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Jamza1986
May 24th, 2004, 03:17 PM
Hello all, its been a while since my last thread, so I thought I'd throw open this sweeping generalisation of a debate, largely just to enjoy some long and detailed, near philosophical replies from some of our prolific writers (they know who they are :D )

Seriously though, what is your emphasis in fantasy writing? Does it lean towards characterisations or fantasy worlds? I think my own work (recently submitted to publishers :cool: ) is largely the former, although the world is getting more detailed now. These might be wrong but I would say an example of a world building author is Robert Jordan, while Robin Hobb would be more of a character builder, this is just my view of course.

Which style do you prefer?

Darknel
May 25th, 2004, 07:15 AM
Interesting question, but one I'm afraid I can give no better answer to than: both. For my part at least world and character are inseparable and cannot be placed in the diametric opposition implied by the title of this thread: character vs. world.

My own approach is almost Marxist, in so far as I believe that peoples subjectivities are shaped by the world in which they live (although unlike Marx I do not necessarily subscribe solely to economic determinism). Thus it would clearly be inappropriate for characters living in a medieval-esque fantasy world to share the sensebilities of the twenty-first century writer (however unpalatable this may make some of the characters to contemporary tastes).

To that extent, if the question must be posed as one of dichotomies then I suppose that I fall on the side of world over character. The alternative though is to adopt the common, but simplistic attitude of writers such as Eddings, whereby the characters re-make the world based on a set of ethical values informed directly by our modern attitudes. Whilst as a younger reader I may have enjoyed this earlier and simpler form of fantasy I no longer find it satisfying (contrast Eddings to the masterful world-builder that is Erikson).

ironchef texmex
May 25th, 2004, 11:36 AM
Hello all, its been a while since my last thread, so I thought I'd throw open this sweeping generalisation of a debate, largely just to enjoy some long and detailed, near philosophical replies from some of our prolific writers (they know who they are :D )



I consider that a challenge. :)

Everytime I read something on the overall condition of the sci/fi lit market it's bemoaning the decline in money, overall readership, blah blah blah. Then I go to the bookstore and see that sci/fi is getting less shelf space. These days everything on the sci/fi-fantasy isle is fantasy. Why?

I have an opinion of course (feel free to roll your eyes now). I think that the fantasy market is flourishing not just because it concentrates on characterization, but because it concentrates on a specific kind of characterization - heroism.

The big push in modern sci/fi is to make the characters believable. This seems to be a reaction to the larger than life Flash-Gordan-types of the past. But I think they've gotten a little carried away. Now we write about characters you can 'identify' with:
"Readers are going to love my main character Spaz. He's incompetant, has no social skills, and his pants keep falling down around his ankles. I think the reader will feel an instant kinship everytime he wets the bed...."

AHHHH! Maybe I will feel a 'kinship', but I won't want to!

Heroes are not passive observers in a novel. The plot moves forward because they MOVE it forward. This is what I believe is the hallmark of fantasy's success. It's like comparing:
"The way to defeat the aliens all along was just for us to be true to ourselves."
vs.
"The way to defeat Slavemaster Thog all along was just to take a spear, coat it in feces, aim for his netherregions and...."

I'm convinced that people don't just want to read about interesting surroundings (I count books in the WoT series to sleep at night) or a character they can identify with, they want the character to actually do something heroic (and yes, Jordan did that to an extent, but Robin Hobb, now we're talking).

People want to escape into a world were challenges await, forces of darkness need to be overcome. They want to walk in the shoes of someone who can rise to the level of the competition. I think that that aspect of characterization is the most important trait of fantasy and I believe that unless sci/fi does something to acknowledge this that it will continue to do nothing more than give up shelf space.

Jamza1986
May 25th, 2004, 12:06 PM
I agree, particularly about people forcing modern values on medieval world, that really becomes pathetic after a time. About Robin Hobb, I thought the Farseer trilogy was simple, boring and unimaginative; until i realized the depth of the characters and how much I actually cared about them. Having said that, there is a need for both in my opinion. I really like world building but not without character building.

Lol ok here's a little adage I just made up: characters without worlds are lost, worlds without characters are lonely.

hmm its not going to get into that book of quotes but it will suffice...

KatG
May 25th, 2004, 02:07 PM
Hello all, its been a while since my last thread, so I thought I'd throw open this sweeping generalisation of a debate, largely just to enjoy some long and detailed, near philosophical replies from some of our prolific writers (they know who they are :D )
Noogies for you, monkey boy. :)


Seriously though, what is your emphasis in fantasy writing? Does it lean towards characterisations or fantasy worlds? I think my own work (recently submitted to publishers :cool: ) is largely the former, although the world is getting more detailed now. These might be wrong but I would say an example of a world building author is Robert Jordan, while Robin Hobb would be more of a character builder, this is just my view of course.
To be philosophical, no writer I know of emphasizes one over the other. Robert Jordan and Robin Hobb both have extensive, detailed world settings and definite, developed characters. (Well, I've only read one book by Hobb, but I'm assuming she doesn't radically alter her writing from book to book.)

Now, I have read stories where I was not particularly interested in the characters, but that is not the same thing as saying the characters are not developed. It just means I didn't like them or the way that the author presented them. I have read stories where there was less extraneous detail about the setting than in other stories, but that doesn't mean that the author was ignoring the setting either. I have read stories in which the setting was very important -- almost a character in itself, such as John Crowley's "Little, Big" for instance -- but that doesn't mean the characters were then slighted. I have read stories in which the characters or the setting or even more frequently, both of them, are meant to be largely symbolic, but that doesn't mean they were given short-shrift either.

