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2012 Reads > TIG: What books meet Kay's criteria of a good novel (interesting plot/people)

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message 1: by Tamahome (last edited Jun 03, 2012 07:06PM) (new) - added it

Tamahome | 6253 comments In the audio interview I posted that nobody noticed, Guy Gavriel Kay gave his definition of a good novel:

"A good novel is one where interesting things happen to interesting people."

So what sff books do you think meet that criteria? His point was that usually mainstream books only have the interesting characters, and genre fiction tends to have the more interesting plots.

EDIT:
see minute 25 http://trashotron.com/agony/audio/guy...


David Sven (gorro) | 1582 comments Tamahome wrote: "In the audio interview I posted that nobody noticed, Guy Gavriel Kay gave his definition of a good novel:

"A good novel is one where interesting things happen to interesting people."

So what sf..."


I noticed T. Just need an extra hour. I'll get to it.

And I totally agree with a good novel being interesting things happening to interesting people.

I may have mentioned elsewhere that I Lemmed the Malazan series after book 7 only to feel like reading it again after a 3 week break. I have a love/hate relationship with Steve Erikson. There is so much I love about his books and then there is so much I hate about them as well. He has some very interesting characters and interesting things happen to them. The problem is there a lot of boring characters that appear very similar to other boring characters and nothing much seems to happen to any of them. And then there are some semi interesting characters where you hope something interesting will happen to them because most the way through the book they are travelling from A to B with a of self indulgent introspection in between. All of this in the same book 1300-1400 page book. But the world building is brilliant and detailed. There are very few loose ends (though often they are tied up several books later). So within the same book at times I feel like I'm reading brilliance and then there are times where its just painful.

Tigana is not like that. This book all the characters are interesting. I certainly would never mistake one for another (as I often do in the Malazan Series). And there is a lot of interesting/intriguing things happening to them. You care about the characters. You feel there heartache. You feel there outrage eg Erlein - we barely meet him before we are saying - "Hey hey what are you doing?!you can't do that to him!"


message 3: by Janny (new)

Janny (jannywurts) | 44 comments There are few who write to the caliber of Kay, with the intricacy of character development but this would be my list for SFF:

Carol Berg, in particular her Lighthouse duology, beginning with Flesh and Spirit. Most of her works are series, but she did one standalone, and that is very good.

R. M. Meluch, C. J. Cherryh, Barbara Hambly, Kristine Smith, Karin Lowachee.

Martha Wells' The Death of the Necromancer

Stephen R. Donaldson, in particular his duology The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through

Lois McMaster Bujold

Most of these names are women - but except for one series, done by the last, their plots do not center on romance. I would have placed works by all of these writers in the same class as Kay, but sadly, many of them are barely recognized, and only a few have been noticed as thankfully, Kay is becoming, now.


P. Aaron Potter (paaronpotter) | 585 comments I'm not sure I agree. Plenty of excellent stories consist of interesting things happening to quite ordinary people. Indeed, the 'quest' sub-genre thrived on the trope, from The Hobbit to The Matrix.


message 5: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments "Ordinary" and "interesting" aren't necessarily the same thing.


David Sven (gorro) | 1582 comments P. Aaron wrote: "I'm not sure I agree. Plenty of excellent stories consist of interesting things happening to quite ordinary people. Indeed, the 'quest' sub-genre thrived on the trope, from The Hobbit to The Matrix."

Hobbits are ordinary? Neo was ordinary? Does ordinary preclude interesting? I think Kay was trying to say "interesting" as in the reader should be interested in the character?
Perhaps its the interesting things that make the character interesting.
In The Magicians Quentin starts off ordinary and then becomes interesting as he discovers his magical powers. Though he is no way as interesting as Devin or Allesan or Brandin or even Dianora.


Nimrod God (nimrodgod) | 273 comments @David, wow, didn't like Magicians eh? lol I joined in at Hyperion, not sure if I want to dive into it.


David Sven (gorro) | 1582 comments Nimrod wrote: "@David, wow, didn't like Magicians eh? lol I joined in at Hyperion, not sure if I want to dive into it."

