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Cluecorner
Posts: 20
Registered: ‎01-27-2007
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Re: characters vs ideas

Robert L. Forward wrote a book called "Dragon's Egg", where the main characters were a race called the Cheela. The Cheela evolved on the surface of a neutron star, and are about the size of a grain of rice. (Although they have the same mass as the average human!) A cheela year goes by in just seconds. They live much more quickly than humans.

It's been over 15 years since I read that book, and even with my infamously bad memory, I still remember the Cheela. They impressed me tremendously.
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angelfly72
Posts: 28
Registered: ‎01-28-2007
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Re: characters vs ideas



marta_randall wrote:
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.)




I would be intrigued to read some of the SF stories other people have mentioned.
I don't think I'm able to come up with a story that is based on anything but our world. I see a whole lot of science fiction, fantasy (I'm resisting the urge to insert an off-topic political joke here), mystery and humor in life right here on Mother Earth, but I admire anyone who is able to see different worlds and portray life that is significantly "alien" to our own.

Angela
"Think, think, it ain't illegal yet!" George Clinton
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WriterJim
Posts: 75
Registered: ‎01-27-2007
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Re: characters vs ideas

If I read my editors correctly, they're just about all looking for character-driven fiction these days. That doesn't mean, of course, that ideas aren't important. But memorable characters and story trump ideas most of the time in this field.

I'm sure if you wanted to, you could come up with a characterless story; but why would you want to? Readers identify with characters and they make stories come alive. You only get so much mileage out of a unique idea, and then how do you keep your readers engaged?

Good characters are endlessly fascinating, and their ups and downs keep us reading. I love good ideas, but I vote on the side of characters on this issue.
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mae-V
Posts: 147
Registered: ‎01-27-2007
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Re: characters vs ideas

I think that once we move away from the obvious expression of character we begin to move backwards a bit... into childhood when every object had a life of its own. The task for the writer is to lay out the path of the story so that the reader becomes one of, if not the only, character.

From what I've read about narrative forms, stories in which the characters do not develop are considered tales. As in fairy tales. They exist in order to represent an aspect of character or an archetype of behavior. Perhaps "characterless" stories would evolve along those lines. Other than that, we tell characterless stories all the time. At least stories without people in them. Our cars act up, the job is depressing, and let's not get me started on Spring!
#Play tasty!#
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Josh_Crowe
Posts: 70
Registered: ‎01-29-2007
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Re: characters vs ideas

Quote:
“I'm sure if you wanted to, you could come up with a characterless story; but why would you want to?”

Occasional oddities are definitely salable. I wouldn’t want to read a characterless story every day, but I definitely would read a good one once.
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Jayna_D
Posts: 99
Registered: ‎01-27-2007
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

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.)

I think in a good story, you need to have everything well rounded and developed. Just because somethign is s.f. or fantasy doesn't mean it can't eb believable. Characters are a very important part of the story and it's usually becuase of them there is a story to tell.
humans as varied enough that I think you can stretch your mind and the characters way of thinking and still have it be human. i like having characters that I have to stretch and twist a little to understand their thinking. People can come up with bizarre and deep stuff--there are book stores full of proof.
I'm not saying characters have to be human by any means,just that you still have to have characters--animals, objects. I guess you could do like a story about something inanimate that had no thoughts, but that just screams DULL!
I guess to answer the first part of the question, I'd have to ask your definition of "character". If something plays a role in the story, doesn't that make it a character? A crowd of people can be setting, but the pigeon who poops on their heads could be the character. Or maybe it's the old broken clock with a worn out sign of some obscure saying. If the clock interactis with others and has a role, doesn't that make it a character? Thus, how could a story not have characters since a story tells something and there has to be something there to be told. *hm...talking about obscure...
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formlit
Posts: 2
Registered: ‎04-16-2007
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

But . . . sometimes the detective and science fiction (or fantasy) come together and the story has all those elements in it. So you can't separate them.
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marta_randall
Posts: 166
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

Ah, but when they come together, they create sub-genres within the larger genres: detective science fiction; science fiction romance; and others. So when we merge genres we actually add more genres rather than condensing two genres into one.

This melding, by the way, can lead to some really good stories. I am thinking, for example, of Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man which is both a solid s.f. story, and a detective story of the "how is he going to get away with it?" variety.
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Griff
Posts: 17
Registered: ‎05-07-2007
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

Characters vs. Plot…humm…let me think.


To paraphrase to old business axiom:

Characters! Characters! and Characters!


Plots are limited resources, there are only so many to go around. The ripples on the surface may change but the river still flows downhill. How many versions of High Noon or The Seven Samurai can you identify? Dozens, if not thousands. Mythic stories can told over and over again---and people still lov‘um.

Plots are nothing but situations you put your characters in, mechanisms designed to challenge your characters and let them shine or stumble.

What makes the story is your characters. Characters and their reactions to their own situation are what pull the story along. Characters are what makes your readers cry when the maiden’s unicorn dies, or huzzah when the evil admiral’s flagship goes up in a burst of photons.

You might guess I’m somewhat opinionated on the subject. :smileyhappy:


“Alas, poor plot…I knew it well”
Griff
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Muse_of_Ire
Posts: 49
Registered: ‎02-05-2007
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

Griff, I agree with you . . . up to a point.

I think the exclusive focus on character rather than plot is what turned me off mainstream fiction in the '70s. Yes, it's great that you can give me a fully realized portrait of the protagonist, or the protagonist and all her friends and family, but if nothing HAPPENS to them, it's meaningless. Why should I care if Mirilani is the greatest, truest, purest unicorn rider in all the kingdom of Ux, if I never get to see her win a race/lose a race/lose her purity and be scorned by all unicorn-kind/lose her purity and emerge a better unicorn rider than ever?

I could say, that's why I read fiction rather than biography, but the truth is, even in biography, I want to know what stuff happened to the subject and how he responded.

So yes, stories need to be about people. But they need to be about people that stuff happens to, and the stuff that happens to them.
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Griff
Posts: 17
Registered: ‎05-07-2007
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Re: Creating Characters: "You and Your Characters"

I wasn't arguing for a plotless story. One about some character sitting arroung thinking deep thoughts and doing nothing would be about as interesting as observing the sex life of an amoeba.

The successful story needs Character, Plot, and Setting. But I contend that all such plots are versions of epic plots with slightly different stage dressing.

"The Quest" story may present diverse bumps along the protagonist's path but it's still about someone's search for something he desires.

The boy may get the girl, may lose the girl, but it's the same basic story. The difference between stories with these plots lie in the characters and how they resolve the obstacles in their way

If Scrooge heeds the ghosts--the plot it's "Protagonist Redeemed", If he ignores the ghosts it's "Protagonist Lost".
Griff
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