Novel Openings Case Study #7: The Martian by Andy Weir

I’m pretty much fucked.

That’s my considered opinion.


Six days into what should be the greatest month of my life, and its’ turned into a nightmare.

I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.

For the record…I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say, “Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.

And it’ll be right, probably. ‘Cause I’ll surely die here. Just not on Sol 6 when everyone thinks I did.

Let’s see…where do I begin?


Right off the bat, I know that the main character is named Mark Watney and he is placed in a detrimental situation in which he has to try to survive alone on Mars. Ooooo, conflict–who doesn’t love a man vs. nature survival narrative? In which the protagonist attempts to outsmart and outmaneuver the harsh Martian environment? The voice is conversational, fast-paced and action-packed since the story is presented through Watney’s log entries. It’s a cool personal verbalized diary +a hilarious first-person narrative.


So Mark Watney has a great sense of humour, especially when he is trapped in intense situations that threaten his life. His sense of humour not only reflects his optimism but also his resilience. It’s a positive trait that allows him to have a coping system that drives him forward in a lighthearted manner during the most heavy-hearted times, and also makes him more human. What this does is that it gets the readers to root for him–and I think it also allows him to be more vulnerable and relatable during difficult emotional moments. It instills an incredible hope within us readers–and not to mention it renders him extremely likable. (I know some writers are not fond of the dropping of F bombs, but for me, I think the occasional swear words make a character more approachable. And sometimes it’s just a fun punch-line that can spice up the narrative.)


From the first page onward we (readers) are on his side, and we have a clear goal together: survive Mars and go home to Earth. It’s a simple, powerful story hook because it is the most basic human instinct that connects us together: to live. And being stranded on Mars is the most extreme case of alienation there is–wanting to see Watney rescued–wanting to feel what he feels when he turns–I think in a way this really tugs at our heartstrings because no matter how thick and complicated our own stories are, we, deep down inside, harbour a profound compassion for other human beings and we want more than anything to connect–to witness homecoming story of incredible human resilience and connection in which Watney gets to live and go back to Earth.

Needless to say, SOLD!

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