Interesting Question...

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Post by Calavan » Thu Mar 18, 2004 2:55 am

Been reading over some articles and I've found an interesting one, was wondering what your oppinions are on this subject:
While I believe that this unblinking self-examination is absolutely necessary, I realize that it can be very disturbing. You want to be liked and would much prefer to present your best side to the world. However, fiction is not public relations. We all have dark impulses which we've been taught to hide, perhaps even to deny; to be a writer you must unlearn some of the lessons of civilization. Nobody takes seriously a story in which the good guys are all saints and the bad guys are the spawn of hell. Saints can have their bad days and even monsters love their moms. Increasing the level of moral ambiguity usually enhances a character's believability. Only psychopaths do wrong for the fun of it. Most of the evil in the world is perpetrated by people like you and me -- the very people you want to characterize. Sometimes we do it out of malice; sometimes we're merely selfish or lazy; often as not we think we're doing the right thing. In any event, you have to be brave enough to portray your own ugliness in order to create memorable characters.

I know that some will resist this advice. Why go to all the trouble of putting yourself into stories, stretching your moral imagination to the breaking point, perhaps scaring the hell out of yourself in the process? In the May, 1985 issue of Asimov's, the great Isaac Asimov himself stirred up a controversy when he published a polemical essay called "The Little Tin God of Characterization." Isaac's thesis was that because of the unique nature of science fiction, characterization is not as important as getting the ideas right. "I do what I can, but I've got my limits, and if I have to settle for less than 100 percent, I just make sure that I remember where the science fictional bottom line is. Not characterization, not style, not poetic metaphor -- but idea. Anything else I will skimp on if I have to. Not idea." Throughout the history of the genre, others have made similar arguments for the supremacy of idea over characterization. In fact, if there ever was a war between the humanists and the cyberpunks of my generation (a dubious proposition), it was fought over this very issue. You'll find any number of published, award-winning writers who will "skimp" at times on characterization while they dazzle us with the brilliance of their ideas. In fact, some writers, myself among them, have actually been taken to task for attempting to write the science fiction novel of character -- an oxymoron, to some sensibilities. So whom should you believe?
You and Your Characters
by James Patrick Kelly
© 1991 by Davis Publications, First published in WRITING SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY, edited by Gardner Dozois, et. al., St. Martin's Press

[ 18. March 2004, 02:01 AM: Message edited by: Calavan ]

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Post by InocPrime » Thu Mar 18, 2004 5:43 am

When reading the first paragraph, I immediately thought of Isaac Asimov.

But with regards to contents, it's an interesting essay, and it's certainly true of mature literature. You can't really develop perfectly good and purely evil characters to any great extent, while keeping the reader interested. After a bit the galantry and the all that nonsense loses interest. You'd much rather... for example: see the hero rescue the princess, than: A) slap her tush, B) slap her face cause she was whimpering or some nonsense, or C) slip and break his neck, lol. These sorts of things make eveything loads more interesting.

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Post by deathblane » Thu Mar 18, 2004 3:14 pm

It depends what your writing, a story about an idea or an idea about a story. Obviously the best sci-fi not only has a well developed and deep story with interesting charecters, but also has a whole raft of original and brilliant ideas. I think most writers have to compramise between the two, with idea driven sci-fi the 'hard' stuff for fans of the genra and more charecter driven stuff the mainstream fair.

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Post by Del » Thu Mar 18, 2004 11:59 pm

Of all the writers I consider good, none write 'Sci-Fi'. The problem is with Sci-Fi is that too often writers think like Aasimov, and the dialog, the characters have no importance, you skip through pages without remembering dialogs or character devellopment, merely themes and ideas.

And this, I cannot stand; a novel being reduced to a single idea. Of course the plot is sometimes strong and driving, but it is not enough.

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Post by InocPrime » Fri Mar 19, 2004 1:55 am

In considering Asimov's work, I'd have to say that that is true of it.

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Post by Xiggy » Wed Mar 24, 2004 7:28 am

To me.. Sci-Fi isn't the idea. It's more or less the setting. Not to use a SHAMELESS plug, but when I wrote Isolation, I decided to use a character based story in a sci-fi setting. You can easily switch out the time period and location to anything you wish. Another example is Ben Bova's Jupiter. The setting is Science Fiction, but the plot isn't. You can substitute the station orbiting Jupiter Grant Archer is at and make it a research hospital in Georgia. You can change the New Morality and whatever puppet space program that was in the story for a Baptist Church and a small town government. You can of course write a story based on science fiction alone, not primarily focusing on the characters though. It's just a writer's preference.


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