Thursday, August 16, 2012

Storycraft and tragedy: The Wise Man's Fear

I finished reading Patrick Rothfuss's The Wise Man's Fear last night, and I was awestruck. The sheer craftsmanship that went into the story - not just the plot, but the world and the cultures and the layers upon layers of perfection... my mind is still too boggled to even contemplate how much work went into that.

I am a writer. And I damn well want to be a published money-making author one day. But I doubt I will ever write anything as intricate as this story. To be honest, I'm not sure I'd even want to.

Not that the book isn't a masterpiece. The way the two timelines mirror each other, the way the different threads of story weave together and apart again as Kvothe faces adventure and disaster again and again somehow always coming out a little more on top - and yet all the while, thanks to the 'present day' narration, you know roughly how it ends and so you wait for the other shoe to drop.

It's agonizing, delicious and has driven me a little bit insane. If I could write like that I would weep for the sheer beauty of the craft, but that is not how I aspire to write. That kind of epic story is not the kind of story I want to tell.

Over the roughly four days, three late nights and most of last evening that it took me to read The Wise Man's Fear, I was nearly always caught in the grips of the story. But when I wasn't, I was lamenting its winding nature, the way things always go wrong, and how the only stated goal is something we KNOW is going to fail.

I don't write tragedies.*  I may have written a story in which the main character's entire family dies - but it wasn't a tragedy. I don't write tragedies and I certainly don't read them if I can help it.

The Wise Man's Fear reads a little bit like a tragedy, because we know where the main character ends up, and it isn't pretty. I would not have picked up The Name of the Wind (book one) if I had known this, because I can't stand the thought of the sad 'present day' being the end of Kvothe's story. (this also means I will come back for more, but I digress...)

In my stories, yes, I torture my characters. Murder your darlings, after all. And in my main WIP I kill off most of the cast, including a love interest, and at the end leave the main character locked up in the last place she wants to be. But it's not a tragedy because despite all of that stuff I just mentioned, if you look at things a certain way, you can see that she "wins". She got what she wanted, even if the price she had to pay was many times higher than she expected.

I guess what it all comes down to is that people have plenty of different kinds of stories they like to tell, and that they like to read. As both a writer and a reader I can admire Patrick Rothfuss's work with the awe it deserves. But if I want to love my stories and have that love push me to craft them to be the best they can be, I have to know what kind of stories I have it in me to tell.

I don't write tragedies. I don't write "setting" books. I don't write epics. But sometimes, when the story is good enough, I like to read a book that is a breathtaking combination of all three.

*Well, I did write this slightly creepy contest winning horror story off of the prompt "love". But that doesn't count. Right?

Have you read The Wise Man's Fear? What did you think of it? What kind of stories do you have it in you to write?


  1. I'll admit it was a beautifully written book, but I stopped reading about 1/3 of the way through. He hadn't even gotten to the academy by the time I put it down.

    The first reason I stopped was because it moved too slowly. After a diet of YA, I couldn't digest this mammoth meal. It took me several months just to get as far as I did, and I like to finish books the day I start them if I can.

    The second reason is because (don't laugh) my heart hurt for Kvothe more than I'd like to admit, and I couldn't bear seeing him going through the suffering I knew he was about to face. I knew, as you said, where he ended up, and I couldn't do it to myself. What a wuss, right? Maybe if it was a shorter book it wouldn't have been as much of a problem, but subjecting myself to the torture for months on end just wasn't worth it.

    1. I absolutely understand where you're coming from. I've only managed to keep reading & enjoying it by convincing myself there will be a happy ending, even as all evidence says otherwise.

      It also helps that I haven't so far taken too long to read either book, because you're right, they do move slowly. I'm anxious now to get my hands on some good shorter stuff - luckily I have a whole pile waiting!

  2. I almost went into raptures when I read this - The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear must be the best two novels I've read this year. Patrick Rothfuss makes me want to weep with his ability to keep this monster plot in line. I love the depth of his world and the intricacies of Kvothe's life on SO many levels.

    However despite what we know of the later timeline I have hopes that it won't end in tragedy. That when the timelines converge Bast will have indeed prodded Kvothe into some form of action and the ending ends well. I have high hopes Rothfuss will pull this off - if he doesn't... well then my weeping will have a whole new dimension.

    By the way I thought I'd followed your blog ages ago - and was wondering why it didn't come up in my queue. Will remedy now!

    1. I love how you describe Rothfuss' skill - it is simply breathtaking. As for the ending... I hope you're right. I REALLY hope you're right. If not we can weep together, ok?

      Thanks for following. I can't quite get the whole following people thing figured out... so mostly I just click links from twitter! Lazy, I know, but pretty effective :)

    2. I will absolutely take you up on that. But really really hope that isn't the case.

      Don't worry about the follows - twitter is great isn't it.