Friday, July 22, 2005


A very interesting little debate has been going on in more than a few blogs I have visited lately - characterization vs. ideas -- what's more important?
The debate started with someone claiming that there's a difference between male and female writers, the former writers concentrate on ideas, that person claimed, while the latter on characterization.
I don't think that the gender issue warrants even the slightest consideration, but the concept of what's more important in fiction -- ideas vs. characterization -- is very interesting.

In literary fiction (and by literary I exclude Grishamand the likes, any genre whatsoever, and popular mainstream), we can find that both play an important and integral role in the success of a book.
While Catch 22,Beloved,The Catcher in the Ryeand To Kill a Mockingbirdare all character driven, one can't say the ideas don't flow from these books like water from an endless fountain. And what about other classics whose ideas are more visible like 1984,Brave New Worldand Fahrenheit 451,are the characters in these books flat? Not at all, quite the contrary.

Maybe my definition of ideas is different from others, broader, so let's look at a genre where ideas are crucial to the plot - science-fiction. Science-fiction books, have to have good ideas in order to be considered good. But are good ideas enough? Again, after close examination, we see that the really successful books are always the ones that manage to have very good characters in addition to good ideas. And please don't jump down my throat and scream Asimovin my face, I'm talking in general terms. Just take, Le Guin,Sawyer,Kressand Card,for example, and see what I mean.

Now, I read very little mainstream, so I can't comment much on Grishamand the likes, but I did have the dubious pleasure of reading The Da Vinci Code,which I thought had flat characters, and therefore I didn't think it was a good book. Ideas galore, but characterization none. Successful - yes, but literary - no.

Harry Potter,on the other hand, is in a different class altogether. Ideas and characterization. Well done in both departments. Does that fact make it literary? I doubt it, but it makes it successful.

And what about Romanceand Chicklit? (Aside: seems like any book with a female main character nowadays is considered chicklit). Too much generalization in these genres. And Mysteryand Horror?Are Agatha Christieand Stephen Kingcharacter or idea driven? I'll allow the fans of these genres to answer that, but I suspect I already know the answer.

This whole discussion is extremely interesting and my thoughts seem to be slightly different from what I read others have said about the subject. I think that both ideas and characterization are not only important but are crucial elements to the making of a good book.

Here are some other posts on the subject:
It's All About Character
Toward a Utopia of Book Reviewing for Women

Categories: ,

No comments: