Character-Driven Sci Fi

Earlier this week, Jeff talked about how dystopian novels for teens differ from those written for adults. Be sure to read it if you missed his post on endings.

I wanted to expand on that just a little, delving into the emotions needed for a young adult novel, science fiction or otherwise. Teens are angsty creatures. And they need characters they can connect with, which means that sometimes the plot takes a backseat to character.

One of my favorite novels, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, displays this thought of allowing the character to drive the story. Sure, there's a plot present. But it's not what drives the story to it's conclusion, sweeping Jenna along with it, forcing her to make choice A at pinch point B.

Jenna drives the story forward, with choice C and discovery D and feelings X, Y, and Z. I think this type of character-driven science fiction really resonates with young adults (it does with me!). It's not so much universes far, far away or glorious space battles, but a more subtle way of drawing the next generation of readers into the science fiction genre.

Because when we read about a character we love, maybe even one we see ourselves in, we'll keep coming back for more.

What books have you read that are more character-driven? More emotional? Do you prefer this "softer" science fiction or are you all about the science dictating the story? And give me some suggestions for character-driven sci fi that I just have to read, like yesterday.

And here's your next clue in our scavenger hunt! When you figure out the title of the secret book, click here to enter the drawing for the whole series!


Leah Petersen said...

Character driven sci-fi is probably my favorite thing to read of any genre/type/etc. Anne McCaffrey's books filled this need for me as a teen. Even when I got older and discovered her Killashandra for the first time.

I love a fantastical new future/world as much as the next girl, but if I don't care about, root for, bleed for the characters, what's the point?

My first novel, Mourn the Sun, is a character driven sci-fi.

(Excerpts on for the nosy.) ;)

Deva Fagan said...

I love a good plot and adore many of the trappings of scifi (spaceships, aliens, tech, brave new worlds) but it really does all come down to the characters most of the time. Maybe it was the early exposure to Star Wars but Space Opera is where my heart is!

I am a big fan of Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, which features a lot of scifi elements as well as fantastical stuff, but my favorite part about the series is the characters. Likewise Lois McMasters Bujold's Vorkosigan books.

I personally think character is particularly important in scifi that is going to reach out beyond the most devoted fans, because I think scifi has some of the strongest prejudices to overcome in reaching new readers -- I think a lot of folks are scared off of scifi thinking it is all science, no humanity. But really I think the best scifi combines the two, allowing them to inform one another.

I look forward to hearing what other folks have to say, too!

Elana Johnson said...

Deva, I know I was scared off because I thought you had to be "smart" to read scifi. Or be really into science or space. But that's not necessarily true. Thanks for your thoughts!

Leah, excellent point about needing to bleed for the character. I'll definitely check out your book and the other titles you mentioned.

LM Preston said...

As a scifi lover and writer who loves to read tons of other things including scifi - it always comes down to falling in love with the characters. Sometimes the main character may be difficult to chew - but the growth of that character while surrounded by likeable characters can really draw you in also.

Mandy P.S. said...

Interesting questions - especially "Do you prefer this 'softer' science fiction or are you all about the science dictating the story?" For me it has always been a mix of both. I want strong characters who live in a universe that has been amazingly changed by technology. I want to see how characters change their plot driven stories with their decisions. (Plot dictates first contact. Character drives: Do you shoot the first alien you see or greet him with open arms?) And I want to see authors attempt to understand science.

There is a reason why NASA has invited great science fiction writers to some of their conferences. We, Engineers, get some of our great ideas from the authors who imagine it might be possible. Gene Roddenberry imagined wireless communicators that are handheld or fit easily in your ear - Engineers created cell phones and blue tooth devices.

I like space opera as much as the next person - but give me a hard sci-fi where a character's world is changing because of the advents of technology (or the discovery of aliens) any day.

In my opinion, not enough hard science fiction is written. I think author's almost fear science sometimes. Authors who dabble in science fiction need to try to understand science and engineering. You don't need a degree in it - but at least find a friend who has one. (I volunteer! I love critiquing scifi!)

Here are books I love that are clearly not character driven - I love Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth books and "The Mote in God's Eye" by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle.

And I love David Weber's Safehold series (which has absolutely fantastic characters whom I adore) and anything by Asimov. Daneel Olivaw is perhaps my favorite character of all time. :)

And this post was way too long - but I have strong feelings about this :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Anne McCaffrey's my favorite, so I'd have to say I prefer character-driven to science fact. (And that definitely carried over into my own YA series.)

Jeff Hirsch said...

Good post! One of the things I love most about YA is how it focuses so intensely on character. Jenna Fox seems to be coming up all the time lately. Gotta go grab a copy!

Anonymous said...

I like 'em both. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon stands high in my list of all-time favs.

But, that said, like Bittersweet Fountain - I love me some technology! I put as much in my debut as I could do comfortably (I am so not an engineer!) But, may have to pick BF's brain, because I'd love to put in more.

Just yesterday I read a 1964 NYT's article by Asimov, where he critiqued the 1964 World's Fair and gave his vision of what the 2014 World's Fair might look like. It's fascinating - especially in light of many of the inventions he envisioned that actually have happened.

Perry Wilson said...

I always thought I was a plot driven writer, but then my characters started taking control of the story and I realized that my plot is just how I get started and that my stories are character driven to the extent that characters agree or not to follow the plot.

Mandy P.S. said...

Julie, feel free to pick my brain anytime! I don't even come close to knowing everything, but if I don't know the answer, I usually know someone who does!

Angie said...

I'm a long-time science fiction buff, and though I do like me some science and technology, I've always been drawn to character (and idea) driven stories. I love Connie Willis, Octavia Butler, Nancy Kress, Kim Stanley Robinson, to name a few.

Anonymous said...

As for YA, I love the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. It does a great job of incorporating plot and characters, not letting one overshadow the other.

I'm going to have to check out this Jenna Fox :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Bittersweet! I may have to take you up on that!

ML Mansfield & others who haven't read Jenna Fox - hie thee to a bookstore or library & read it! It's amazing!

Jemi Fraser said...

It's all about the characters for me. I also love McCaffrey's work.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Character-driven, or philosophical SF has always been my favorite! For YA, Uglies is a great example of the character leading us through the story.