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What I learned about writing from Jurassic Park

Dinosaurs have eaten my brain!  Every time a Jurassic Park movie comes out, I just get sucked even more into the dinosaur world.  I really should have become a paleontologist…  On November 27th the Jurassic World trailer, the 4th installment of the Jurassic Park series, was released.  If you haven’t seen it, click here.  Please don’t come at me with all of the inaccuracies.  I have already seen them, vented on a paleontology blog, and left it go in anticipation for the June 2015 film release.  I am a diehard JP fan after all.

Cloned Dinosaurs: the perfect muse (c) Sarah_Ackerman

Cloned Dinosaurs: the perfect muse (c) Sarah_Ackerman

Coincidently, on the day that the Jurassic World trailer released, at The Sarcastic Muse, we posted about books we are thankful for.  I was told – at the threat of having my “experiments” set free – that there was a 2 book limit.  Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton was sadly cut from the list.

Therefore today, I am saying poo-poo to the other muses and dedicating this ENTIRE post to the wonderment that is Jurassic Park and the epiphanies I had whilst reading it…

I can remember the first time I held the book like it was yesterday (cue wavy visuals for a flashback scene):   I was a wee lass entering my middle school’s library for the first time.  The scent of old books was pungent on the air while the sounds of harps gleefully filled my ears, this place was my equivalent to heaven.  Expansive collections of books lined the room from floor to ceiling.  The card catalog towered in the center of the room, begging to be rifled through.  While the rest of my classmates shuffled about, not quite sure what to make of this treasure room, a white paperback with the silhouette of a Tyrannosaurs Rex paperback caught my eye.  I couldn’t believe what I had just seen —  Jurassic Park was a book?!?!  A few months prior I had just seen the thrilling movie of the same title on the big screen.  Lo and behold, here it sat before me in written form.  In my 10 years of life I was never more stunned with happiness: someone turned that beautiful movie into a book!

I was so naive back then.

Needless to say, I scooped up the text and devoured it in two evenings.  Once finished it, I sweet talked my parents into procuring a copy for my collection.  They were hesitant to allow a girl of such an innocent age read a gruesome book filled with dinosaur feasting carnage, but they really had nothing to fear.  I turned out somewhat right in the head…

After I got over the initial shock of realizing the book existed BEFORE the horribly inaccurate movie (velociraptors are in reality the size of a large chicken!), I continued to re-read the book and have done so every six months since my eyes first graced the story’s pages.  You may call me obsessed… and you may be right… but my obsession is so much more than that.  It is a paradox.  My absolute favorite book in existence is horribly flawed!

Epiphany #1: Make the Imagination Reality

I have so much useless dinosaur facts crammed in my noggin’ that unless you are a fellow paleo-nut, you most likely don’t care. Reading Jurassic Park opened my eyes to the creative liberties that authors can take with their writing.  Crichton made a lot of errors with the dinosaurs and the science of the cloning.  If you look at his story with a scientific eye, the whole story is preposterous and almost impossible to finish.  However, if you turn that scientific mind off, you fall into a brilliant world of genetic magic filled with horrific monsters that want nothing more than to feast on your flesh.  It is really a fantastical story that broke the mold of Sci-fi / Fantasy / Horror stories of the 1990’s.  Crichton took those fiction genres to a new level  with Jurassic Park, despite being factually incorrect in almost everything.  In the realm of fiction, an author can do almost anything – as long as they make the story believable (and can quiet the fact-checkers).  Crichton accomplished this.  Jurassic Park is a completely believable work of fiction.

Epiphany #2: Flaws will happen

The flaws in the 1st edition of Jurassic Park are abundant.  There is not a chapter that survived my rebellious teenage years of correcting errors with a red pen in my copy of the book.  The typos, grammatical issues, and even a character mixups (Genaro hands himself a grenade to instead of to Muldoon) are evident within the pages.  At first I was a little disgusted that something could be published with so many problems, but then I realized the severity of my criticism.  There is nothing in this world that is perfect.  And Crichton wrote one hell of a story.  All of the flaws, while many, were honestly minor in comparison to the entirety and magnitude of the novel.  Minimal flaws are acceptable to readers as long as the plot and characters are strong.

