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BookClubEditor
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Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

In Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, read "You and Your Characters" by James Patrick Kelly.

Do you find the characters in science fiction to be more or less interesting as the characters in mainstream fiction?


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Talon_Radden
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

I find them more interesting. More possible secrets and stuff y'know.
"I prefer peace because too many wars have been faught in my mind already."
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Bonnie824
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

I think science fiction is more story than character driven, so the characters are usually not as fully explored and described. But often just as interesting. You have to kind of fill in the blanks yourself.
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Josh_Crowe
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

Firstly, I find them much more realistic. In Science Fiction the setting is inherently difficult to believe. Because of that the author is compelled to have his or her characters act in a manor understandable to the reader (unless that unbelievability is key to the story at hand). Writers in other genres do not have this problem of an unbelievable world. Take the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy” or Nick Hornby’s book “up in the air.” The characters act so inconsistently to how a person should act, in that situation, that no sense of empathy or rapport is possible.

Beyond that, I find the characters to be more interesting as well. Mundane Literature offers a certain collection of characters, Bus Drivers, Boxing Instructors, or Gardeners for example. All of whom live fascinating lives, I’m sure. But in SF you have the exact same characters plus the variations of SF.

I like the math. X plus something is bigger than X. In fact mundane stories are simply SF stories where something is equal to zero.
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Cluecorner
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

I think it's important to compare apples to apples. There is so much bad mainstream fiction that it becomes easy to cherry pick your comparison. On the other hand there is so much bad science fiction that it becomes easy to cherry pick your comparison. We're just spoiled for choice!

Is Dickens mainstream fiction? His characters fascinate me. On the other hand, even when I was very young, I thought that Lazarus Long tended to be a paper doll of a man, with a string hanging out his back to be pulled whenever Heinlein wanted to beat me over the head with one of his views.

I don't think I can answer this question.
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bjbrewster
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

There is only so much room in a book. Only so many words. When you use up a lot of the words to create and/or justify the setting, as with the world-building that sci-fi usually requires---there isn't as much room for the characters to be seen and for them to make multi-dimensional responses. In sci-fi there isn't as much room for the writer to peer into the heart and soul of each of his characters as he discovers and writes their responses to the challenges they've been given in his story. Accordingly, if for no other reason than to be practical, sci-fi writers often focus on the world-building at the expense of layered characters. The sci-fi protagonist, rather than relating to personal or "internal" character-oriented problems and responses, spends his share of the words rubbing shoulders with, or relating to, strange new environments, techno-elements, etc., and in dealing with "external" problems. He deals with science rather than philosophy.

As stated by another of our club members: The formula x + y = z is fine...as long as z if open ended. But books that are too big are not as readily purchased by the reading public---or read. Z needs to be subject to the law of parsimony. My last published tome was 850 pages. Many of my readers said it was much too big for the story I was telling. They were right. I was dealing with comnplex,layered characters in a foreign environment (the world of the ancient Maya) and it took more words than I really had to use, or wanted to write---more words than my market would allow---to give both the characters and their environment their due. Both got a little lost in each others wakes---like parallel sine waves cancelling each other out.
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DaveLo
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

[ Edited ]

BookClubEditor wrote:

In Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, read "You and Your Characters" by James Patrick Kelly.

Do you find the characters in science fiction
to be more or less interesting as the characters in mainstream fiction?





That's a question that can't be answered. It's like asking someone if chocolate ice cream is more interesting than strawberry ice cream. It's completely subjective. There are terrible characters in either genre, as there are great ones in either.

Message Edited by DaveLo on 02-05-200710:11 AM

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marta_randall
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

So let's add another feature to the discussion: do you think that s.f. or fantasy can or should involve detailed characterization along with detailed setting/background/ideas? Or should a good story come down on one side or the other?
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book_worm
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

This is a tough one to call, because it all depends on the author and how interesting she/he make their characters. But for me I think the fantasy characters are more intresting compared to the 'mainstream fiction' characters because of the possibilities that they hold, and the restrictions that just regular fiction have on their characters. Since with S.F. and fantasy you can do or make your characters into anything but 'mainstream fiction' has to have limits on their characters.

