Monday, May 12, 2014

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now #288 -- Character and World in Pulp Fiction

How much should character and world interrelate in pulps? 
What's more important, building the world or creating the character?

I love this question. I really do. I'm a huge fan of making the world (or you can call it the setting if you feel like it) a genuine character in the story. It's why I absolutely adore the Starman series by James Robinson, and it's also why my favorite Batman stories are not the ones actually about Batman himself, but instead the ones about Gotham City and its inhabitants and how Gotham shapes who its people (good and evil and otherwise) are.

So, to apply all that to pulps (which both of those series have a lot in common with, to be fair), I think the world should help shape the character of the, well, character. I feel that if a character (main or secondary or even foil) could be moved from setting to setting without that fundamentally changing who that character is, then that's a failure of the writer to make the setting crucial to the story and to make the character unique to the setting. In that sense, neither is important.

A case in point... When you take a character like Rick Ruby out of New York, it should affect him some way. A story with Rick Ruby in Chicago or L.A. would change the way he works, would throw him off his game, would cause him to think differently, cause him to be a different (in effect) Rick Ruby than he usually is. And it is the writer's job to make that visible to the reader.

I think this is a point where a lot of the more poorly written pulps of the classic era and today's New Pulp era break down and become what some refer to as "mere" pulp. I think there's a wealth of writers both classic and new who are able to take the world-building aspect of writer literature (but not with a snotty capital 'L') and apply it to pulp fiction in a way that raises the standard from "mere" pulp to the best pulp.