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Your Opinions - Can Characterizations in Fantasy be too strong?


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I would be interested in everyone's comments on the quote below. After folks have had time to comment. I'll let you know who the quote is from.

 

"Every good writer knows that the more unusual the scenes and events of his story are, the slighter, the more ordinary, the more typical his persons should be. Hence Gulliver is a commonplace little man, and Alice is a commonplace little girl. If they had been more remarkable, they would have wrecked their books."

 

What do you think?

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1 hour ago, RADerdeyn said:

"Every good writer knows that the more unusual the scenes and events of his story are, the slighter, the more ordinary, the more typical his persons should be. Hence Gulliver is a commonplace little man, and Alice is a commonplace little girl. If they had been more remarkable, they would have wrecked their books."

 

What do you think?


I’m familiar with this author and this quote, and Fantasy story theory has advanced quite a bit since their day. This author is referring to the Milieu story, where a common character is an asset. But there are three other broad kinds of stories, and we write characters differently for those kinds of stories.
https://www.writersdigest.com/improve-my-writing/4-story-structures-that-dominate-novels
 

Quote

 

The milieu is the world—the planet, the society, the weather, the family, all the elements that come up during your world-creation phase. Every story has a milieu, but when a story is structured around one, the milieu is the thing the storyteller cares about most. For instance, in Gulliver’s Travels, it mattered little to Jonathan Swift whether we came to care about Gulliver as a character. The whole point of the story was for the audience to see all the strange lands where Gulliver traveled and then compare the societies he found there with the society of England in Swift’s own day—and the societies of all the tale’s readers, in all times and places. So it would’ve been absurd to begin by writing much about Gulliver’s childhood and upbringing. The real story began the moment Gulliver got to the first of the book’s strange lands, and it ended when he came home.

 

Milieu stories always follow that structure. An observer who sees things the way we’d see them gets to the strange place, observes things that interest him, is transformed by what he sees, and then comes back a new person.

 

The other three kinds of stories require more from your characters. 

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Thanks for the replies all. The quote is from C.S. Lewis in his essay On Science Fiction found in the book, C.S. Lewis On Stories and Other Essays on Literature.

 

The point (and thereby, the question) here isn't whether the characters in a fantastical story can be "extraordinary". They certainly can, as any good hero can be -  for example, Aragorn in LOTR.  The question is, how deeply do you develop the character, and does a deep level of characterization detract from the wonder and awe of the fantastical setting? Is it possible to do too much character building that it detracts from the story? It seems it would be counter-productive to add a complexly-drawn character like a Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, or a Scrooge from A Christmas Carol to a fantasy novel, even of they did fit in the story somewhere.

 

 Johne, I'm not sure I agree with your premise that "...Fantasy story theory has advanced quite a bit since their day." The article you quote from Orson Scott Card exactly supports what Lewis said. in describing a Milieu story Card says, "For instance, in Gulliver’s Travels, it mattered little to Jonathan Swift whether we came to care about Gulliver as a character. The whole point of the story was for the audience to see all the strange lands where Gulliver traveled".

 

I do like Card's description of the other 3 types of stories, though it would be interesting at another time to discuss whether there are 3 others or perhaps more.

 

 

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  • 1 month later...

This statement is true, but layered.

 

Yes, characters should feel relatable, and that requires a certain level of emptiness. Thats true of any genre. But “relatable” can take different forms. 

 

I think everyone’s a bit tired of the “good kid who just wants an adventure to prove himself.” Let me guess, he also needs to overcome his insecurity and get the girl? These ideas aren’t bad, but they are cliches that are difficult to get your readers past.

 

Try some new types of characters with new types of internal struggles. What about a fantasy protagonist who’s selfish and arrogant rather than humble and aspiring? That alone makes your story somewhat unique. Some of my fantasy story concepts involve characters with arcs of overcoming stubborn skepticism, or learning to support their friends, or even confronting their own depression regarding the tragic state of their world. (That last one is VERY relatable to me.)

 

Or one of my personal favorites that I’m working on now: the main protagonist who is ALREADY a hero, but comes to realize that she’s helping others to gain recognition and respect rather than out of selfless ideals. Have you ever read anything like that? (You might have. I mostly just watch movies. btw don’t steal that idea.)

 

So please, characterize your characters any way you want, but even if you’re addressing an old theme, try to do it in a new way.

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On 10/21/2020 at 3:48 PM, WriterMan, WriterMan said:

btw don’t steal that idea


Fear not—ideas aren't precious, their execution is, and everyone writes in their own unique way. 

I used to worry about this but my mind was put at ease when I heard back from a favorite author, A. Lee Martinez. He'd written a SF / Noir called THE AUTOMATIC DETECTIVE about a killer robot with the freewill glitch. Before competing in NaNoWriMo in 2014, I pinged him and asked him what he thought about using his idea as the catalyst for a Fantasy / Noir, and he gave me the loveliest blessing.  
image.png.a435ed98cc3b07e850152535dcf5f249.png
 

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On ‎10‎/‎21‎/‎2020 at 4:48 PM, WriterMan, WriterMan said:

I think everyone’s a bit tired of the “good kid who just wants an adventure to prove himself.” Let me guess, he also needs to overcome his insecurity and get the girl? These ideas aren’t bad, but they are cliches that are difficult to get your readers past.