I'm trying really, but I can't bring to mind any sf/f writer who I could definitely say puts their energy into setting or characters to the exclusion of the other. I can draw a line between those writers whose style is meditative and exposition and pov friendly, and those who use exposition and character pov minimally in favor of dialogue, maybe. Although I'd probably have to go back and read them. But the character/setting division I'm just not seeing. I think that with any author you could name as being more prone to one or the other, you would get a debate about it. Too much subjectivity of perception there, perhaps.

Dawnstorm
May 25th, 2004, 02:42 PM
I'm trying really, but I can't bring to mind any sf/f writer who I could definitely say puts their energy into setting or characters to the exclusion of the other.

Well, there's the Utopian tradition, that tends to favour setting over character. Now, the famous dystopias (1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit...) all convey setting via characters, but there must be writings that adhere more closely to the tradition of Francis Bacon's New Atlantis (or More's Utopia, if you prefer that).

I don't remember much about Doris Lessing's exploits in the genre, but I do remember they put setting over characters. Very much so.

Then there's a story in New Worlds 3 (edited by David Garnett), by Jack Deighton, "This is the road", which is entirely written in 1st person plural ("we-narrator"), and does almost entirely without characters.

There's William Gibson's "12 Views of a Cardboard City" (not sure about "12", don't remember where to find the story).

I think I remember stories, with minimal characters and maximum setting by Barrington Bayley and Ursula K. LeGuin, but I'm not sure.

Setting over character seems to be more frequently found in the short fiction market than in novels (the Lessing-books I've mentioned being the only ones I can think of - and that may be memory-artefact).

===

Just noticed you said "authors", not "stories". :o I'll let this stand, though.

ironchef texmex
May 25th, 2004, 03:06 PM
I think that with any author you could name as being more prone to one or the other, you would get a debate about it. Too much subjectivity of perception there, perhaps.

I won't add on to Dawn's point. I was thinking of a list of extremes myself, but I like hers better.

As for too much subjectivity, I don't think such a thing is possible in a forum such as this. Obviously objectivity should be avoided (how many responses would I get to a thread that asked what 4 X 4 = ?). Subjectivity is the thing that allows for debate without clear cut winners and losers. People simply raise points that make each of us think through our own view. As long as the topic isn't too dicey (and I certainly don't think this one is) I say the more subjective the better.

James, as for Hobb, I haven't read Farseer. I liked Assassin's Apprentice though. I thought the plot unravelled a little toward the end, but it had some great moments, usually along the lines of the strong character developement of which you were using her as an example.

And I like your saying. I don't teach lit, but if I did I'd steal that one in a heartbeat. ;)

KatG
May 25th, 2004, 10:57 PM
I won't add on to Dawn's point. I was thinking of a list of extremes myself, but I like hers better.

As for too much subjectivity, I don't think such a thing is possible in a forum such as this. Obviously objectivity should be avoided (how many responses would I get to a thread that asked what 4 X 4 = ?). Subjectivity is the thing that allows for debate without clear cut winners and losers. People simply raise points that make each of us think through our own view. As long as the topic isn't too dicey (and I certainly don't think this one is) I say the more subjective the better.

James, as for Hobb, I haven't read Farseer. I liked Assassin's Apprentice though. I thought the plot unravelled a little toward the end, but it had some great moments, usually along the lines of the strong character developement of which you were using her as an example.

And I like your saying. I don't teach lit, but if I did I'd steal that one in a heartbeat. ;)
I don't have a problem with subjectivity if that's the topic. But what I meant was that for any story or writer which one person labels as putting setting over character or character over setting, you would likely get other people who disagree and even feel that the opposite view is true for that story. For instance, Dawnstorm says that Lessing's novels may have put setting over character. I haven't read those works, but someone who has might disagree with her.

And there's nothing wrong with that, but then it becomes a discussion of how we each view particular works -- how we interpret the author's style, which again is not the same thing as fact. Nothing wrong with that either, I suppose.

I realized, though, that I hadn't really addressed JW's specific question, which was what do we each do ourselves with our own writing. I might have, in an earlier time, said that I leaned toward character over setting, but for a novel that I eventually had to shelve for the time being, I ran into the problem that I couldn't write the characters if I hadn't figured out the setting, or for that matter, some items of the plot. The setting shaped their thoughts, speech, actions and personalities, as well as their roles in the story. In turn, the characters are vehicles for showing the setting and giving context and motion to the plot. How much it does so varies, but usually, it's an integral thing, for me, and for most of the sf/f authors I've read, at least in my perception of them. Struggling with those issues and reading how others have handled them, it seems to me to not be an either/or issue. But that's a subjective opinion. :)

Dawnstorm
May 25th, 2004, 11:47 PM
For instance, Dawnstorm says that Lessing's novels may have put setting over character. I haven't read those works, but someone who has might disagree with her.

I might even disagree with myself on that point. :D

===

Androgynous creature that I am, still genetics have provided me with that Y-chromosome. You can still refer to me as "she". I don't mind. ;)

ironchef texmex
May 26th, 2004, 06:07 PM
Androgynous creature that I am, still genetics have provided me with that Y-chromosome. You can still refer to me as "she". I don't mind. ;)

Oops. My fault. :o