I’m on page 90 of The Name of the Wind, and while it seems pretty well written, there’s something about the characters I don’t like. Unfortunately I just can’t pinpoint it… it’s like a cognitive dissonance in my mind that I can’t sort out… very annoying.
One thing that bothers me is the characterization of the main character. He’s narrating his childhood, and it turns out he’s an amazing 11-year old prodigy who can learn things unrealistically quick. I find that I don’t really care about him. I think perhaps the problem is that he’s just too independent, or perhaps he’s not tortured enough. (Granted, I’m only on page 90. Maybe something tragic will happen. Seems like it should. Still, he seems rather arrogant, not someone I’d want to have lunch with, and most main characters should strive for that desire.)
Prodigies need to be tortured, don’t they? I think one of the most prominent examples of the tortured prodigy the poor brilliant little Ender Wiggin (perhaps paralleled by Bean), who not only has to save humankind, but struggles with the need to be loved. (It can sound a bit corny in a blog, eh?) There’s also the chess kid, Josh something, from the film Searching for Bobby Fischer (who’s in Iceland), who must also bear the burden of amazing intelligence. There’s also that Little Man Tate, poor thing, and I just saw a preview for some foreign film called Vitus (I think), about some prodigy piano player who just “wants to be normal”, whatever that means. Boo-hoo.
But it’s not really prodigies that need to be tortured, that’s the burden of being the main character. Main characters need to be tortured somehow. Not necessarily physically (though that’s a possibility), but the main character’s torture is the entire point of any story, isn’t it? What the main character goes through. It’s common literary advice to make the main character suffer as much as possible. Who doesn’t relate to suffering? (Autistics?)
So if the need to be tortured comes from the burden of being a story’s main character, what makes a prodigy so popular among young main characters? How often are genius adults main characters? Old smart people are just jerks. (That’s a joke, by the way.) They may work perfectly well as supporting characters, but if the main character is recognized as a brilliant genius, then he’s probably 14 years old or younger (and also probably male, as male is the dominant sex in our society, whether you like it or not). And, come to think of it, main characters are probably not over 50 anyway. There are exceptions, but I can’t think of many main characters who are in their 70s. If you’re going to live through a story in someone else’s shoes, you probably prefer it to be someone young and good lookin’ (like me).
Oh, and another thing. I hate seeing main characters on book covers. I suppose it works fine for children’s books, but on adult book covers they try too hard to make people look attractive. Perhaps it helps sell books (though I’d want hard evidence of that if any publisher claims it, as I doubt there is any), but it annoys me endlessly.