Patrick Rothfuss Critique: A Big Takeaway
If you read much fantasy, you might've heard about author Patrick Rothfuss. He's one of the biggest names in the fantasy genre and the author of the Kingkiller Chronicles, The Name of the Wind being the first of that series. Nearly 6 years ago, I won an auction hosted by his charity, Worldbuilders. The prize? Patrick himself would do a review and critique of a novel. Not only that, but he would actually write notes in the margins and return it. Not only that, but we would actually have a live discussion to go over it. What an amazing opportunity for a burgeoning author!
At the time, I was heavy into rewrites for my novel Chrono Trigger: The Hero Rising - the first installment of my novelized “Chrono Trigger” series based on that video game and described extensively at ChronoTrigger.com. It was originally my intention to send him that book.
As time passed, I got a little wiser. After many harrowing efforts, it was clear that getting the rights from Square Enix to publish the “Chrono” series was an uphill climb at best. (Not that I've given up, but other things need to come first.) That was a time during which I really had to do some self-reflection. What did I really want? I knew I wanted to be a successful, published author. I realized that it was time to pursue my own series, and thus “Heroes of Time” was born. I decided that it would be far more beneficial for me to send my “Heroes of Time” novel to Pat instead of CT. So, I had to put that critique on pause until the time was right. I literally had won a critique for a novel that didn't even exist yet.
Fast-forward a few years…almost four years, that is. The first novel of the main series, Heroes of Time: The First Ethereal, was drafted and through beta reading in early 2021. I finished all my edits and finally sent it to Pat in June. (The timing was interesting, because it was at this point that I could put my focus on self-publishing Heroes of Time Legends: Murdoch's Choice.) The wait had officially shifted from my side to Pat's side.
That wait finally ended in late April 2022.
It was a fantastic interaction. We had a Zoom call that lasted for hours. I got amazing insights into his craft. I got some brilliant points of feedback that will help me further polish that novel and take it to its highest possible form.
The Takeaway of the Beginning…
There was so much to glean from this conversation, but one big takeaway I want to touch on here was the matter of the beginning. In the case of my books, this basically means the prologue.
Now, I love the prologue of The First Ethereal. It leads to a great payoff later in the novel that beta readers all loved. But there are some things to be cautious of that I will be looking at very carefully in my revisions - some things I hadn't really thought of before. That's the great thing about feedback and the exchanging of ideas.
As of writing this, only beta readers (and Pat) have read The First Ethereal. So, I'll keep things fairly general here. I made a choice, in this case, to write a prologue from a character perspective different from the majority of the book. The immediate note from Pat was something like “Uh oh, I worry that I'm about to start the novel with a completely different set of characters than the rest of the book.” As he then got to the first chapter, that observation appeared correct.
That's a classic beef people have with prologues. To this, I noted that the prologue gives the reader a payoff later in the book. (I am purposefully avoiding further details here.) He did concede that this was a good reason for the prologue.
However, it brings up another danger that authors often face. To an extent, who cares about payoff later if the reader never gets there? This is where the real reflection comes in. It's not really enough to create a really great setup and then hope readers appreciate it the same way you do. So, there's definitely something to be cautious of here.
In my case, the beta readers loved the later payoff on a pretty universal level. So, ultimately, I'll have a judgment call to make on this one when considering further edits.
Regardless of what I do with this prologue, it was awesome to be able to have this conversation with such a seasoned professional.
I hope you'll continue to follow my progress developing the “Heroes of Time” series, including the tie-in Murdoch series and Heroes of Time: The First Ethereal.
~May the winds fare you well!