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?