I am a novice writer, just starting on a mini novel in the Science Fiction genre.

The crux of the novel is about 4 or 5 discussions between protagonist and a set of particular individuals with their own motives, and trying to convince them to do something. The setting is very limited - imagine an alien coming to earth and talking to few key people (leaders) one by one without much exposure to the public (a little bit like in the movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still", but not entirely so in the sense of the protagonist interacting with both leaders and non-leaders).

Can you point me to some references in literature (scifi primarily) where arguments are the crux and there is not much action or story going on. That is, whatever the story is, will come out in the discussions itself. I think socratic method (question answer sessions leading to some conclusion), matches closest to what I want but

(a) I want to put in a little more story than that since this is going to be a work of fiction and not purely a philosophical treatise.

(b) I was unable to find any fiction books doing that

Secondly, do such books make an interesting read? I know it depends on the writer's ability, but just trying to gauge the general interest.

  • As long as you have conflict your story can be interesting, no matter what form you write it in. Jun 27, 2016 at 18:47
  • "The Man From Earth," is a movie that's something like this - done really well. Atlas Shrugged is a book that has lots of this done really badly. There's also, "What we talk about when we talk about love," which isn't science fiction, but it's still considered a classic. Not sure it fits complete into the question/answer thing though - it's been a long time since I read it.
    – DoWhileNot
    Jun 27, 2016 at 21:43
  • Cloud Atlas, one of the stories is a 27' word interrogation, in a future tech world.
    – Erk
    Jul 1, 2016 at 0:32

4 Answers 4


Plato's Dialogues are the paradigmatic example of philosophical arguments in the form of fictionalized conversations, but no one reads them for the plot. More recently, Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World is a famous attempt to dramatize a general introduction to philosophy in the form of a novel (although opinions are mixed as to how well it succeeds in either goal).

For my own personal list of favorite books where weighty philosophical topics are integrated into the action (more or less successfully), I'd try the following:

Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Brothers Karamazov: One of the most justly famous philosophical novels of all time --it combines a soap opera plotline with long intense theological arguments.

Neal Stephenson - Ananthem: The majority of the book manages to be compelling while following a cloister of philosophically inclined monks and their arguments. The book moves towards a more action-oriented narrative at the end, a move I personally found to be unfortunate.

David Zindell - Neverness: The book dramatizes a number of abstract mathematical and theological concepts. In my opinion, one of the more successful integrations of philosophy with plot.

Samuel Delaney - Dhalgren: A lurid and surreal exploration of topics around race, sexuality, identity, reality, sanity and aesthetics. Brilliant, but notoriously difficult to read and understand.

Lewis Carroll - Sylvie & Bruno: A dizzying postmodern mashup of philosophy, romance, fairy tale and whimsy, less integrated than simply chopped together.

Russell Hoban - The Mouse and His Child: A deceptively deep meditation on the existential push towards self actualization, in the presence of fate and the infinite, all as presented in the form of a children's fairy tale.

Walker Percy's - The Moviegoer: The integration of several core themes from proto-existentialist philosopher Kierkegaard into a single unified dramatic narrative plotline.

Finally, not novels, but Waking Life and My Dinner With Andre are well-known movies that revolve almost entirely around philosophical monologues.

  • From the question point of view, for future references, I guess this should be the accepted answer - but I don't know what is the etiquette regarding changing accepted answers. Everyone helped me here! Jun 30, 2016 at 15:52
  • @user1669710 You are allowed to change your accepted answer if you so choose, and you can vote up as many answers as you want. Jun 30, 2016 at 16:11
  • Noooo. No worries. ;) Jul 4, 2016 at 2:01

Sounds like you want to write a philosophical novel. Two examples that I can think of are Walker Percey's Lost in the Cosmos and Robert Persig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Both of the above are interesting reads, but interesting as philosophical texts, and as approaches to doing philosophy. You would probably not read them for the story alone.

  • Yes. I am trying to build a story around some fundamental philosophical aspects - my novice way of coming up with a plot line; the plot is a facade basically, not very important to "me" but should make it entertaining for a general reader to look into some deeper philosophical questions. Not sure yet if it would work out. I'll take a look at both the books you recommended. I've been meaning to read the Zen for a while! Thanks! Jun 27, 2016 at 18:12

and welcome to the site.

I do not know of any novels that follow the format you are describing, but that is a good thing. I believe one of the reasons World War Z stood out from the mass of zombie fiction out there is because it had a different format: letters. That format made it stand out from the crowd, and I think a novel made primarily out of Q&A would have the same effect, as long as it is written well.

As for whether or not the novel you are describing would be an interesting read: It's hard to gauge the general interest, as we are all individuals and have our own opinions, and the format you are describing is very rare. For example, my first instinct of such a book would be that it would be boring. Q&A? No action? What is this?

Then again, that would have been my first impression of World War Z had I known the format. Therefore, your job is to overwhelm what the reader expects. Your key in doing this will be tension.

A discussion is inherently not the most gripping thing on earth. You need to add tension to it on every page so that the reader will be on the edge of his seat. Pretty much all tension can be summed up as questions:

Why is he nervous? Why did he ask that? Why is he glancing towards the door? Why did he word it that way? Why is this guy so tense? What did that mean? Who is this guy? What's this person's agenda?

The list goes on and on. Get the reader to ask himself these questions through the dialogue/narrative, and you will have high tension. Remember: there can never be too much tension.

  • Thank you! Great reply. That is a very practical advice with the tension part. I did not think of generating tension via dialogues/arguments at all - that's interesting. Jun 27, 2016 at 18:09
  • Few more novice questions: If someone during the discussion is explaining a back-story, should it be put in quotes? How to handle quoting business when whole chapters could be a single person telling a back story, during a discussion? How to still maintain the feel of a "conversation" when it runs for say 50 pages each. Thanks! Jun 27, 2016 at 18:14
  • Also just saw that World-war z does have some question-answer formats in it. Jun 27, 2016 at 18:16
  • @user1669710 Tell you what. SE doesn't like extended conversations in comments, so I can answer your questions in their chat room. Go here to access it: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/41732/… Jun 27, 2016 at 18:27

Interesting concept to make a story in dialog only (hopefully with some description and motion by the characters). I'm assuming the tension will come from the different perspectives of the speakers. One thing which you may want to do is have the speakers include stories in what they say and have those stories demonstrate their philosophical stance. In other words, have them give concrete examples of people (or animals - think Aesop's fables) personifying the philosophies.

You may already be planning that, but I thought I'd mention it.

  • Every answer I read concretizes and improves what I've been thinking - so thank you for putting it in words clearer than what's in my head :) Jun 30, 2016 at 15:49

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