Take it away Tony!
A friend of mine reads mainly crime fiction. He looks down on other genre fiction, particularly Science Fiction and Fantasy. His reason? “Crime fiction isn’t about the crime, you see. It’s all about the relationship between the characters.”
Well, yes. But that’s true of all fiction. (It’s also rather patronising, but that’s a conversation I intend to have with him away from this keyboard and the glow of the monitor screen.)
James Bond, Spot the Dog, even The Tale of the Bad Teddy. All those stories work because the reader can understand and identify with the characters. If the reader knows how someone will react under different circumstances, then they’e on the way to being a good character. Granted, this knowledge may take time to appear: good characters can surprise the reader by their actions, but looking back at the end of the story, the reader should be able to see that that character acted reasonably consistently throughout.
Problems arise with characters in fiction, genre or otherwise, when they are poorly realised or simply cliches. Personally, I think that the first fault is the worse than the second. A cliched character will at least act consistently.
Then there is the tendency to go to the other extreme, something that is showing up increasingly on TV series. This is the tendency to have too many characters possibly stung by the charge of cardboard characterisation, too many TV shows are giving everyone a character. This is a mistake. Writing is all about focus. When showing a scene, describe the key details, focus in on the key characters. It seems that in some shows nowadays that everyone has a back story filled with emotional angst. I don’t care. I don’t want to know.
I don’t want to sound like some nineteenth century aristocrat dismissing the servants back below stairs, but sometimes a waiter is just a waiter. He may live an exciting life filled with rich emotional encounters, but these all happen off-scene. When he’s on the page, he’s there just to deliver the coffee and get out of there.
I should point out at this moment that Dream London contains exactly the right number of very well realised characters. You really should read it.
Captain Jim Wedderburn has looks, style and courage by the bucketful. He’s adored by women, respected by men and feared by his enemies. He’s the man to find out who has twisted London into this strange new world, and he knows it.
But in Dream London the city changes a little every night and the people change a little every day. the towers are growing taller, the parks have hidden themselves away and the streets form themselves into strange new patterns. there are people sailing in from new lands down the river, new criminals emerging in the east end and a path spiralling down to another world.
Everyone is changing, no one is who they seem to be.
Dream London by Tony Ballantyne is out now by Solaris Books
Source: Dream London