Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mischief managed, or, Oh you're writing a blog

I'm certainly not the first person to write a blog.  Everyone with a computer, internet connection, and the ability to string words together has at least tried it. I've long used four metrics to talk about books, plot, style, character, and worldbuilding.  But I recently starting thing about how well books manage expectations. The more I've thought about it, the more I realize that this is an important part of the writing process, and it's something I don't see talked about in reviews often.
I'll use a book that a lot of people will be familiar with 'The Name of the Wind' by Pat Rothfuss.

Ragged orphan. Tough times. The kindness of strangers. There's not a whole lot new here right?  Well, maybe. The framing story is used effectively to create a lot of expectations for the reader.  At the beginning we are given a sense, right from the first chapter 'Taborlin the Great, who knows the true names of all things' tells us what kind of world this is.  Names are important here. And that's reiterated over and over. But more subtlely, we are told 'This is where Kvothe ends up'.  Whatever story is to come, it ends here, in absolute failure.  With our protagonist waiting for death to find him.
Rothfuss handles this brilliantly.  The first person narrative is a tricky one.  If your character is too unlikeable, or too morally ruined, you run the risk of being divisive like Mark Lawrence's 'Prince of Thorns', but the reverse is dangerous as well.
Everytime I see the 'Kvothe is a Mary Sue' complaint in a review, I roll my eyes.  Seriously.  He's hot-headed, arrogant, and deeply flawed.  But the first person narrative hides this, because he's also a character we like, and is just like all of us.  I mean, think on this; how many people do you know who think they're better than average drivers?  Most likely, all of them.  And you probably think you're a better driver than any of them.
You're just like Kvothe.
Yes, he's got an alar like Ramston Steel, but he also got started with sympathy long before any of his peers, and has suffered privation they likely never will.  He's used to winning at all cost, without regard to pain, or what detriment he might suffer.  He had the advantage of a private tutor in the art for at least a year, so yeah, he is an outstanding sympathist, the real surprise is if he wasn't better than his peers.
Which is the long way of saying, Rothfuss does a phenomenal job of managing expectations, and thinking through the results of actions from early in the story on Kvothe later in the story.  Nothing happens because Rothfuss needs it to happen.  It happens because his character would react that way.

This is what I call managed expectations. How well does the plot fit the character, and how often does the writer fulfill the obligations he sets up early.  I think that no other aspect of a book is as important as this for overall reader satisfaction.  If I start a book and set up expectations that this is how I met the love of my life, and then end the book divorced and alone, without ever setting up that this was a tragedy, I'm going to piss people off.  Because I promised one thing, and gave them another.

So here are the managed Expectations for my blog: 
I will post a review a week of something current. I have a fairly ecclectic palate as a reader, so it may not always be the biggest release of the week.  But I'll cover plot, character, style, and worldbuilding; and I'll also cover Managed Expectations. I will also post about things going on in fantasy, books releases and cover reveals and hopefully the occasional QandA with a writer.
Will this be static?  No, and as things change, I may write updates about where the direction of my blog will go.  If you have ideas about something you'd like to see me talk about, or a book you think I should read, drop me a comment, or an email at

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