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Rhetoretician -- Fiction etc.

Superlative Characterization

Superlative Characterization

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Solar Eclipse
I just finished reading two novels, both of which struck me as excellent examples of characterization and/or voicing.

One is Lois McMaster Bujold's Paladin of Souls, which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2004. When I picked it up I didn't realize it was a sequel (to another Hugo award winner, The Curse of Chalion, which I haven't read) but it turned out that the backstory was handled so deftly that I didn't notice the lack.

The impressive thing about Bujold's characterization is that all the characters -- even the minor characters, even the one-scene walk-ons -- have understandable, coherent motivations and personalities. Even the villain, who is just about as horribly evil as a villain can get, has a perfectly comprehensible history that explains the later awful behavior; you can even sympathize.

On top of that, the fantasy world was absolutely watertight -- I felt that I could have walked into that setting, complete with its Five Gods and its elemental demons, spoken with the natives and felt right at home. The story begins with the protagonist's personal needs and sorrows, but eventually you are caught up in the action and there comes a point, about 3/4 of the way through, where it becomes impossible to put it down (unfortunately for me, I reached that point at 1:00 a.m.). And the ending was very satisfying, although I won't say why.


The other novel was John LeCarre's The Mission Song, a story told in a first person voice. LeCarre has always rendered his first-person narrators with exquisite skill, and this one is no exception. The character here has a lot of conflicting internal impulses, a very complicated personal history and a highly dramatic, even urgent situation. Every one of his actions makes clear character sense, even the ones where I literally said, out loud, "No, don't!" There too, the agendas and personalities of the minor characters were clear and comprehensible, even in those areas where they surprised us -- although he doesn't give them as much visible history as he gives the protagonist, or (for that matter) as Bujold gives her minor characters.

Working as I am to learn the craft, it's wonderful to read writers who do these things with such skill.
  • Ooh, I've had The Curse of Chalion on my next to read list for months now, and have not gotten around to borrowing/buying it. But it has been mentioned on AW by a certain poster whom I respect, and the story sounds right up my alley (emotionally/physically scarred hero and all that). Glad you liked this one. It's given me a push to read the series. She sounds like an amazing writer.
    • The real eye-opener was the lightness of her touch. There was exposition, yes, but not one sentence more than she needed; she much preferred to fill in backstory through the characters' finding it out themselves. This is the first of her novels I've read, but she's had more Hugo awards for novels than anyone since Heinlein.
  • Is that your first John LeCarre novel? I think I've read just about everything by him. This was really an amazing novel. The character of Salvo is wonderful. I picked this up thinking this would be the usual cynical spy story. That character is not the typical LeCarre.

    I've never read Paladin of Souls. I usually try to read Sci Fi as short stories or novellas. I don't know why. I have read novels in which Sci Fi is kind of the backdrop and not the forefront. I might try it though because of your recommendation.
    • I've read quite a few LeCarre novels, one way or the other. The Spy Who Came In From the Cold; Tinker, Sailor, Soldier, Spy; Smiley's People; Our Game; The Little Drummer Girl; The Perfect Spy... I think that's about it. It's always his characters who intrigue me.
  • Thanks for the good rec's. Been missing you on LJ. Guess you've been reading. :)
    • Hi, Augusta! I've missed you too -- I'm not commenting on nearly as many posts these days.

      The reading is mostly before bed and listening in the car. Writing is my priority now, but during most of March I was booked up doing my conference paper. That, and my sister's visit, and... well, I've had no time for anything.
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