Also I think a good story, well maybe a great story, should have both: detailed characterization and detailed setting/background/ideas. But the characters shouldn't be too detailed as to where they don't hold any mystery anymore, again this is just my personal preference.
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Cluecorner
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"


marta_randall wrote:
So let's add another feature to the discussion: do you think that s.f. or fantasy can or should involve detailed characterization along with detailed setting/background/ideas?




Only if you want it to be good.

(I detest the use of smileys, but for some reason I feel that I should include one here.)

I think a lack of characterization is what turned me away from science fiction for a while. Some authors seem so enamored of a whiz bang scientific idea that they don't bother to do anything with their characters. Sometimes they invent intriguing new worlds, then stop there and populate them with cardboard. My pet peeve is when writers substitute elaborate descriptions of the character's clothing for substance.

It seems so hard for an aspiring writer to be published. The competition is so fierce. I don't understand how anyone gets away with not doing it all - compelling story, good characters, inventive ideas.
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seekingreader
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

I suspect that a portion of the answer to this question depends on the market for which you are writing. In SF much of the market, especially for the new writer, is the magazines, both print and electronic. This market relies on the short story wherein length limitations make strong characterization very difficult. In these shorter length works, concept driven writing can sometimes be sufficient, and even character-driven writing will tend to be relatively superficial.

At novella and novel length, characterization becomes not just possible, but essential in my estimation. Even "shared universe" novels require strong characterizations to thrive, while stand alone work that relies on concept or theme alone are likely to face dismal prospects in finding a publisher.
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LindaE
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

I find that there is a distinct difference between idea-driven science fiction where characterization is secondary and character-driven science fiction where ideas are secondary. Characters in these latter books can be equally if not more compelling that characters in good character-driven fiction.
I personally prefer character-driven science fiction - in novels such as 'The Sparrow' by Mary Doria Russell and 'The Doomsday Book' by Connie Willis.
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LindaE
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"



marta_randall wrote:
So let's add another feature to the discussion: do you think that s.f. or fantasy can or should involve detailed characterization along with detailed setting/background/ideas? Or should a good story come down on one side or the other?




Yes, I do think science fiction should have fully fleshed (so to speak) characters as well as believable settings/backgrounds and good ideas.
I don't believe that characters need to be extremely detailed, but they do have to be believable. Its a balancing act - enough of the characters and enough of the ideas to be a good, enjoyable, can't put it down, where-did-they-get-that-idea read. I think its a harder balancing act in science fiction than in other fiction.
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bjbrewster
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

Somebody said (approximately)...
"There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it hardly behooves any of us to worry about the rest of us."

Except---
In good stories we have to "worry" about the characters. Problems and dilemmas for our characters need to get as close to life and death as they can, in order to get our readers truly involved---so that they are compelled to turn the pages. Yet, the above saying is true. If our characters don't reflect this, we are telling lies. Our protagonists will be less identifiable to our readers. Our villains will be less threathening to our readers; because they will not be able to identify the villains as being villains, from their own experience. They will not ring true.

I think that readers thrive with "true" characters. Equally, readers are terrified by "true" villains. Anything short of the truth is a less rewarding experience for readers and for the writer. And the truth is..."There is so much good in the worst...etc.

I think that, just as the physics, chemistry, biology, etc., of a sci-fi piece must be "true" and consistent...so must the people or the creatures and the psychologies and the philosophies be "true." There really can be no distinction or preference in a good sci-fi story--which makes the writing just that much more challenging.
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Cluecorner
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

It's funny you should mention The Doomsday Book. I had that in mind as I was thinking of good characters as well. The plot and setting in that book were also so engrossing, that I suppose I didn't see anything in that book as "secondary". The premise of historians using time travel to review history stands well on its own, I think. You're not exactly being hit over the head with the science, but it's there.
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marta_randall
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characters vs ideas

I'm with everyone who answered "both" to the question of whether s.f. stories should have either character or idea.

