Supporting Characters are Important

I’m about half-way through American Gods, and I’m still loving it. Neil Gaiman is such an excellent writer. Anyhow, in the part I was reading last night, Shadow, the novel’s protagonist winds up giving a ride to a hitchhiking girl named Sam. This character, Sam, is only in the book for 5-10 pages, but I found myself really enjoying reading about her and especially her interaction and dialog with Shadow. This is what I want to accomplish with my writing — characters the reader enjoys and pulls for. I haven’t finished the novel, so I’m not sure if Sam appears again. I hope so, though.

I was doing some research about robots and A.I. for my novel yesterday, and of course did some digging about Isaac Asimov. Of particular interest was a part of his wikipedia entry which talks about some criticisms of his writing. From the wikipedia entry on Isaac Asimov:

One of the most common impressions of Asimov’s fiction work is that his writing style is extremely unornamental. In 1980, science fiction scholar James Gunn, professor emeritus of English at the University of Kansas wrote of I, Robot that:

Except for two stories—”Liar!” and “Evidence”—they are not stories in which character plays a significant part. Virtually all plot develops in conversation with little if any action. Nor is there a great deal of local color or description of any kind. The dialogue is, at best, functional and the style is, at best, transparent…. The robot stories—and, as a matter of fact, almost all Asimov fiction—play themselves on a relatively bare stage.

Gunn observes that there are places where Asimov’s style rises to the demands of the situation; he cites the climax of “Liar!” as an example. Sharply-drawn characters occur at key junctures of his storylines: in addition to Susan Calvin in “Liar!” and “Evidence”, we find Arkady Darell in Second Foundation, Elijah Baley in The Caves of Steel and Hari Seldon in the Foundation prequels.

Asimov was also criticised for the lack of sex and aliens in his science fiction.

This is something I have thought about a little bit. I’ve yet to write about sex in any of my fiction, and I don’t know if I’ll start. It’s not that I’m against anybody writing about sex in their works and I surely have nothing against it. I’m a pretty liberal person. That said, I don’t think I’m quite ready for the challenge.

Also, I would describe my own writing as “unornamental”. This is something I’m working on, but am in no hurry to go the other way with. I try to write what I like to read, and I’m not a big fan of pages and pages of description without any dialog or action.

Note that I’m not comparing myself to Asimov in any way. His work speaks for itself, and my work kinda just sits there in the corner whispering to no one in particular.

4 thoughts on “Supporting Characters are Important

  1. American Gods is a pretty great book. Glad you’re finally getting around to it. I’ll say nothing further, so as not to accidentally spoil anything.

    Just popping by to remind you and your readers about the GBA(s)FC #2, which kicks off May 1st over on my blog. Hope to see you there.

    Sorry to post off-topic.

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