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I am a writer, editor, reviewer and dance teacher based in Perth, Western Australia.

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The first two novels of my trilogy, The Talismans, are not available as e-books at present, but I expect to get them back online shortly. However, I do have paperbacks of The Dagger of Dresnia at the low price of $25 including postage within Australia. I also have a short story, 'La Belle Dame', in print - see Mythic Resonance below. The best way to contact me is via Facebook!

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Saturday, 13 January 2007

Psychological Spec-fic

Over on e-buddy Ruv Draba's live journal he says "...if you want to write a psychological story, the speculative elements should help to: make the setting and characters more exciting and relevant, the plot more interesting, and the imagery more vivid....Actually, thinking about it, this probably applies to spec fic in non-psychological tales too."

This is a really important point that Ruv makes. There is nothing more inane than a purportedly spec-fic story in which the speculative elements are not an integral part of the plot. Yet there is nothing more tedious than a spec-fic story in which the characters are nothing but a means of carrying the plot along. This is one of the reasons I read very little hard Sci-Fi, as much of it, especially in the short story form, is all about problem solving and not about the human condition at all. (Don't jump down my neck: I’m not talking about all hard Sci-Fi here, just some of it!)

So how important is characterisation? For starters, how does a "psychological story" differ from a "character-driven story"? I'm putting this up for discussion, not delivering a lecture, so do let me have your comments. Is it possible to have a character-driven tale in which there is minimal or zero character growth? A baddy so bad and a goody so good that people go on reading the story just to enjoy the characters?

Perhaps it is, in a short story – in fact, there is little time in a short story to allow any character development at all, and some quite readable stories don't even try. It is possible to show considerable depth of character – or at least of one aspect of a character - in a short story, and some writers, such as Lee Battersby, do this extraordinarily well.

But can we have a character-driven novel in which there is minimal or zero character growth? I doubt it. A novel whose characters show little or no depth and growth has to be plot-driven, I think, and some novelists are masters of this style. Fiona McIntosh, one of Australia's best-loved fantasy writers, is a good example here. Her stories race along and keep her readers not only page turning but longing for the next book in the series when the last page is read.

OTOH, character without plot would be unthinkable in speculative fiction, (although not, perhaps, in some literary fiction of the post-modern persuasion!). Go back to Ruv's premise: that speculative elements should help to make the setting and characters more exciting and relevant. In a spec-fic work, there can be no setting, characters, plot or imagery without speculative elements.

So what has the kind of character development essential to a psychological story got to offer Speculative Fiction? A lot, I think. One of my favourite writers, Dave Luckett, once said in a workshop that the speculative elements should contribute to our learning more about the human condition: that we should see the characters grow and change through their contact with their world; the world the writer has invented for them.

I have always felt that good speculative fiction is, at least to some degree, allegorical – that the created world is a metaphor for the real one. The psychological speculative fiction story can do what any good tale will do – teach us something about ourselves, the world and our place in it. I think depth and growth in the characters is an important part of that. What do you think?

5 comments:

Ruv Draba said...

Thanks for picking this up, Satima. I'll be tracking it!

Fiction has many jobs. It entertains, it informs and provokes us, it soothes and placates us, it conjures sentiment just so that we can feel things more strongly, and gives us safe places to rest. But it doesn't do all those things at once, and so the aesthetics of style have to vary by intent.

Kids love speculative stories just because they're different. If you're story-telling to children, then sometimes the wilder and more disconnected, the better! If you manage to slip in a moral or some useful information too, then good on you, but kids may not care if you don't.

As adults - especially adults beleaguered by information and stress - I think that our attention-spans are strained. We like fiction to placate us, entertain us and conjure sentiment, but we're very critical, very cynical and so very hard to reach.

The tighter and better integrated the speculative premises, the less we feel manipulated, and the more we trust the author and the inner truth of the work. The less integrated it is, the more it looks like advertising and the quicker our bs-filters reject it.

Satima Flavell said...

Well said, Ruv. I was hoping to get some discussion going on this but the silence is blinding.

Just what does get people writing to blogs? Flimmering got 'em in and so did mince pies - no pattern there!:-)

Ruv Draba said...

Apparently eye conditions are popular too, if you look at eBear's blog.

Or maybe the discussion about chix in fantasy has killed it. :p

Satima Flavell said...

She's got a serious following among the visually impaired, has e! Maybe if you get going on that Zimmerian story you'll attract the elderly in droves.

Now, what specialised readership should I aim at? Must sleep on that one...

simone kilburn said...

Hi Satima

Just checking this out to see if it works.

Love simone x

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