written that there’s apparently a party game where people read it aloud and try to see how long they can go without laughing.
Having failed to keep a straight face whilst reading it (the funniest line has to be “By the surly beard of Mrifk, Grignr kneels to no man!”), I had planned to write a silly review (in the style of my “3D Pinball Space Cadet” review). But, then, I happened to read a bit more about the history of the story.
In particular, the fact that the author wrote and self-published it at about the age of sixteen. Looking at it from this perspective, the story just looked like “the kind of thing that every writer has written when they were a teenager” and I suddenly found that I couldn’t bring myself to ridicule it mercilessly in the way I’d planned.
After all, over-descriptive prose, gratuitously gruesome melodrama, two-dimensional characters, unintentional humour, terrible continuity etc… were all things that had turned up in my own attempts at writing fiction when I was younger. And, yes, I’ll include an example of this at the end of the article.
So, instead, I thought that I’d write about the terrible (but usually unpublished) first “novel” that pretty much all writers (practicing or non-practicing) have written during their teenage years.
This is pretty much a rite of passage for anyone who considers, or has considered, themselves to be a writer. It is a moment when a person tells themselves that they’re going to write a novel and actually follows through on that statement (even if it usually ends up being far shorter than the 50,000 words widely considered to be the minimum length for a novel).
These novels are, just like “The Eye Of Argon”, almost always hilariously terrible. But, they’re important for several reasons. The first is simply that they usually get written because someone has read a lot at a young age and wants to follow in the footsteps of their favourite authors. It is a testament to the power that creative works have to inspire people.
The second is that, without writing a terrible first novel, no-one can write a “slightly better short story” or a “slightly less terrible second novel“. In other words, as well as being valuable practice, actually finishing the terrible first novel gives novice writers the confidence to keep writing. It is the thing that tells people that they can write novels.
Thirdly, in the traditional fashion, these novels are usually original stories. If you grew up in the age before fan fiction was a well-known thing, then your terrible first novel will probably be an original story that has been inspired by things that you think are “cool”. In other words, it is good practice at taking inspiration properly and experiencing the joy that comes from creating your own stories. These are all things that are essential to any creative person.
Finally, reading one of these stories can be a great exercise for the imagination. Kind of like how the pixellated graphics of old computer games forced players to use their imaginations more, deciphering terribly-written prose forces you to do a lot more imaginative work. It forces you to try to reconstruct the good story that the inexperienced author was imagining during their clumsy early attempts at writing. This can, ironically, make a badly-written early story seem more “epic” than a well-written story.
Anyway, as promised, here’s an extract from my own terrible first “novel”. It was a handwritten sci-fi/horror/thriller story called “Galacticon” that I wrote during my early teenage years. It was a story about three spacefaring warriors (Anna, Dale and Jim) who end up shipwrecked on an abandoned space station filled with zombies and monsters.
My main inspirations were probably various computer games, S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” novelisations, whatever second-hand splatterpunk novels I could find in charity shops at the time and probably a novel based on the “Alien” films. It took up 104 A5-size pages and I even made a cover for the notebook that I wrote it in:
And, without any further ado, here’s the extract (with as many of the original punctuation errors as I could stand to include). I just hope that Garth Marenghi doesn’t get too jealous…
“Galacticon” (circa. 2001-2) By C. A. Brown – An extract:
The egg turned green, then the creature leapt out, it was a
minature smaller version of the “serpent” they had seen.
Anna grasped the grenade launcher, the others stepped forwards.
“Leave it to me, snakes are my speciality!” Joked Anna, as she stepped towards the menacing creature.
It let out a quiet hissing sound before lunging for Anna. Anna darted to the side and squeezed the trigger, the grenade flew into the snake, there was an explosion. The serpent screamed in pain.
Anna aimed at the creature’s mouth and fired, hoping that the same thing that crippled the other serpent would do the same.
The serpent’s tongue lashed out and knocked the grenade shell to the side, it exploded, throwing shards of glass (from the tube which it came from) at the serpent, blue blood oozed out of the creature’s chest, yet it was still alive!
Suddenly, the snake’s belly was expanding, a hole popped in the side of it’s belly a small flow of slithering vipers, it’s stomach was still expanding.
“RUN!” Shouted Anna, they all charged away.
Entrails splattered the walls. Jim looked behind them, there was a huge green tide of snakes following them.
They charged forwards, then they stopped, there was a huge metal door in front of them.
“Oh shit! It’s locked” shouted Dale as the green hissing torrent of snakes got closer….
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting, or amusing, or both 🙂