Silly vs Fun vs Ignorant Characters in Otherwise Serious SF/F

Col. Jack O'Neill (Stargate SG:1) pulls it off. There's some fananalysis dedicated to this.
I don't know how useful it is to compare the output of an actor to a written character.
 
Pretty useful. The character was, after all, written down on paper at first.
A script isn't a remote control for an android. It is some stage direction and dialogue with little emotional guidance. What actors do is find the humor or emotion in those spare lines and turn them into actual humor or drama. Written characters don't have expressions or body language. They have no timing in their delivery. The writer of prose has no translator of their intent, but they have all sorts of other tools at the disposal that a script writer does not.

It is simply misleading to suggest learning writing characters by watching TV. They are entirely different mediums for fiction, and deliver humor and drama differently.
 
Regarding exposition characters, I'd suggest not having one person who always needs to have things explained to them, to avoid it getting obvious and boring. Mrs Scientist can explain science to Mr Explorer, and vice versa. Sometimes a short infodump works just as well in SFF.

Regarding comedy characters, I'm not that keen on them in stories that aren't outright comedy. Everyone in the Space Captain Smith books is a comedy character, because the books and setting are fundamentally absurd. I think the need to inject comedy into a non-comedy story (which isn't easy to pull off) may just get in the way of the story or spoil tone or tension. And one man's funny or cute is often another man's annoying.

I wonder if some of the spaceships and drones in Iain M Banks' books would count as comedy characters. I've never found Banks funny, but a lot of people seem to find the spaceship names hilarious.

In serious stories, I prefer "safety" characters, who are unthreatening and allow the protagonists to relax in their company: a friendly sidekick, colleague etc that a character can visit between adventures. There's also a sort of cynical outsider character (Tyrion from ASOIAF is one) who can comment on the story without actually cracking jokes. I suspect that TV shows feel more of a need to balance out drama and tension with humour - books have a narrower audience and can probably get away with more.
 
Hi,

I think we may be overlooking the number one reason why silly / fun characters should be in a book - which is of course because they're silly and fun. I don't agree that everything must be there - including the cast - simply to advance the plot. Above all else they should be there to entertain. So I wrote Tusk - a warthog - purely for the enjoyment factor. I'm fairly sure he didn't advance the plot one damned bit, but he was adorably ugly and a natural trouble maker who caused his master no end of trouble through his natural warthog ways!

Also why can't your MC be silly and fun as well as living in a world of pain and struggle? People say silly things all the time (except for me of course because I'm always serious and sober!) And those silly things don't have to detract from the plot as much as bring a character to life and make a situation real.

Cheers, Greg.
 
It is simply misleading to suggest learning writing characters by watching TV. They are entirely different mediums for fiction, and deliver humor and drama differently.
I disagree. It is all story telling and you totally can transfer lessons from one media to another.
 
I disagree. It is all story telling and you totally can transfer lessons from one media to another.
Certainly. I just disagree that it applies to character based humor.

This is a whole class of media disconnectedness that is the same reason we don't have original SF books about giant robots. Some things don't work in all media.
 
Certainly. I just disagree that it applies to character based humor.

This is a whole class of media disconnectedness that is the same reason we don't have original SF books about giant robots. Some things don't work in all media.

Sure, but some of that is because mature/maturing writers get a sense for how best to tell their stories in they way they communicate. Would Watchman be great as it is if it were a novel without the graphical component? Maybe? Probably not? Could Robert Graves write a screen play? (Answer: no) Everyone leans into their style and what speaks to them and works for them.

Humor, more than drama, is highly specific because it's predicated on juxtaposition (which is based on connection and reference), shared experience (same) and language (same + usage). It's why finding a multi-cultural spanning comic is RARE. I heard a conversation between Neal Brennan (American), Jim Jeffries (Aussie) and Jimmy Carr (Brit) talking about comics and Jeffries had the insight that there are fewer active, successful stand up comics than there are professional athletes in any single sport-- it is literally harder to be a professional standup than a professional footballer or NBA player and that's insane considering the worldwide population.

