Who Chooses the Chosen One?

My husband is fond of making the semi-cruel joke that George R. R. Martin may not live long enough to finish A Song of Ice and Fire, and the fans will be left with nothing but questions and the hope that some Brandon Sanderson of Westeros will be chosen to finish the series.

I dub thee, Replacement Author! ©Disney, 1963

I have faith that this won’t happen. Martin will finish the series himself.

Then again, I’m not convinced that fairies aren’t real.

Clap your hands, folks. ©Disney, 1953

Now, Robert Jordan’s wife and editor chose Brandon Sanderson to finish her husband’s work. And presumably many writers would indicate who they would like to see end the work. I’m sure editors contribute to the decision, too.

But since it’s fun to speculate, who would you choose? I’m really not sure who I’d pick. J. V. Jones writes gritty epic fantasy, but she may not have strong enough storytelling capabilities. Jacqueline Carey is well known for her erotic fantasy series, but she also wrote an epic that Martin himself enjoyed. I don’t know if she could pull off the ugliness that’s rampant in Martin’s world, though: Carey’s world is exquisitely, almost painfully (haha) beautiful, even when her character’s face truly appalling situations.

How about Stephen King? He could certainly write the ugliness, and he’s perfectly capable of writing an epic. Or Neil Asher, who writes gritty and bitterly humorous sci-fi? Asher, however, has not yet written an epic.

I’m curious, readers. Who would you pick? Have you had an author leave a beloved series unfinished?

Unlikable Main Characters

I usually write this blog as a writer, but today I’m going to put my reader hat on and pose a question to all my fellow readers out there.

Do you have your silly hat?

What do you, as a reader, do when you realize you hate the main character of a book?

I usually like unlikable characters. I’m a fan of Scarlett O’Hara and I always preferred Henry Crawford to that ninny, goody-two-shoes Edmund Bertram. But both Henry and Scarlett have a roguish charm that redeems them—they may not be the nicest people around, but they sure are fun.

Sometimes, though, protagonists end up with no redeeming qualities.

You may know that for the last six months (at least) I’ve been engaged in a slow slog through Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. It’s a journey with a lot of ups and downs: sometimes I end up sitting in bed, reading way past the point when I should be asleep, and other times I have to force myself to finish the hundred-page prologue before calling the book a dead loss.

So far, though, I’ve managed not to give up. Jordan’s books follow a pretty clear pattern. They start out at a creeping pace, dragging through a very long prologue that often features characters who won’t star in the rest of the novel, then entering the pace of the book itself, which is somewhere at a fast walk or a trot. Then, at about 70-percent, they hit a run, and lots of things happen. This momentum usually carries me into the next book, where I hit a wall in the form of prologue.

It feels a little masochistic sometimes.

A couple of days ago, I started the aptly-named The Path of Daggers. I was really ready to find and actually use the latest MacGuffin, and the first third of the book finally fulfilled that promise. But then I reached approximately 46% of the Kindle edition, and I quit caring.

Why?

A hairy monster of a protagonist, also known as Rand al’Thor.

For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Rand is our shepherd turned chosen-by-prophecy king of the world. He’s also sitting dancing on the fence between sanity and madness. He’s very, very angry. But he’s not particularly funny or sweet or caring. (There’s no Whedon-villain whimsy here.)

In short, he has no more redeeming qualities. The farmboy we met in Eye of the World has long since been subsumed by a bitter, wounded man with powers that are destroying him.

To defend Jordan, he’s actually worked this (lightly) into the plot by having a secondary character point it out, point out that if Rand doesn’t lighten up soon, he’ll end up destroying the world in a fit of temper.

I just don’t care, though. I don’t even want to slog through Rand’s chapters to find out what main plot events will happen. I like some of the characters, but unfortunately, the main character is kind of an insurmountable obstacle.

So what’s a reader to do?

I said I would complete this challenge, and I will read all of this series. But how do I survive Rand? My soon-to-be husband’s solution in books like this is just skip the chapters with the hated character, but I’m a little too OCD to actually do that… and since Rand is the epicenter of this epic, I can’t really skip him without missing something vital.

What would you do, reader? How do you read books with unlikable main characters?

Fictional Smarty-Pants Are Annoying, Too

If you’ve seen my GoodReads widget, you know I’m engaged on the long slog epic journey through the Wheel of Time mess series.

I poke fun, but actually I’m kind of enjoying it. Book-by-book, they’re addictive once you’ve settled in, and the story is the immersive, sink-your-teeth-into-it type that we fantasy readers love.

But Jordan uses a plot trick that really irks me.

Thirty or forty pages into every book, an exciting event occurs, and some smarty-pants character has to explain that this is one way the High Muckety-Muck’s Prophecy of Doom and Glory will be fulfilled. Smarty-Pants then tells Questing Character that he or she must go to Some Random Place, seek the Mystical Golden Eggbeater of Power, and then kill a lot of people.

A shrubbery!

It’s much akin to the Knights Who Say Ni sending King Arthur to fetch a shrubbery. Do it if you want to advance the plot!

There has to be a better way to do this. I realize that you can’t plant every plot device in the first book (Man, I wish you could!), and that subplots—or even the plots of individual books in a larger series—often revolve around a MacGuffin simply because an author needs characters to get a certain piece of the puzzle before they can carry on.

I can’t just blame Jordan for this. Loads of fantasy novels (especially epic fantasy) do it. You could even argue that the treasure-quest in The Hobbit is just a drawn-out way to get the One Ring to Bilbo and then to Frodo. I don’t completely object to this type of plotting: after all, we read stories as much for the journey as for the ending.

I can object, though, to authors making one particular character into the sole source of information. (Moiraine, Hermione, I’m looking at you.) It irks the characters in the book to be bossed around by a single person, and it irks me to read it.

Let characters learn information on their own! Let them seek and discover! That’s way more interesting than a lecture from Ms. Smarty-Pants. I think urban fantasy novels tend to do a better job with this, perhaps because they’re often formulated as mysteries, perhaps because they’re shorter. Think about how often Harry Dresden falls into one horrible situation after another, just because he doesn’t (always) have a character who can give him all the information he needs—and that’s a compelling read, because we get to put the pieces together with him. Plus, it’s fun to see how he’ll get out of his next scrape.

My tactic (and it’s a cheap ploy) is to scatter the info-dumps among many characters. This character moves in high society, so he would know about this. That character is a fairy, so she probably knows about that.

When providing information, how do you avoid writing smarty-pants characters?