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View Diary: My Experience With Unschooling (Abbreviated) (66 comments)

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  •  Yes, I agree with all that you wrote (0+ / 0-)

    Character development has been the bane of innovative fiction writers for many centuries. Character is where it started, and because of that, we still have fiction that closely resembles what fiction did when the character was at the height of its popularity (Victorian England). The current era does not require character development in the same way, but yet people resort to it. It's a concept that needs to be contested. Sci-Fi in general is one genre where concepts, systems and processes take on greater importance than character.

    Nonetheless, as human writing in human language, it's pretty tough to get away from having our writing produce a form of human consciousness, and that inevitably leads to a reintroduction of character no matter how badly you try to get away from it. Alain Robbe-Grillet said no one has managed to knock character off its pedestal.

    I was citing Ursula LeGuin as someone who does develop character in her stories pretty well. The reason why genre writing becomes difficult in the workshop--however--is that frequently the emphasis in literary language is on avoiding stereotypes and ready-mades. So, if a student mentions a "mage" or a "Berserker" or a variety of other types that appear in fantasy, the writer is required to develop those ideas instead of borrowing from a toolbox of types. I'm afraid that advice--to move away from the stereotype--may present problems to a publisher of such fiction who knows his/her audience is well acquainted with the genre and does not read for the development of character.

    I could point you to reviews of fictions written by people such as Brian Evenson and Paul West in the genres where reader after reader batters them for taking an interest in character instead of emphasizing concepts or ideas.

    We have sci-fi workshops and literature classes as well. I'm only pointing out that, one, the sorts of concerns one associates with literary language do not cross over easily into the genres, and two, we need to contest all of these ideas, all the time. Whether literary stylists or genre writers. Thomas Pynchon, for one, is a writer considered literary, but his sensibility on character development is much closer to that in the genres--or, maybe I should say, cartoons.

    There are two kinds of people in this world. The kind who divide the world into two kinds of people, and the kind who don't.

    by upstate NY on Thu Apr 26, 2012 at 11:47:31 AM PDT

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    •  Even in SF&F (0+ / 0-)

      Stereotype and cliche are still to be avoided. 'Mage' is about as detailed and specified as 'artist'. The modern world and historical fiction are also full of toolboxes of types.

      Pratchett's works are very much about taking the stereotypes of stock fantasy, hitting them with a large hammer, and twisting them out of shape.

      The issue is 'instead' as an approach and not 'and'.

      "All things are not equally true. It is time to face reality." -Al Gore

      by Geek of all trades on Thu Apr 26, 2012 at 12:58:01 PM PDT

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      •  I just gave a few examples (0+ / 0-)

        but there are many more. An entire book of berserkers and several other stocks with which many were unfamiliar.

        I'll give another example: William Gibson's Neuromancer. He is totally unwilling to move beyond stereotypes. There are a great many functions his characters fulfill that he takes for granted.

        There are two kinds of people in this world. The kind who divide the world into two kinds of people, and the kind who don't.

        by upstate NY on Thu Apr 26, 2012 at 04:47:32 PM PDT

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    •  On the topic of character development... (4+ / 0-)

      It's so interesting that you bring it up. I know a bit about archetypes, both in character and in plot (I'll be the first to admit that I'm writing 'the Hero's Journey' with a MacGuffin thrown in there somewhere... chuckles). There's a Joseph Campbell quote I love (on top of the fact that he coined the phrase that sums up my life philosophy: follow your bliss), which I keep on my desktop and refer to often:

      The hero path… where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where he had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.
      When I read that it kind of blew my mind, because that's certainly the essence of the story I'm writing (I know he's written a lot on the subject). I know about this idea that there are only a few stories that keep being retold. Likewise, the characters that inhabit them tend to reoccur, and often perpetuate stereotypes we're not even aware that we hold. In this way, stories can be unhelpful (or even, damaging) to our overall evolution... because storytelling is a big part of how we process what life means, what roles we all can play, and how we can be with each other in the world. Speculative fiction, at it's best, helps us reexamine the human condition, ideally in ways we haven't before.

      I agree with you that it's crucial to look at fiction, particularly genre fiction, through this lens. Exposure to quality fiction and the analysis of it (and really everything else) is a big part of what writing is... so I do my best to compensate for the experience I might have garnered in a college setting.

      'Character development' has actually always been my strong point. For all my weakness in other areas (worldbuilding, namely... that's tough), I've been observing and reflecting on the human condition my entire life. People fascinate me, and I'm sure that's due in part to my parents, who encouraged me as a child to talk about the people in my life, to break down their personalities and actions and understand the motivations behind what drove them. It went beyond that... we wouldn't simply talk about my friends, we'd talk about their parents and their family dynamics; we'd talk about my teachers and the students they taught and why there might be conflict between them. And to a lesser degree, we talked about the characters in the books that I read. Just to give a few examples.

      I spend a lot of time on my own, thinking about the people I know, even just tangentially, trying to piece them together like a puzzle. The more I learn about them (whether or not they know me well or even think much about me), the more invested I am in fully understanding who they are, even if only privately. I do it unconsciously, and as I learned in my online roleplaying days, this grew into an aptitude for creating characters who not only felt lifelike, but stood apart from the cardboard cutouts that many of the people playing with me were happy to inhabit (and that I always found so unbearably dull).

      Creating characters and watching them develop organically is the most exciting part of writing fiction for me. I love shattering stereotypes, because I like to think I've done it in my own life. And having read much of the YA that's out nowadays, I can safely say that I stand a good chance of making an impression -- I seem to understand people a lot better than many of these budding authors. Not merely what makes people tick, but what makes them compelling, because I've spent so much of my life being compelled by them.

      Not to toot my own horn too much, though. There's always so much more for me to learn! But I guess I wouldn't want you to worry about me personally. I can only speak for myself, but I do feel like I've had a fair amount of exposure and I understand the vital subtext of storytelling. It's my goal to utilize this to be thought provoking, and challenge the paradigms that people have been content with for so long. This also reflects my upbringing -- I was raised outside of traditional gender roles, traditional power dynamics, and traditional expectations about my responsibilities moving through society. I guess it's no surprise that I would have something to say, and storytelling is the perfect medium. I'm confident that my life's experience will be reflected in the things that I write, and that it's opened my eyes to many undercurrents of human coexistence that some people never reflect upon. I've always been a deep thinker; I guess a part of me hopes to help others break through the surface of their own preconceptions.

      •  Great explanations, thanks (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Very interesting

        There are two kinds of people in this world. The kind who divide the world into two kinds of people, and the kind who don't.

        by upstate NY on Thu Apr 26, 2012 at 04:45:32 PM PDT

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      •  Agreed... great explanation! Well said! (1+ / 0-)
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        Your mom and I are wrestling with that "hero path" concept in the great sci-fi/fantasy TV show story arcs we have been watching on Netflix - Farscape, Buffy, Life on Mars, MI5, Dollhouse, Firefly, X-Files, Ashes to Ashes, etc.

        The invented contexts of these shows and the ability to tear characters apart and reassemble them in normally impossible ways adds a whole dimension to storytelling.  Kind of like what Picasso and abstraction did for painting and visual art.

        Cooper Zale Los Angeles

        by leftyparent on Fri Apr 27, 2012 at 08:43:26 AM PDT

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