This post, by Amy Rose Davis, originally appeared on her A Modicum of Talent With Occasional Flashes of Brilliance blog on 7/16/12.
After reading the two already-published installments of The Kingkiller Chronicles, I started to put into words some of the real criticism I have about my beloved genre. I think these thoughts are worth sharing in more general terms for a few reasons. First, I don’t want to rant about Rothfuss anymore. I don’t think his books are rant-worthy. I just think they’re overhyped and not nearly as brilliant as people think. Second, I want to go over these things because I think anyone who reads my blog and writes fantasy might find them useful. And third, I want you all to know what I’m trying to avoid in my own work!
As I see it, fantasy falls into three big traps:
The books exist to build bridges, set up conflicts, or establish scenarios for future plots. One could argue that most of The Wheel of Time exists purely to set up the next book, ad infinitum, until we hopefully get the big payoff in the last book. I wouldn’t know because I don’t plan to re-read the books. The problem of books existing only to bridge gaps is probably more of a problem with second books, I think. I suspect that authors work so hard on those first books in order to get an agent or publisher that the first book is usually polished to a fine sheen–plots are tight as they can be, characters as fleshed out as possible, worlds intricately built.
But the problem is that when we come to book two, authors have deadlines, expectations, and multi-book deals in hand. So maybe there’s a rush to write something to meet the deadline and expectations. Or even worse–book one was outrageously successful, so maybe in the haste to publish book two and book three, the author writes like a demon, the agent and publisher work more on marketing or publishing than on editing, and the result is a book that’s not nearly as tight as the first one.
Listen, authors. Every book in your series should potentially stand alone. There should be some kind of central conflict, some kind of goal for each book in the series. Do not expect your readers to go along with you for three or five or twelve books just hoping for the big payoff at the end. Give them a payoff in each book.
Too much backstory becomes frontstory.
Did I just make that word up–”frontstory?” Honestly, I think this is about 90% of the problem I had with Rothfuss’ books, and I think this is quite possibly why Kvothe comes off as such a special snowflake to me. If I just didn’t have to hear every flipping detail about his entire life, maybe he wouldn’t come across as so irritating. I think Rothfuss got caught up in writing backstory and history for Kvothe and never really distilled those stories into an actual plot.