(If you have major flaws and a weak piece of fiction… then that’s another story and you should probably get some help to rework your story before publishing.)

Epiphany #3: Carnage and Memory

Jurassic Park paved my road with blood.  The macabre, I have been intrigued with that my whole life, but not so much with the gore.  Crichton’s book was the first “gory” book that I had read… once I got my hands on King at the age of 12, it was all downhill from there, but that’s another story.  Crichton’s descriptions of the dinosaurs hunting, killing, and eating is mesmerizing. He accomplished “show, don’t tell” with all of his action scenes.  Every little sentence seems to be planned out on how to evoke the strongest emotion of fear or thrill out of the reader.

There is one scene that stands out to me because of the language of the prose and the emotions that flare from reading it.   The scene is when Tim slides the baby Raptor over to the group of adults.  As the reader, you think that the adults will be lovingly distracted by the little cutie… but no!  They freaking EAT HER!  Crichton’s depiction of the “baby raptor happy meal” was so visual that his words burned like a film into my memory, and I can recite the scene almost word for word.  The scene was rather poetic, down to the little tiny blood splatters that paint the floor when the two adults play tug of war with the baby, pulling both of her legs in opposite directions…

Oops, sorry, this is The Sarcastic Muse blog and not my personal horror blog!  I will refrain from anymore gore (and spoilers).  I should probably wrap up this post before I face the wrath of Robyn and Michelle for getting Chris all riled up over scary stuff.  He and I are cut from the same cloth.  It is never good when the two of us are on a horror tangent at the same time…

If you are a writer and a fellow JP-nut, you must read the book.  If you are not a JP-nut, read it anyways.  And read it twice:  First time for fun and the second time with a critical writer’s eye.  Then sit back and contemplate on how the two reads affect you.  Do you have the same conclusions as I have?  Or do you have something entirely different?

What are your feelings on “creative liberties”?

Are you able to look past flaws (typos, grammatical errors, etc.) in a story if the plot and characters are compelling?

Do you have any books that you have read that have affected you in this way?

18 thoughts on “What I learned about writing from Jurassic Park

  1. I am generally OK with authors stretching the truth. Part of me just lets it go and part of me says “hey, we don’t really know everything yet” but the harder the science, the harder it is for me to let go. Cloning seems relatively new, at least dating back to the book’s publication. Gravity, on the other hand is pretty well understood so mess with gravity with care. I liked the The Matarese Circle so much that I’m not sure I want to see the movie if they ever do get it out the door, still, it was supposed to star Denzel Washington, so maybe. I was terribly let down by the movie version of The Firm. Having worked in a Big-8 accounting firm, I could almost see the things going on in the book happening, but I thought the movie was a poor job. My problem is that if I read the book (and like it) and then see the movie (and it stinks) the images from the movie tend to mess up my attempts to reread the book. Nice post. I haven’t ever read Jurassic Park, so maybe…

    • As I mature, I have become okay with it too. When I was younger and thought I knew everything, I was such a hard head about realism in fiction. What a brat I was!

      I have heard of a lot of scientists who have said that they get their inspiration from fiction. Find that rather cool how literature that was boiled up in someone’s imagination could someday pave the way on how to clone extinct animals… though we really should take a lesson from Crichton’s work.

      My sentiments are the same, Dan. I always fear watching a movie that is based off a book. If there is a book-based movie that I want to see, I have to read the book first. I don’t want the movie to distort the book if I would read it afterwards (like with what happened to me with JP).

      Definitely read Jurassic Park and The Lost World. The movies of both lightly glean from the literature. There is so much in both books that never made it to the big screen.

      • For some reason, the book-to-movie issue has never bothered me. It doesn’t matter which I read first; the one doesn’t taint the other for me. I think it’s because I expect the experience of reading a book to *ever* be like the experience of watching a film, so know that things will probably have to be changed or deleted from one form to the other. It may also be that I consider the two equal as art forms. So each version is its own form of art; it’s obligation is to be good, not to be like the other.

