26 April 2013

Characters and Viewpoint, A Review

I'm putting all my Cards on the table with this post.  Characters & Viewpoint is the only other craft book I've read by Orson Scott Card.  This is a much more general book on craft than last week's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, but it covers some of the same material - all in greater depth however.  If you  write or plan to write SF&Fantasy, then I recommend reading both.  If you don't, then check last week's post for the section that is really helpful, then dive in to this book.

Card obviously talks about Characters and how to establish the correct viewpoint for your story - pretty straightforward title.  He does it all with his characteristic wit and generosity, in fact closing his book with a heart-felt wish to see us all stand alongside him on the bookshelves.

The real emphasis is on how to build riveting characters that don't get lost in the noise of misused/too-many names (we all remember reading Russian novels, right?) or upstaged by our minor characters.  As you'll remember from Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing, one of the keys to having truly memorable characters is to properly orchestrate all of your characters (and if a novel isn't an orchestra, then what is it?). Card gets into the real nuts and bolts of orchestration, not the least of which is sexual tension, which is easy to establish, but hard to maintain and handle well.  Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game might not exactly drip with sexual tension - in fact there's none - but Card clearly knows how to handle sexual tension and gives examples of other authors and shows that have done admirably in that department.

I wouldn't declare this book mandatory reading for an undergraduate writing degree, but I would say that it's very helpful for those of us that spend more time on Milieu and Event than we do on Character  (Card brings up the MICE quotient from How to Write SF&F*).  Even if you're a master at drawing characters, this book will help you figure out what to do with them now that you have them.

And if none of that appeals to you, how about new ways to develop ideas and smoothly transform your characters over the story arc? Remember that we don't want jumping conflict or characterization or Lajos Egri will haunt us.

If all else fails, at least this book will give you another justification for people watching, and what writer doesn't love that?

*MICE is shorthand for Milieu, Idea, Character, Event.  Each author has his or her own preference on which of these elements to focus: Tolkien was Milieu, or he wouldn't have created 11 languages; C.S. Lewis was Idea driven or his novels wouldn't be allegory; Dan Brown is Event focused or his novels might read slower - relentless pacing covers a multitude of sins; Young-Ha Kim (I Have the Right to Destroy Myself) is Character driven or his novel wouldn't be the gem that it is. If you haven't read I Have the Right to Destroy Myself, I recommend it; not many authors can capture the tone of two rudderless characters and still make the story arresting.

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