ideas vs story

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ideas vs story

Postby Brightonian » Wed Nov 10, 2010 3:37 pm

I read an interview with Robert Sawyer where he said that he approaches his novels as vehicles for philosophical ideas, and works out the characters, plot twists and so on he needs to get the ideas across. This seems to me a dismal way to go about writing fiction, but then I haven't actually read any of his books - perhaps it works? I did groan inwardly when I read that he's writing a trilogy about the World Wide Web becoming conscious ...
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Re: ideas vs story

Postby admin » Thu Nov 11, 2010 9:58 am

I enjoyed the Hugo winning Hominids series, and I do think a philosophical idea can make a good start for a novel, provided you then construct a strong plot to illustrate the idea and strong characters to carry the action. To that I would add good wordsmithing.

But I'm not that fond of, for example, 1984, which stops the plot dead two-thirds of the way through for a big lump of political philosophy. Heinlein's early unpublished (at the time) We the People had the same problem. Heinlein learned better. H. G. Wells, on the other hand, forgot what he knew when he wrote his early classics, and his later novels are a mix of great story with undigested philosophical lumps. And Stapledon's The Last and First Men and Clarke's The City and the Stars are almost all philosophy and no plot.

I once interviewed comic book writer Jim Shooter, and he said that a story needs a theme. That's not quite the same as a philosophy, but I do feel a certain dissatisfaction with writers who are all plot and no philosophy at all.
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Re: ideas vs story

Postby slaven41 » Thu Nov 11, 2010 10:35 pm

That doesn't really bother me, since I like a story that gives me something to think about when I set it down. I even liked Atlas Shrugged, which I suppose is the ultimate example of starting with a philosophy and writing a story around it. (Although John Galt's 60 page speech, or however long it was, was a bit much). Writing with a message can be done well, though it can also be done badly.

The only Sawyer novel I read was The Terminal Experiment (I think) and it didn't impress me much, but I'm willing to try him again sometime. I've also used a couple of his short stories when I taught my Science of Science Fiction course, since they were very sciency.

"It's only Neutron. We call him that because he's so positive." --from This Island Earth
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