I didn't mind it at the time I was reading it and even thought I might continue on to the next book - BUT . .. a few books later and I find I have no interest in revisiting Lev Grossman.


message 9: by P. Aaron (last edited Jun 04, 2012 05:44PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

P. Aaron Potter (paaronpotter) | 585 comments DavidSven: " Hobbits are ordinary? Neo was ordinary?"

Yes. That was, in fact, the whole point of The Hobbit, and arguably of The Matrix as well. See Thorin's final speech to Bilbo, or Gandalf's rationale for why only Hobbits made suitable ringbearers: they were unambitious, quiet, ordinary sorts of people. Like Arthur Dent, for that matter, or many 'heroes' of the picaresque mode.


David Sven (gorro) | 1582 comments P. Aaron wrote: "Yes. That was, in fact, the whole point of The Hobbit, and arguably of The Matrix as well. See Thorin's final speech to Bilbo, or Gandalf's ..."

I get the common theme of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I'm just not sure Kay is contrasting "interesting" with "ordinary."

Bilbo may be ordinary within the context of the fictitious world he lives in yes - but that doesn't necessarily mean the reader finds him uninteresting.

Most people I know are "ordinary" but I still find them more interesting than say President Obama (who is not ordinary). Actually, I think Obama is getting less interesting as time goes on.


message 11: by P. Aaron (last edited Jun 04, 2012 08:54PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

P. Aaron Potter (paaronpotter) | 585 comments I get your point, but then we're left with the empty word "intersting," which is entirely too subjective to be useful for discussion. It's like saying "hey, you know what would make a great book? A good plot and some good characters!" Not really useful advice, Mr. Kay.

Don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying the novel so far (just shy of halfway through), and I think his characterizations are almost (not quite, but almost) as deep as Robin Hobbs'. Certainly a hell of a sight better than Tolkien's. I just suspect that, like most writers, he *can* write, but can't really articulate how he does it in a way that's useful for critics or students of the craft.

Re: the OP:

When Kay says that he thinks genre has more of a lock on interesting plot than on interesting characters, is he referring to the sff genre in particular, or genre fiction in general as opposed to "literary" fiction?


message 12: by David Sven (last edited Jun 04, 2012 09:14PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Sven (gorro) | 1582 comments Perhaps he should have said the reader has to care about the characters. Or the maybe he could have said the writer must be able to emotionally connect with his characters.

Hmmm. I haven't read any Robin Hobb yet. I might have to bump them up on the to read list.


Charles (CAndrews) | 60 comments P. Aaron wrote: "It's like saying 'hey, you know what would make a great book? A good plot and some good characters!' Not really useful advice, Mr. Kay."

On the contrary, that's probably the best advice a person can give to a writer. Granted, it doesn't tell you how but what it says is: if your book is dull or your characters two dimensional, people aren't going to want to read it.


message 14: by Noel (new)

Noel Baker | 364 comments Charles wrote: "P. Aaron wrote: "It's like saying 'hey, you know what would make a great book? A good plot and some good characters!' Not really useful advice, Mr. Kay."

On the contrary, that's probably the best ..."


I'm with Mr Aaron on this one. It is an exercise in stating the bleeding obvious. It's like saying the best food tastes really nice.


message 15: by Dave (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave Janny wrote: "There are few who write to the caliber of Kay, with the intricacy of character development but this would be my list for SFF:

Carol Berg, in particular her Lighthouse duology, beginning with Flesh..."


Thanks Janny i sadly i'm not familar with any of them. Looks like i have some new books to look into.


message 16: by Eric (new)

Eric | 5 comments I think this quote is a good summary of my reasons for having a mixed experience with Song of Ice and Fire. Some of the featured characters (particularly in Feast) are just not interesting to me, and those chapters just drag. I'm not demanding that I like a character, but for characters I dislike I have to enjoy disliking them.

I definitely agree with Bujold. From Miles to Chalion to The Sharing Knife, she always writes her characters and her plots well. I would put Brandon Sanderson and Neil Gaiman in the same category.

I certainly have others that I think qualify, but I know are more controversial. I'm not sure, for instance, where most people stand on Tad Williams. I have found mixed reactions when I try to recommend him, although I think everyone should read the Shadowmarch series.


Charles (CAndrews) | 60 comments Noel wrote: "I'm with Mr Aaron on this one. It is an exercise in stating the bleeding obvious. It's like saying the best food tastes really nice."

Precisely! And yet how many top chefs do you know make food that's fancy rather than something that tastes nice?

