Science Fiction Story Readiness Levels?

In tech- land we have something called Technology Readiness Levels or TRLs that give us an indication of how far along the development path we are for a particular technology. They are summarised below (thanks to UK’s parliamentary website).

TRL 1 Basic principles observed and reported.
TRL 2 Technology concept and/or application formulated.
TRL 3 Analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof-of-concept.
TRL 4 Technology basic validation in a laboratory environment.
TRL 5 Technology basic validation in a relevant environment.
TRL 6 Technology model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment.
TRL 7 Technology prototype demonstration in an operational environment.
TRL 8 Actual Technology completed and qualified through test and demonstration.
TRL 9 Actual Technology qualified through successful mission operations.

Can we have similar for science fiction stories? After all, if nothing else, the technology use in the stories must belong to one of these TRLs. But we can go further… we can look at the whole story-writing process. Let’s call the equivalent levels Science Fiction Story Readiness Levels, or SFSRLs.

SFSRL 1 is easy – it’s the founding idea behind the story – note the founding idea does not have to be the main premise of the story but the idea that kickstarts the writer into action.

SFSRL 2 is the story line is formulated. We’re looking here at the basic outline, not the detail and inter-weaviness of multiple fractalating subplots. But it has to be outline that works!

SFSRL 3 O.K. so you’ve got your outline, but you know that one or two things that are critical-to-get-right to the story need hammering out. So you go to work on them, and if necessary rework them, until you are satisfied that the story won’t fall to pieces on you. At the end of this stage you are confident that none of the intrinsic parts will let you down at a later stage.

SFSRL 4 This is the first very rough and ready draft of your story. Yes I do mean rough and ready, but you’ve got from the start to the end of the story in one piece of writing, not sample scenes or beautifully honed sentences that are looking for a home.

SFSRL 5 This is the first serious write up of the story. It’s the version you can show to your friends or  as work in early progress and they’ll not say it’s Double Dutch.

SFSRL 6 This is where the serious editing of fairly easily spottable inconsistencies are sorted out. It means another reader can go through the whole story without being jarred out of it with something seriously wrong or a heck of too many little editorial mistakes.

SFSRL 7 This is where the story goes out to your beta readers for serious critiquing and you do the amendments.

SFSRL 8 The story has been edited and polished and honed and is now ready to go out to publishers in a state where they will take a serious interest in it.

SFSRL 9 The story has been accepted for publication by a ‘respectable’ publisher, not one of these vanity presses or self-published

SFSRL 1 Founding idea of story identified.
SFSRL 2 Story outline formulated.
SFSRL 3 Critical issues to the story sorted out.
SFSRL 4 First rough and ready draft of the story.
SFSRL 5 First serious write up of the story.
SFSRL 6 First easily readable version of the story.
SFSRL 7 Story has been through beta readers and amended in the light of their comments.
SFSRL 8 Story has been edited and polished, and is ready to be submitted to publishers.
SFSRL 9 Story has been accepted for publication by a ‘respectable’ publisher.

When you compare the TRL table with the SFSRL table, there isn’t that much difference between them in terms of functionality. The major difference is on what the readiness levels are applied – technology versus science fiction stories.

But one thing does strike me – the technology people understand only too well the work that goes into the early stages. Yet within the science fiction writing community, there is distinctly less appreciation of the effort that goes into the corresponding early stages. Maybe having such a table for science stories, as above or modified after consultation with the great and the good in science fiction, should be used as a standard to help writers understand where they are in the writing process.

I would suggest that a revered body such as the science fiction foundation take up the above idea, hone it and publish it to assist the science fiction writing community as a whole. How about it?



4 thoughts on “Science Fiction Story Readiness Levels?

  1. The only thing that I would take exception to is SFRL9 – self publishing is considered ‘respectable’ in several circles (Alfred Wainwright being one of the first).

    1. Hello Ivan,
      I can kind of understand where you’re coming from on this one. The difficulty I have is how do you sort out the good self-published works from the poor going on worse works? If a publisher, independently and in his/her professional opinion thinks the work has merit, then we know someone who has standing and some expertise in the publishing community thinks it has some merit.
      Would welcome suggestions as to how to differentiate the good self-published work from the dross.

  2. I’m not sure that the professional opinion of a publisher necessarily defines good writing or even a good story. A publisher has sales first and foremost in his.her mind, the story and writing always take second place. This is seen in the amount of junk that gets published and, like modern art, bought because it is the ‘in thing’ to be seen with it.

    I know this isn’t the definitive answer to the good/bad writer and self publishing but I have noticed that the good writers will allow you to read a portion of their book on line to allow you to make up your own mind. Also the better authors generally have an editor that goes over their work before it is published.

  3. Hello Ivan,
    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in that publishers tend to think about profits first, book quality a poor second. So if something is awful, but the public want the subject and it’s the only novel they’ve got submitted on that subject, what is a publisher to do?
    In fact this correspondence has got me thinking about the whole publishing chain of reader-shop-publisher-agent-writer chain, thank you. In systems engineering terms it’s what we call a Lean Development, where the pul of the customer triggers the rest of the chain to start to producing. But because the chain is usually so long time-wise, there is an in-built conservatism about the subjects that are published. The quickening of the publishing process is edging that conservatism down, but not by much. So this is still a BIG problem – the getting fresh SF out there through the old-fashioned publishing route. Wish I knew how to break the mould on this one (other than the self-publishing route)! Ideas welcome.
    On the other hand, the self-publishers are part of the push business, where they are trying to show their wares and get them noticed. Whilst you have given pointers as to what is good and what is bad in the self-publishing world, which is better than nothing, there is still a whole mountain of stuff to wade through. How does a prospective reader do that?

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