My guest today is author Rachel Aaron, whose debut fantasy series (The Legend of Eli Montpress) is being released over three consecutive months. The first two books, The Spirit Thief (Oct 1) and The Spirit Rebellion (Nov 1) are already out and the third book, The Spirit Eater is out November 30. Rachel is currently working on the fourth instalment, The Spirit War which will be out in 2011.
The series is centred around Eli Montpress, an irrepressible professional thief who is variously described as charming, brilliant, incorrigible, degenerate and the greatest thief of the age - and he's also a wizard. Sounds like fun?
|Fabulous Giveaway |
Rachel is offering 5 chances to win a signed copy of your choice of the three titles, The Spirit Thief, The Spirit Rebellion or The Spirit Eater. For those that select the unreleased book, Rachel has copies and will send it via fast post so that you can get it before it hits the shelves.
Contest guidelines at the end of the post.
You can find out more about Rachel Aaron and her writing by visiting her at:
Rachel has put together a wonderful post on Main Character Syndrome delving into why character-driven protagonists are superior to plot-driven ones.
Rachel will drop in to respond to comments, so please welcome warmly and feel free to ask her questions. Also as a simple qualifier for the giveaway, and following the theme, if you were the world’s greatest thief, what would you like to steal?
So with no further ado, WELCOME RACHEL!
Main Character Syndrome
Today I wanted to take a moment and talk about a serious affliction affecting fantasyland and its boroughs – Urbania, Historiana, and, most grievously, the Epics. I am speaking of Main Character Syndrome, perhaps you've seen it? It happens when an otherwise unremarkable person suddenly finds themselves caught up in the swirling center of a larger story. After some initial struggle, they swiftly end up going along for the ride with little ambition or flare other than what is required of them by the plot. These boys and girls after often likable and can show moments of great heroism and selflessness, but rarely if ever do they upstage their far more interesting rag tag crew of misfits.
MCS mostly affects the young: farm boys who take up their father's swords to defend their homelands. Young girls who suddenly discover they have the talent for magic and must either hide it or use it to prevent/solve a crisis (sometimes both), those whose ambitions are best described as “wanted nothing more than to live a normal life, but...”
To see a standard case of MCS in action, one need only look at our most popular fantasy story and universal example piece: Star Wars (yeah, yeah, there are spaceships. There is also magic, and magic swords, and destiny. It's totally fantasy).
Luke Skywalker is your quintessential MCS victim – young, likeably earnest, good looking, remarkably talented, and ignorant enough to where the finer points of the world building can be explained to him without testing the audience's suspension of disbelief. Like all MCS cases, Luke has little say in where his life will go. By the time the story begins he is already swept up in something larger than himself with little choice other than to go along for the ride. Like all MCS sufferers, he is a passive victim of his own destiny, which he will be forced to stand up and meet at the climatically appropriate time.
MCS is rarely fatal. In fact, many of the best pieces of genre fiction have featured leads afflicted with it. But it is still tragic, because, in nearly every case, MCS diminishes a story's potential. Let's go back to Luke. Take him out of the destiny maelstrom that is Star Wars and what do you have? Nothing. A novel about a disaffected young man who longs to escape his dull life on Tatooine. Certainly not movie material. This is because MCS has removed anything genuinely interesting from Luke in order to make him a tool for the larger story. Han Solo, though, is a different fish all together. Take Han out of the main sweep of the Star Wars plot and you'd still have a pretty interesting and awesome story. In fact, I'm pretty sure there are books about Han's life as a smuggler before he got involved with Jedi or the Rebellion. This is because Han is an interesting, well developed character with his own goals and motivations. He was going places all by himself just fine before the plot picked him up.
This is the difference between a real character and one suffering from Main Character Syndrome. Take a real character out of the book they were written for, give them a new set of circumstances, and they're still interesting and fun to follow. MCS characters can't migrate to a new setting. The story is their character, take that away and they've got nothing left to offer. One can't help but wonder, what would Star Wars be like if Luke was as engaging as Han? Or Leia? Or... really anyone else? And I'm not the only one who's thought about this. Consider the extended universe novels. When the writers came in and took on the task of expanding the story, Luke's character was the first to be dramatically deepened. Han and Leia got on fine in the new books, but Luke's MCS had to be cured before the saga could continue, else he would die with the end of the plot supporting him.
No one can dispute the success of Star Wars, MCS or not, but the question of how much better it could have been niggles me every time I watch it. In my mind, the main character should be the most interesting person in the story, not a vessel for the plot to be upstaged by the rest of the cast. This is the MAIN character, the one with whom the audience spends the most time and has the most invested. They are the voice for the story, and that voice should be interesting in its own right.
When I started The Spirit Thief, I was absolutely determined that Eli Monpress would never suffer from MCS. Heck, before The Spirit Thief had a title, it was simply “the Eli book.” This book was always his. There's no destiny in the Eli Monpress world, no great hand of fate. Every problem Eli faces is his own damn fault. Take Star Wars away from Luke and he's got nothing. Take the plot of the Spirit Thief away from Eli and he would just charm himself into an even bigger mess. That's because Eli Monpress's character is the story, not the other way around.
Any story worth reading isn't about the plot, not really. It's about the characters. There have been worlds more interesting and better built than that of Star Wars, but a cool setting simply isn't enough. Flash and concept may draw us to fiction, but characters keep us there. Star Wars had amazing characters, and that's why it was a tragedy that our main character, who should be the most important, was sacrificed in the name of plot. It worked, obviously, but the lost potential is staggering. So let's stop the cycle. Support strong, interesting, self motivated main characters. Together we can end MCS and make fantasyland a better place.
Eli Monpress is talented. He's charming. And he's a thief. But not just any thief. He's the greatest thief of the age - and he's also a wizard. And with the help of his partners - a swordsman with the most powerful magic sword in the world but no magical ability of his own, and a demonseed who can step through shadows and punch through walls - he's going to put his plan into effect. The first step is to increase the size of the bounty on his head, so he'll need to steal some big things. But he'll start small for now. He'll just steal something that no one will miss - at least for a while. Like a king.
* * * * *Eli Monpress is brilliant. He's incorrigible. And he's a thief. He's also still at large, which drives Miranda Lyonette crazy. While she's been kicked out of the Spirit Court, Eli's had plenty of time to plan his next adventure. But now the tables have turned, because Miranda has a new job -- and an opportunity to capture a certain thief. Things are about to get exciting for Eli. He's picked a winner for his newest heist. His target: the Duke of Gaol's famous "thief-proof" citadel. Eli knows Gaol is a trap, but what's life without challenges? Except the Duke is one of the wealthiest men in the world, a wizard who rules his duchy with an iron fist, and an obsessive perfectionist with only one hobby: catching Eli. It seems that everyone is hunting for Eli Monpress.
* * * * *With the pressure on after his success in Gaol, Eli Monpress, professional thief and degenerate, decides it's time to lie low for a bit. Taking up residence in a tiny seaside village, Eli and his companions seize the chance for some fun and relaxation. Nico, however, is finding it a bit hard. Plagued by a demon's voice in her head and feeling powerless, she only sees herself as a burden. Everyone's holiday comes to an untimely close, though, when Pele arrives to beg Eli's help for finding her missing father. But there are larger plans afoot than even Eli can see, and the real danger, and the solution, may lie with one of his own and her forgotten past. If only Nico could remember whose side she's on.
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