But also speaks to the challenges of being humorous (outside of the specific medium)
 
Hi,

We don't have books about giant robots? One of the first books I read when we moved houses to Whitby was Gold the Man. I would have been about seven or eight and the cover as I recall had a giant robot on it. Of course our hero was inside the robot controlling it, so I'm not sure if that makes a difference. (Not a great read if I'm honest though. Too much a mix of Amazing Stories and teenage wish fulfillment, but hey!)

Cheers, Greg.
 
Hi,

We don't have books about giant robots? One of the first books I read when we moved houses to Whitby was Gold the Man. I would have been about seven or eight and the cover as I recall had a giant robot on it. Of course our hero was inside the robot controlling it, so I'm not sure if that makes a difference. (Not a great read if I'm honest though. Too much a mix of Amazing Stories and teenage wish fulfillment, but hey!)

Cheers, Greg.
I'm making a general point that a super popular subgenre in visual media loses its key fascination (like imposing scale) when all you have are numbers and comparisons to explain why the big robots are so cool. There certainly are written stories about large scale people and machines, but those stories don't derive their interest mainly from scale.

Similarly, it would be difficult to write a book where the great style of the characters holds the reader's attention. Because books are words, and certain concepts aren't verbal.
 
In my current project I've introduced an ignorant side character to both lighten the mood a bit and offer an easy road for natural worldbuilding.
An interesting subject. In my current work I have Carapace, who is the lighter side of things. Verbose and intelligent but doesn't fully understand the world he has found himself in yet is very enthusiastic about everything in it. Devoid of any malice he is the outside view on the violence and what he sees as the irrational combatative nature of humanity and the Rakshara.
 
I think Jar-Jar Binks compared to C3PO and R2D2. The latter has a purpose and made valid points where as the former was unremittingly annoying comic relief
 
I love this - the conversation has digressed. The best thing with conversations.

@Swank :

The topic of differences between books, movies and plays is vast and deep. To summarize the part we are talking about: comic characters: I agree with the point that different media can do different things more easily. However, skill and technique can cover the gap. e.g. Slap stick humor seeming is easier to do in a movie and may very well be suited to a movie/play, but you can pull it off in writing. P.G. Woodehouse is a supreme example of how to do this.

He does this by going to the heart of slapstick (and a lot of other things): anticipation. We don't laugh just because the man slipped on a banana peel. We laugh because we know the man, we've seen the banana peel and we see him walk towards the banana peel and we already know what's going to happen. We're just waiting for it. We in fact start laughing before the man slips. Old P.G. would take a page to write about this, and we'd be laughing all the way, because he'd be building up anticipation.

Similarly, funny characters in books are as funny as funny characters in movies/plays but they have to be set up right.


@ColGray and everyone else:

Yes, we come back to the idea of having an ennui to stand in for the reader. I recall reading a discussion where people suggested Tolkein always wrote from the perspective of the least powerful character in a scene. I don't know if that is right, but it's a good technique: the least powerful character has the least information and has the most to lose and is the most at risk, so that's the most tense viewpoint to write from.
 
Yes, we come back to the idea of having an ennui to stand in for the reader. I recall reading a discussion where people suggested Tolkein always wrote from the perspective of the least powerful character in a scene. I don't know if that is right, but it's a good technique: the least powerful character has the least information and has the most to lose and is the most at risk, so that's the most tense viewpoint to write from.
This is a good technique, but should be understood that "powerful" in most contexts is information power. The "weak" character does not have all the information and is discovering what is going on along with the reader. They also have no special perspective to skew their perception of how events will play out, but may have a misperception that will be disproved - increasing their wonder at the situation.

Which is why a story like Dune can head jump to any character: At any given time even the emperor can be guessing about what is happening and why.


Or you can write from no character's perspective.
 
Tolkein always wrote from the perspective of the least powerful character in a scene.
That's fascinating.

I don't know when it started but I often find myself wondering why an author chose a given POV for a scene --especially when the POV is watching action unfold, rather than being the actor that unfolds the action--and find the list of reasons is typically:
  1. To highlight power imbalance / character interaction
  2. To widen the lens -- POV 1 is in a fight, while POV2 sees the entire landscape -- and build tension
  3. To misdirect/hide/obfuscate critical detail that another POV would reveal
  4. To kill off a character
    1. This is often tied to misdirection
Interesting to add, To more easily insert the reader by relying on the least-able-to-act to the list.

Cool!
 
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