Originally, s.f. tended to be almost exclusively idea-driven: for the most part (and with a few exceptions) characters existed as manikins to illustrate the idea itself. There is still a sizable contingent of readers who read almost exclusively for the ideas, although even there deeper characterizations creep in.

But here's the question: if you set your writerly minds to it, could you come up with an s.f. story that has no characters in it at all? Or characters so alien that humans have a hard time understanding them? How would you do such a thing? ("Why" you would do such a thing is an easier question: the more we stretch our minds and talents, the more we bring to our stories.)
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seekingreader
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Re: characters vs ideas

Marta wrote: But here's the question: if you set your writerly minds to it,
could you come up with an s.f. story that has no characters in it at all?
Or characters so alien that humans have a hard time understanding them? How
would you do such a thing?

Certainly it has been done, and done well. There is not a single character in Clarke's "The Longest Science Fiction Story Ever Told". The human characters in Asimov's "The Last Question" are little more than names. Both stories rely on completly on concept and both are masterpieces.

Could I develop such a story? I have never considered the question as my writing tends to be character driven. Your question has created its own "Gee whiz" moment for me and I will be considering it for some time to come.
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DaveLo
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"


marta_randall wrote:
So let's add another feature to the discussion: do you think that s.f. or fantasy can or should involve detailed characterization along with detailed setting/background/ideas? Or should a good story come down on one side or the other?




I think or rather, know, that SF or Fantasy can involve detailed characterization along with detailed setting/background/ideas. Two books come immediately to mind; "The Lord of the Rings" and "Dune." Those two books are on far opposite ends of the fictional spectrum, yet the similarities are striking. Both are highly detailed in characterization and setting. Some may even argue that setting is more important than character in these stories, which ties in to your later post about stories without characters.

Now, you ask the loaded question; "should a good story come down on one side or the other?" I think that the examples I've given can show that "good" stories don't have to fit into one or the other category. I think that you can easily have "good" stories that fit neatly into one of those categories, but it's the really special stories that can span that gap and fill both shoes. I feel that it's easy (relatively of course) to write a "good" story that falls into one or the other - by limiting the scope, it's often easier to create something satisfying. It's when we see authors and artists tackle the grand scale that the true masterpieces are created.
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anne2
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

One of the thougths that came to me as I was reading everyone else's response was that the techniques are different. I'm not sure I understand a lot of today's mainstream fiction but I can talk about some differences that I've noticed in reading the genre fiction.

When I think about a detective story, all the details are laid out for me about the detective, the situation in which the mystery takes place, everything is there, and as I go through the details of the crime and the eventual uncovering of the criminal, I piece together the aspects of the case in my mind. After the opening, I'm familiar with the detective and there is nothing about the character that surprises me. That's how I'm able to concentrate on the current mystery.

With science fiction, I don't know who I'm going to find in what situation, or what it's all about. Every part is calling for me to piece together the hints, parenthetical expressions, or rarely outright description to assemble this new world with characters, motivations and situations that I have never imagined before. It is really cool and totally engages the reader.

My thought about mainstream fiction is that the emphasis is elsewhere. Maybe some of the people taking the fiction writing course could chime in and help me out here to understand just where the emphasis really is. I think the emphasis is in the characters, in the feelings, in the situations, maybe, but then where are the questions, or are there questions?
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LindaE
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Re: characters vs ideas



marta_randall wrote:
But here's the question: if you set your writerly minds to it, could you come up with an s.f. story that has no characters in it at all? Or characters so alien that humans have a hard time understanding them? How would you do such a thing? ("Why" you would do such a thing is an easier question: the more we stretch our minds and talents, the more we bring to our stories.)




Yes! I think that as long as you are descriptive enough you would be able to populate your novel entirely with aliens. I do believe though, that they would at least have to have emotions that humans could relate to - even if these emotions were not used 'in context' so to speak. Another way would be to give these aliens universal drives, e.g. the drive for survival is universal, as is the drive to recreate - even among bacteria!
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