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Back when I was doing my first semester of college my Creative Writing teacher made sure to make one thing very clear to me, kind of nailed it into the head repeatedly. And that was the difference between Literary Fiction, and so-called ‘genre’ fiction. That there are two big means of fiction writing.

Genre fiction is like sci-fi and romance, and fantasy. Things that have to have a set plot and a set design to them of things that must happen in the stories and the setting to make it sci-fi…or a western…or what not. And while Literary Fiction is more broad and general, and it focuses more on characterization instead of having to match a certain number of literary conventions to match with someones idea of what you are trying to do.

I both appreciate and really dislike this distinction, because on the one hand I do understand the distinction that one can draw and that if one followed literary conventions at the expense of descent story telling, well we get bad storytelling.

But the reason why I dislike this distinction is because I know that one can do character and genre at the same time. In fact some of the best characters that I know come from genre works. Be it the Doctor and Doctor Who with its huge themes of time travel and sci-fi, or Jack Ryan of the series of books written by Tom Clancy. In fact I can say that it is characters that attracts me to these works. Not setting, or action, or plot…sure those things are amazing and even nice when addressed properly….but the shows and books that distinguish themselves for me is the characters. That is what makes great fiction great. That is what makes great sci fi great or great fantasy great.

In fact I will even go so far to say that it is precisely because its genre, and has to match certain literary constraints, that it can create so many vivid characters.

For instance my professor often went off about how the ‘great terrorist from Planet X would go off to kill and invade the peaceful planet of peacefully’ *ok a really bad paraphrase*. But that was it basically that these plots follow rather simplistic plot structures.

But that’s just it. If you really can get plots out on one page and its so simple, that is perfect breeding ground for ripe characterization.

For instance whether it is an alien invasion and they were going to wipe out your people in a horrendous act of debauchery, or my current favorite, you either have to create/ stop a super weapon before the enemy kills you, maybe with the super weapon, is a time for great character. These plots are so simple that I can cite a dozen examples of it, some whole franchises have been devoted to these very themes. And some of them are much beloved, and some of them go into still deeper themes using that general structure as a jumping off point.

Same for character. If you use a simple formula for your story, Protagonist needs a technological device to stop antagonist, you can use that as a leaping off point for loads of character development.

How they react, what they do, who they fall in love with. How they deal with love and balancing that with a potential galaxy ending crisis, and a whole slew of other things acting on the character determines who the character is as a person.

Is he a paragon of virtue? Or a bad ass renegade? Will he destroy the super weapon and rid the galaxy of the great threat? Or will he spare it then forge it for his own purposes?

This is all character, this is all inventory, this is all things that will help determine who your character will be for years in the future and how he or she affects the universe around them.

This works well for whole series of books or movies or shows. You can do a simple plot line, and then establish the character in the meantime growing ever more complex as your series goes along and gets older. You can use that as a building block for future development in plot, and in character.

Either way though at the end of the day there is little difference between the two. Because if you want to be remembered, you must have memorable characters.


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