I want to read books full of people being awesome. You can go too far. You can become unrealistic.
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But I think the fear of writing someone too perfect or too cool leads to a lot of godawful fucking books. If I wanted to watch people sucking and being dumb, I would just spend all my time on Twitter. How much is Kvothe playing up his own story? Mythologizing his own self? It is very fair to wonder, How much of this is real?
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How much of this is true? Unfortunately, any answer that I gave to that would be destructive to the story. Can you say anything on the subject?
However people read the book makes me happy, as long as they enjoy themselves. But I will say that one of the reads I find a little irritating is where they think, "Oh, he's the best at everything. Oh, he's telling this story where he's so cool all the time. Because, like, he is constantly shitting the bed. He is full of terrible decisions all the time. If I were gonna go back and mythologize my life, I would leave out so many of the terrible choices that I made.
In terms of the wider mythology for your world, do we detect Christian influences? What it has is the archetype of the self-sacrificing god. But honestly, by the time Jesus did that, it was old news. A bunch of people did it before Jesus—and, to be fair, some people did it better. What can you tell us about the origins of sympathy? Some of it I just straight up stole. And alchemy, what Newton used to do back in the day.
I kind of cherry-picked from that and built them into a cohesive system.
I was also influenced pretty firmly by some modern, this-world science. I was on the road to becoming a mechanical engineer before I fell from grace and had a couple really great philosophy classes and just proceeded to dick around as an undergrad for nine years. How scientific is sympathy? It's hard to get more scientific.
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I literally have the math for a lot of these things. I have run the numbers about how much heat it takes for this and that, and accounting for slippage, or whatever. I can look at my chalkboard here and see all of the delta calculations for how much energy it takes to boil gold. So I do the math. Is that so important? Once I explain that framework to you, if my characters are clever using the framework, then you can appreciate their cleverness at a different depth, and it's very satisfying. You cannot get that same satisfaction in a world that does not have a cohesive, understandable, and explicit system.
For example, in Harry Potter, there's very little opportunity for the characters to be genuinely innovative with their magic, because there is no sensible underpinning system that they can manipulate in impressive ways. They might use a spell in a clever way, but nobody is making new spells. Not to pick a fight with the Harry Potter people.
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That's not the game J. Rowling was playing in that story. For her, the magic was mostly a prop. So why do you have naming in the book—which is basically awesome unexplainable Harry Potter-type magic—as well? Well, for one, it's super hard to actually do the math and have a cohesive system that actually bears up under the scrutiny of intelligent readers.
Two, you miss one of the other things that magic has to offer in a story, and that is a sense of delight and wonder. Sympathy is many things, but it's usually not wondrous. You never get true shock and amazement. So I wanted both. I wanted my cake and to eat it, too. On the other end of the spectrum is magic the art of which cannot be explained. Is that why Elodin makes no sense?
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A lot of Elodin's teaching technique I pulled from the old Zen masters and Buddhists, because that's what you're trying to do when you learn about nirvana. You cannot explain to somebody what nirvana is or how to get there, so you have to almost trick them into suddenly, miraculously intuiting this universal truth.
When you have this magic that is wondrous, you may not be able to appreciate it in the same clever way, but when it happens, you can get amazement. That is something Harry Potter has a lot more of. Where they do a thing and you're like, "OK, it's cool to walk through a fireplace.
Let's move on to one of our favorite characters, Auri. Is it true she wasn't in an early draft of the book? It's totally true. And a lot of people have used that fact to theorize that she can't be vital to the plot. I appreciate the effort, but the book needs to be considered as an entity unto itself.
The fact is, the book was a hot mess in that first draft. Science has no scale to measure the hotness of that mess. The book was a hot mess in that first draft. For example? Well, when Kvothe went to the University, he was originally buddies with Lorren.
He was like, "I wanna go into the Archives," and Lorren's like, "Lemme show you around. A certain thing that most authors like to include in a book—tension. Like, the things that make a story a story. There was no Devi in the early books. There was so much that wasn't in those initial drafts, simply because I had no idea what I was doing in terms of structuring a story.