Sometimes the best advice is the bleeding obvious!


P. Aaron Potter (paaronpotter) | 585 comments Darren wrote: " You're proving yourself a bit elitist there, by choosing "ordinary" as an antonym of "interesting"...

No, I'm just trying to come up with some useful definition of the word "interesting." As stated, the term is meaningless. Interesting is ' that which generates interest.' It's simply empty, circular rhetoric. One can be unordinary without drifting into elitism...consider the protagonists of Carl Hiassen's books, or Robert McCammon's. But the whole point of The Hobbit, and LotR, as Gandalf points out st length is that hobbits are ordinary. They shun the "interesting." Thats what makes them the perfect foils for picaresque fantasy adventure.


message 19: by Noel (new)

Noel Baker | 364 comments Charles wrote: "Noel wrote: "I'm with Mr Aaron on this one. It is an exercise in stating the bleeding obvious. It's like saying the best food tastes really nice."

Precisely! And yet how many top chefs do you know..."


If it is obvious, the advice is redundant surely?


Charles (CAndrews) | 60 comments Noel wrote: "If it is obvious, the advice is redundant surely? "

Not necessarily, because you can get so bogged down in the detail you forget the obvious. Going back to the food example, you can focus on getting really posh, fancy food, but if it doesn't taste nice and doesn't provide sustenance then it's wasted effort.


Steven Luke (stevejluke) | 6 comments P. Aaron wrote: ...I'm just trying to come up with some useful definition of the word "interesting." As stated, the term is meaningless. Interesting is ' that which generates interest.' It's simply empty, circular rhetoric.

A useful/non-circular definition for "interesting" could be "holding the attention, engaging, or gripping". Certainly this does not come at odds with "ordinary" (which might be defined as "often observed and encountered") but I would expect that a lot the synonyms/similar words for interesting fall into the antonyms/near antonyms for ordinary.


message 22: by Tamahome (new) - added it

Tamahome | 6253 comments I think Kay's point was to try to take what's good about mainstream fiction and what's good about genre fiction, and try to mix them together.


P. Aaron Potter (paaronpotter) | 585 comments Charles: you're begging the question...what makes food "nice." Without definition, it's just a subjective judgment, useless as instruction.

Steven: according to Gandalf, and the narrator, hobbits are neither engaging, gripping, or worthy of much attention. Doesn't Radhagast actually mock Gandalf for wasting his time with these boring little mud-dwellers? And of course it's the very fact that they *aren't* noticeable which allows them to sneak under Sauron's radar and succeed.

The entire point of the picaresque novel-of-development is that the protagonist is, at least at the outset, an ordinary schlub.


Charles (CAndrews) | 60 comments P. Aaron wrote: "Charles: you're begging the question...what makes food "nice." Without definition, it's just a subjective judgment..."

True. And likewise what makes a good book is also subjective. But you know your own tastes, which leads on to the other useful bit of advice for first-time authors: write what you would enjoy reading. While on one hand a very subjective thing, on the other a useful bit of advice.

So, linking back to the first point, by looking at what you as a reader thinks are interesting plot ideas and what you as a reader thinks are interesting character ideas, you can start to write something that you think is interesting with interesting characters. And if you think that, the chances are someone else will as well. Consequently, it's not a bad bit of advice and, if it makes you look intelligently at what you think is interesting and why, it is worth actually saying as well.


message 25: by Steven (last edited Jun 09, 2012 03:48PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Steven Luke (stevejluke) | 6 comments P. Aaron wrote: "Steven: ...The entire point of the picaresque novel-of-development is that the protagonist is, at least at the outset, an ordinary schlub."

I totally agree. I was just saying that there is not a natural dichotomy between ordinary and interesting. I do agree that there are different styles. The style you use starts with an 'ordinary' (or seemingly ordinary) individual, and through the machinations in the story they become extra-ordinary or you (as a reader) are led to find them interesting by their actions and reactions.

It appears to me like Mr. Kay takes a different style, and believes the characters should each have a twist, a tale, and a talent which makes them interesting (and not ordinary as a side effect) prior or independent of the storyline. My personal opinion is that he does it too much. If every character has something that makes them extraordinary (and thus 'interesting') then really no character is extraordinary and they all become variations on the same template (and for me, less interesting).


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