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Samir's Critical Corner

I love good writing. Samir's Critical Corner will have reviews on World Literature but you will also find reviews on various subjects like Mathematics or Tai Chi, and on specific niches like Nigerian writers.

Currently reading

South Sea Tales (Oxford World's Classics)
Robert Louis Stevenson
Progress: 122/289 pages
Elements of Fiction Writing - Characters & Viewpoint - Scott Card,  Orson Characters & Viewpoint is another book by Orson Scott Card from the Writer's Digest Books that failed to impress. The book is 182 pages and is divided into 3 main sections, 'Inventing Characters', 'Constructing Characters', and 'Performing Characters'. Each part is, in turn, divided into smaller chapters.

The first part covers topics that are really for the novice writer, someone who never wrote fiction and one day decided he/she wanted to... It explains how characters can come from people you know, your memories or yourself and so on, how to formulate a character with things like habits, patterns, abilities, feature and so on, and even talks about character names. Now I find this all quite useless, because if I had a novice at my doorstep, I'd rather ask him/her "How do you define yourself as a character?" then see what he/she comes up with, then ask him/her to write it down and take it from there, offering guidance and insight where necessary. Unlike Card's approach, where I find that writing about the obvious is redundant and generalizing the subjective in impractical.

The second part begins with explaining the MICE quotient - Milieu, Idea, Character, Event - explaining that all stories have this but it's necessary for the writer to know which is the prominent one, and therefore, the type of story being written. Card then moves on to briefly explain hierarchies of characters, which he divides into placeholders, minor characters and major characters. The next chapters cover the emotional stakes involved, the emotional qualities a writer endows the characters with, and then discusses comic characters and serious characters. The final chapter here covers 'Transformations', which is indeed a necessity in good story telling because a character should undergo change (or fail at it) and the reader should witness this change (or failure) - but, Card's discussion here becomes abstract and, like most of this section, does not really delve into how to do any of these things. Instead, Card points at contemporary examples from books and films, preaching the do's and don't's, while showing the novice what possibilities are available.

The third part is perhaps the most useful and focuses more on topics like voice and viewpoint rather than purely on character. Again though, the information is quite elementary and what he does in several pages, other writers have accomplished as an opening paragraph in their chapters of similar themes. The brief chapters here discuss the tense the story is told in, dramatic vs. narrative (only 3 pages... seriously?), and the different point of views, which occupies the bulk of this part.

All in all, this is a book for novices and even then, I would not recommend it because much of the fiction or films referred to are mainstream or pulp, and the topics are never explored in-depth. This means the aspiring writer will lack the fundamental knowledge necessary in understanding the mechanisms at work and, thus, not be able to exploit or manipulate them, as exceptional writing is wont to do. I've given this 2 stars because it could still be useful to the novice interested in pulp writing, and because Card does explain himself clearly.