By Carl Slaughter: For several years, me and Mike Resnick went back and forth about premise versus character. I insisted a science fiction story required a valid science premise well-integrated into the story. He insisted the characters were the only story elements that truly mattered.
Then one day I heard myself talking to Analog writer Karl Bunker about his “This Quiet Dust” story. Me and Bunker happen to both be on the Critters Workshop, so I was able to read an earlier version of “This Quiet Dust.” The version of “This Quiet Dust” that Analog published was significantly different from the draft Bunker had submitted to the Critters Workshop. I told Bunker, “The first ‘This Quiet Dust’ story is character oriented, the second ‘This Quiet Dust’ story is premise oriented. I’ll take character oriented version over the premise oriented version.”
When I saw these words come out of my keyboard, I knew Resnick had finally won. When I shared this experience with him, he said, “I gladly take credit for your conversion. :)”
But this was only one of a string of Resnick inspired epiphanies, so many I’ve lost count.
A few summers ago, I put “Birthright” on hold to binge watch 4 seasons of a The Good Wife. I’ve never met a legal drama I didn’t watch, but I’ve never binge watched any of them, much less 92 episodes over a period of 3 weeks.
When I thought about why I devoted so much of my valuable time to watching one television show, why I couldn’t stop watching, why I wouldn’t even be tempted to binge watch, indeed, even watch, 99% of other television shows, I realized it was because the characters were so compelling. Every one of them – main, recurring, and cameo – was fascinating.
Then they got a new showrunner or a new script team or lost their vision or something. After the fifth season, the story arcs became headline oriented, the scenes became antic oriented, and most importantly, the characters existed to serve the plot instead of vice versa. The show became a shell of its earlier self. I was on the verge of abandoning it when the network put it out of its misery.
A few months ago, I binge watched the first season of Billions, another legal drama. And for the same reason. There wasn’t even one character I didn’t thoroughly savor exploring. Comparing the two shows, I realized one was character development oriented and the other was character interaction oriented.
I never got back “Birthright,” but I did have yet another epiphany or two or three. I think it was worth the tradeoff.
Back when my debate with Resnick began, I was working with Diabolical Plots. My bio for Diabolical Plots doesn’t include anything about fiction philosophy. When SF Signal, File 770, and Amazing Stories asked for a bio, I included this line, “I subscribe the Mike Resnick literary philosophy: It’s all about the characters.”