 

Funny.  I have a variation on this.  The "good kid," never wanted to get over his insecurity in the first place, and doesn't really know how he got the girl.

 

I think characterization, and character-building has gone off the rails in modern Fantasy.

 

In another writer's group I'm in, I saw someone talk about how they love to write tough, able characters who are great lovers as well as fighters (that's the clean version of their proclamation).  I didn't bother to respond.  But if I did, I would have said: those are probably some really boring stories.

 

It's like virtually every fight scene in a movie, especially as it reaches the climax of the film.  The "outmatched" hero gets beat up badly, then gets a second wind, and triumphs over his foe.  Almost.  Every.  Single. Time.

 

It's the flaws and limitations the reader is interested in, not the power.  The reason why The Hobbit was so popular was because Bilbo Baggins wasn't a burglar.  Lord of the Rings was great because the events the hobbits found themselves in were virtually antithetical to their very nature.  They were normal, simple folk against a grand backdrop.

 

So I think it isn't so much about common or even nondescript characters.  It has more to do with them being taken out of their natural environment, or placed in a situation where any strengths they have are marginalized.  Common is good, but common only places the power levels on par with the reader.

 

I guess the thing to ask is: does Mr. Scrooge fit the criteria of the OP?

 

 

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On 10/26/2020 at 5:33 PM, Jeff Potts said:

 

Funny.  I have a variation on this.  The "good kid," never wanted to get over his insecurity in the first place, and doesn't really know how he got the girl.

 

I think characterization, and character-building has gone off the rails in modern Fantasy.

 

In another writer's group I'm in, I saw someone talk about how they love to write tough, able characters who are great lovers as well as fighters (that's the clean version of their proclamation).  I didn't bother to respond.  But if I did, I would have said: those are probably some really boring stories.

 

It's like virtually every fight scene in a movie, especially as it reaches the climax of the film.  The "outmatched" hero gets beat up badly, then gets a second wind, and triumphs over his foe.  Almost.  Every.  Single. Time.

 

It's the flaws and limitations the reader is interested in, not the power.  The reason why The Hobbit was so popular was because Bilbo Baggins wasn't a burglar.  Lord of the Rings was great because the events the hobbits found themselves in were virtually antithetical to their very nature.  They were normal, simple folk against a grand backdrop.

 

So I think it isn't so much about common or even nondescript characters.  It has more to do with them being taken out of their natural environment, or placed in a situation where any strengths they have are marginalized.  Common is good, but common only places the power levels on par with the reader.

 

I guess the thing to ask is: does Mr. Scrooge fit the criteria of the OP?

 

 

Interesting take! Of course i never mean to say that cliches are bad. What I mean is that every main character needs an internal struggle, but that I would like to see some new, fresh struggles. Getting over an ex, overcoming addiction, learning to understand your older relatives, these are all ideas i have yet to see a character deal with, at least in fantasy. On the other hand, I’ve seen “believe in yourself” more times than I can count. And in execution, sometimes it can be as simple as changing up your dungeon party to include your twin sister.

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3 minutes ago, WriterMan, WriterMan said:

What I mean is that every main character needs an internal struggle

 

Disagree, depending on the type of story. I don't need James Bond to have an internal struggle. I don't need John Wayne to have an internal struggle. Superman's pretty well established as a character - his challenges come in other ways. It really depends on the kind of story you're telling. 

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21 hours ago, WriterMan, WriterMan said:

On the other hand, I’ve seen “believe in yourself” more times than I can count.

 

You know, this is funny.  I've got fragments written for later books in the series I'm currently working on.  I use this same phrase, but twist it terribly.  I make it the centerpiece of an explanation of faith.

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21 hours ago, Johne said:

 

Disagree, depending on the type of story. I don't need James Bond to have an internal struggle. I don't need John Wayne to have an internal struggle. Superman's pretty well established as a character - his challenges come in other ways. It really depends on the kind of story you're telling. 

 

I agree with your premise.  But I think the larger point that was made is that a lot of Fantasy is all about external struggles, and not those that are internal.

 

I actually started a prequel story for my series that incorporates addiction as part of the theme.  The unfortunate part is that the main character is generally unlikeable, and his end is tragic, albeit predictable because of his obsessions and addictions.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Jeff Potts said:

I actually started a prequel story for my series that incorporates addiction as part of the theme.  The unfortunate part is that the main character is generally unlikeable, and his end is tragic, albeit predictable because of his obsessions and addictions.


I just rewatched HIGH FIDELITY on Hulu. In that film, John Cusack's Rob Gordon is thoroughly detestable until the very end, when he gets off his duff, takes a risk, and starts putting himself back out into the world (first as a record producer and then as a DJ exposing other people to great new music). I love that film, not because he's lovable, but because he's relatable, and because he overcomes his detestable nature through love.

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