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Novel beginnings and The Name of the Wind

May 22, 2012

This is a post with multiple personalities.

The first thing included is that I’ve begun my novel. I wrote the first chapter tomorrow, and rather unexpectedly changed two characters in the telling. Three major players are introduced in the first chapter. Two of them changed dramatically.

One is a character with point of view, named, provisionally, Yannick. He’s a boy of twelve. Originally he was unlearned, kind of an audience surrogate used to make difficult scenes more pleasing to the audience: things could happen and he couldn’t understand them. In writing, though, he became a bit of a self-obsessed jerk. Not too much: bad things are happening to him. He’s a little out of touch with reality, which makes sense, since he came from a very rich background.

Meanwhile, another future point of view character, Aloysius, remained who he was–a politically in power Ernest Hemingway type–but changed a lot visually. I’m very interested in representing a sort of multiculturalism in presentation, so these people have very different cultures. In general, all three characters got a lot of bad traits, though, instead of the positives they had.

This happened, in large part, because of The Name of the Wind, a book by Patrick Rothfuss.

Here’s some disclosure. I like Patrick Rothfuss. He’s a very talented writer, he writes a very funny blog that I read, somehow, before I read the book. We kind of look alike, so I can see myself in his shoes.

That said, I don’t particularly like The Name of the Wind.

(You can probably tell I’m hedging a little bit.)

You see, The Name of the Wind is this beautiful book. It reminds me of Le Guin in the sense that it’s *written*, and I mean that in a very literary sense. Yes, I quibble with some of the writing (I almost rejected the book in the store because I can’t abide opening sentences with “to be” involved), but overall it’s masterful in its prose. The book has some really startling passages.

But I hate the main character.

No, I don’t know if I’m going far enough. I spent a full paragraph (by my standards) lavishing praise on the writing, so here’s this: the main character makes me so angry. He is a super smart, incredibly street savvy bastion of coolness who’s spent the three hundred pages I’ve read making no mistakes, having bad things happen to him anyway, and basically being the Fonz of fantasy literature.

This is a guy who assaults a teacher and gets away with it because “the teacher had it coming.” This is a kid so charming and brilliant that he gets paid to go to magic school despite being two years under the recommended age.

That’s the thing I like about Game of Thrones: its lack of exceptionalism. Its most exceptional human being, Tyrion, not only makes mistakes but has many physical deformities that mask these mistakes. This main character has mastered all of magic in a year because…well, he’s smarter than everyone else.

I like literally everything else about this book. The world is neat, the writing practically peerless, the other characters interesting and flawed. The problem is they go away, and we’re left with this insufferable know-it-all, fantasy Batman, Gandalf, and Robin Hood rolled into one person. I’m sorry, I just can’t deal with that.

Will I keep trying? Probably. It’s a long book, a fairly slow read (the downside of really good writing), and I’m completely uninterested in the character.

Here’s a bigger thing: it’s better, in my opinion, to watch someone overcome their own mistakes than to overcome someone else’s evil. To focus on my favorite fantasy series, The Wizard of Earthsea, the main character there has many similarities to Kvothe. He’s a prodigious talent, brilliant in every way, who saves his village from an invasion as a boy younger than Kvothe. The thing is, his challenge isn’t that some bogeyman killed his parents (which works with Batman, to be fair, but because Batman was a dick before then. He becomes better because of it), but that he unleashed an ancient evil upon the world in his own hubris. He made a mistake, and he has to fix it.

That’s more interesting, to me: watching people fix their own problems, rather than fixing problems thrust on them by the world. People reaping what they sow, in other words.

That’s my goal, with my book. I’m making sure my characters face problems stemming from themselves. It’s why Yannick had to be a little bit of a bastard: he has to overcome external problems. In general, bastards are proven by external problems, while good people are undone by their tragic flaws. The worst, in my book, is good people, superb people, overcoming adversity. To me, that’s just boring.

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