[MISC] Plot vs. Character

Martin Phipps martinphipps2 at yahoo.com
Sat Sep 2 21:18:35 PDT 2006

Back when I could be expected to find science fiction in the local
library, I used to read stuff by Asimov and Heinlein, mainly because
this was a long, long time ago (in a country far, far away).  I noticed
two things: Asimov was more hard SF while Heinlein was generally soft
SF.  Heinlein had aliens but Asimov either didn't believe in alien life
forms or didn't see any reason to go there.  Heinlein's stories were
also generally about plot whereas Asimov's stories were basically about
character (for example, how the main character felt about robots).
Heinlein's short stories were all interconnected in the sense that he
had mapped out a "future timeline" and people and situations would
refer back to events in stories that he had already written and had
happened earlier in the timeline; Asimov's stories were more self
contained and things like the three laws of robotics were explained
anew every time they came up.

You might get the feeling I liked Asimov better than Heinlein.  I did.
The biggest problem I had with Heinlein is that he'd set a story in
Mars and the biggest problem would be the weather, not the fact that
there wasn't enough oxygen in the atmosphere to allow you to breathe or
that the air was so thin, in fact, that your eyes would pop out.  It's
sad when a comic book like Watchman or a movie like Total Recall would
get these things right but written SF would get it wrong.  You could
argue that Heinlein's stories were written earlier and he was only
assuming people could breathe on Mars, but that isn't a good thing to
assume and, frankly, it is a bit misleading.  It also makes a story
seem dated when the science becomes known by the general public.  I've
seen it argued that it's okay to do something in an SF story if it's
already been done in other SF stories, but to me that is simply genre
inbreeding and it cheapens the value of stories told within that genre.

I have similar problems with Marvel's Civil War.  To me, the series is
all about plot and not about the characters we've known for forty+
years.  Bendis and Millar have created situations which would
inexorbinately lead to bringing Captain America and Iron Man into
conflict while ignoring the fact that (with the exception of The
Crossing and Metal Wars) the two of them have been friends for ten
years (Marvel time) and owe each other their lives.  It shouldn't be so
hard to bring these two together and get them to agree that they've
both been asses: they are not George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden; they
are not Israel and Hezbollah.  Tony, obeying the law does not mean
being Agent Hill's boy toy.  Steve, standing up for individual rights
should not require you to break the law.  See?  That wasn't so hard.
If Bendis and Millar wanted to do Civil War with these characters then
they should either have created new characters called Metal Man and
Captain Freedom or have done another Elseworlds style story a la the
Ultimates where the characters no longer have to be exactly the same as
they've been portrayed for forty+ years.  To me though, the sense of
grandeur comes not from the forty years of history but from the years
of comraderie that these characters share.

This brings us to RACC.  It's really cool when somebody is writing
their hundredth issue or so and they have a lot of plot threads to draw
on but sometimes it is just interesting to read about characters.
Jesse has been criticized for expecting people to have read everything
he's written.  But he's not alone in this sense.  Tom Russell, on the
other hand, tries to make almost everything he writes a jumping on
point by providing a full page of exposition at the beginning of each
story: sometimes it's better to jump in mid res and explain things as
you go along.  Mid res.  That's actually a term I picked up from Tom
himself, oddly enough.  I should reiterate that I don't think issue
summaries are a bad thing: I love the fact that Marvel does them and I
wish that DC would do them.  But summaries, by definition, should be

Tom and I have been talking over by e-mail about icons: besides
established superheroes and gangbangers, we also have detectives,
rookie cops, medical examiners, district attorneys and defense lawyers.
 I've recently found that it is a LOT of fun to play these icons off of
each other.  I know a lot of my LNH stories have been about playing
established characters off of each other and seeing what happens so
having iconic superheroes deal with iconic public servants would just
be an extention of the sort of thing I've already been doing, except
infinitely more serious.

Anyway, I just like placing the creative process out in the open.  I
apologize if I've ever (or currently am) stepping on anybody's toes by
doing so. :)


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