The Psychology of Character Development, Part IV

Today I thought I’d do a bit of compare and contrast between two fictional characters: Jacqueline Carey’s Imriel de la Courcel and Patrick Rothfuss’s Kote/Kvothe. Granted I have a lot more material on Imriel, having followed him through the six books of the “Kushiel” series, but I think some of the things I have to say will generalize.
When we first meet Imriel, he is a child; and a child subjected to very adult torture at that. Through Carey’s skillful storytelling, we get to follow him through young adulthood amidst many trials and tribulations that shape the development of his character. Stigmatized as the son of Terre D’Ange’s greatest traitor, he manages to prove his worth beyond measure and is rewarded with marriage to his one true love, the Dauphine of the realm. Carey’s story is part romance, part adventure, part fantasy. Throughout all of it, Imriel’s personality shines through. We watch him morph from a brooding child into an uncertain adolescent turning away from others’ scorn. The journey from there to becoming a self-possessed adult, sure of himself and the power of his love for Sidonie, is a long one. Imriel is challenged again and again. His response to those challenges is both poignant and totally congruent. He never did anything where I sat back, scratched my head and asked myself, “He did that??? Why?”

In contrast, we have Kvothe, the main character in Rothfuss’s books. At the beginning of book one, Kvothe is a long-past-grown-up innkeeper, rather dull and just a bit mysterious. As he tells his life’s tale to a scribe, we see him as a child and youth in a very long flashback that makes up the bulk of the book. Well, Kvothe as a child and adolescent is interesting! He has a personality that shines through. He is bright, enterprising, and quite the risk-taker. The problem, at least in my opinion, is a lack of consistency between the protagonist as a youth and as an adult. They seem like two different people. I really liked the adolescent, but found the adult somewhat less-than-engaging. If more of book one had focussed on Kvothe as an adult, I'd never have bought book two.

To be honest, I have not finished book two. In fact, I’ve barely scratched the surface. Chapter One had a badly misplaced comma; but far worse than that, it had a description of bread making that made me feel very sure the author has not only never made bread in his life, but hadn’t bothered to go to the trouble to look up a recipe for how one might go about such a simple endeavor. That’s not exactly high level research. Flour, sugar, salt and a chunk of starter won’t buy you much if you don’t bother to add water. And, you don’t make loaves, then punch them down. You leave the dough in a single round, let it rise, punch it down and then form it into loaves… Maybe book two gets better. I assume, since it started with almost exactly the same prologue as book one (yes, nearly word for word; another nitpick), it will be a rehash that will pick up the threads of Kvothe’s young life where book one left off. I further assume (and I hope I’m wrong since I paid Amazon $14.99 for the Kindle version) that since the adult Kvothe is the same at the beginning of the novel, there will be the same discrepancy between the old and young versions of this primary character.

In a number of ways, I suppose writing has not exactly ruined reading for me; but it’s sure made me a whole lot pickier about details. I want characters who feel like they could live next door. Okay, okay, so I live in a fantasy world part of the time. But, I’d welcome a witch or a Sidhe if they happened to move in. Or any of the Celtic or Greco-Roman gods or goddesses. Really, I would. It would be fascinating to have a touch of the old magic in the neighborhood.

This has been way more of a rant than I meant it to be. Guess I'm feeling gypped since I finally ponied up the money to buy the Rothfuss book and Chapter One was just such a disappointment. Undaunted, I shall try to get my beak into Chapter Two tonight.


  1. I agree completely, both on the characters feeling real, and the little things like bread making. If you can't get the little, easy things right, the bigger things--the things we really need suspension of disbelief on, particularly in spec fic--just won't be believable.


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