  2. I consider realism in fiction overrated, especially technical realism. Judged by realistic standards, a lot of great fiction (Frankenstein?) should never have been written. The emotional realism and engagement matter to me so much more, along with the ability of the work to engage me and have me leave the book with a deeper sense of the world than I had when I picked it up. I sum up what I look for in what I read and what I write in three rules: First, do no harm. Second, be compelling. Third, alter, even if only for a moment, the reader’s experience of the world. The writing I love has always done those things for me.

    As for Michael Crichton, I haven’t read his stuff. The few times I picked up books of his, for some reason they didn’t pull me in. That said, his body of work in writing, screenwriting, directing, and producing, is, without question, impressive. Two fiction writers affected me the way you talk about: Kurt Vonnegut and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In poetry, e.e. cummings and Emily Dickinson had a similar impact; until I read them, I didn’t know you could take apart and reassemble langauge in the way they did.

    • You are so right. The realism prevents creativity from expanding. And with that it prevents inspiration. There are a lot of scientists who are inspired by literature and their experiments are derived from something they read in a book of fiction.

      Your three rules are great and insightful. Mind if I borrow them?

      Most of his stuff did not pull me in either. I have only read Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Sphere, and Congo. Mostly only because they fall in that “monster” and alien theme. If you like monsters, definitely read Jurassic Park and its sequel. Congo and Sphere I was not wow’d by.

      Kurt Vonnegut – can’t agree with you more there. He is such an impactful writer. I too have the same reactions while reading his works.

  3. I love JP! Thanks for writing this post. It’s making me think more about book vs. movie. I need to re-read your thoughts to get mine straight. I have a few book/movie comparisons but not JP yet.

  4. I so very much enjoyed both Jurassic Park and The Lost World by Crichton. I have read both once, but may need to go back and read them again. I am, admittedly, a perfectionist. However, with that being said, so long as grammatical errors don’t detract from the flow of a story, I could care less about them. Story trumps structure for me. I want to feel every emotion wrapped in the words of a book. If I am able to do that, I am oblivious to minor errors that may be present. As an aside, I had no idea that a new movie was slated for release next year – adding it to my must see list now 🙂

    • Totally agree, Dave. As long as the errors don’t disrupt my reading or the story, I can live with them. Sadly, 10 years ago I couldn’t say that 🙂 So happy I started to grow up, though I will always be a child a heart.

      Did you watch the trailer? What did you think?

      • Oh yeah, I watched it. And I’m certainly game 😉 Yes, there is a level of improbability to the whole idea, but it appears to be a completely immersive experience, which is exactly what I enjoy in a book/movie. I love the music too – I am going to try and put this into the deep recesses of my mind now so that I don’t think about it obsessively until next June 🙂

  5. Reblogged this on Amanda Headlee and commented:

    This is something I posted yesterday at The Sarcastic Muse and reblogging it here today.  Why?  Because it is about Jurassic Park!  It is also kind of a segue into next week’s post about dinosaurs.   Dinos are making a comeback!

  6. Great post, Amanda! As a scientist who has used molecular biology in her work, Jurrassic Park fascinated me, even knowing that the science was suspect and riddled with problems. But that’s the beauty of writing fiction – basing the story in reality, but molding that reality with our imagination to make the tale compelling. I would hate it if everything we wrote had to be factually correct – it would be like reading a science article: dry and uninteresting!
    The answer to your second two questions is yes and yes, and some of Arthur C. Clark’s books would might fit as an answer to the last. I am sooo looking forward to the next JP movie and if JP ever became a reality, I’d be first in line – maybe second after you – to buy a ticket.

    • I find myself less stressed in reading once I accepted fictitious liberties. I was so stubborn when I was younger. You made the perfect statement: ” But that’s the beauty of writing fiction – basing the story in reality, but molding that reality with our imagination to make the tale compelling.”

      If JP is ever a reality, we will have to go together (and try not to fact check everything).

  7. “Velociraptors are in reality the size of a large chicken!” I don’t understand this complaint. There really did exist a dinosaur that looked like the raptors in the movie (it had feathers though). It’s called Deinonychus. But “velociraptor” is a much cooler name that they combined with the dangerous dino. Don’t see anything wrong with that in a work of fiction. The scientists that named these dinos screwed up in that regard anyway 🙂

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