Author Talk: Building Character

About a month ago, I did a G+ hangout with Felicia Day, John Scalzi, and Amber Benson in order to promote the launch of Felicia’s new maelstrom of nerd-awesome: Geek and Sundry.

We set out to talk about what makes for good, interesting characters, and the conversation spiraled pleasantly through all manner of interesting tangents after that. In addition to being a fun talk with some of the wittiest geeks around, I think we also ended up raising some interesting points about stories, writing, truth, beauty, etc.

Anyway, if you missed the live broadcast, you can stop weeping softly to yourself in the corner. They’ve just posted up the video over on youtube.

Here it is:

Man, I really need a haircut….


This entry was posted in Felicia Day, Interviews, tangentality, the craft of writing, videosBy Pat48 Responses


  1. Mossy Toes
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:22 PM | Permalink

    Saw this when it was live, so I don’t have to weep in a corner. Hurrah!

  2. Jongleur
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:25 PM | Permalink

    YES! I was ever so tired of weeping in the corner…

  3. Mauren Rimloth
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:29 PM | Permalink

    I will right away start reading The Relic and Flecht =)

    • Posted May 2, 2012 at 10:02 AM | Permalink

      It’s “Fletch” by Gregory McDonald.

      I’d feel bad if you picked up a book called “Felch”

      • dont_be_that_guy
        Posted May 2, 2012 at 10:45 PM | Permalink

        good god that’s just wrong….

        • Thigis
          Posted May 3, 2012 at 6:14 AM | Permalink

          Yes, don’t be that guy.

          Incidentally there is an actual comic book called felch

  4. Silvano Devesci
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 11:01 PM | Permalink

    I love you Pat; you’re a great author, blogger, and person. But please, say “like” a little less frequently. You don’t use it as much as most other people, but it just bugs me. I expect more out of one of my top 3 authors. Of course, I mean that with much love :D

    • christie
      Posted May 2, 2012 at 8:56 AM | Permalink

      This comment made me subconsciously add several “like”s while I read it. Anyone else?

    • Posted May 2, 2012 at 10:04 AM | Permalink

      I love you Silvano. You’re a great reader, commenter, and person. But please don’t tell me what to do, even out of love.

      • Posted May 2, 2012 at 11:58 AM | Permalink

        BOOM! You just got Rothfussed.

      • thejenmeister
        Posted May 2, 2012 at 12:23 PM | Permalink

        Pat, you win the coveted John Locke “Don’t Tell Me What I Can’t Do!” award for May 2012. Congratulations! :)

        • Posted May 2, 2012 at 3:40 PM | Permalink

          I thought you were referring to John Locke, the 17th century English Philosopher.

          So I wracked my brain to understand the reference, trying to figure out what Locke’s theory of the mind or his work on epistemology had to do with this. But I couldn’t come up with anything.

          It wasn’t until I googled it that I understood. Needless to say, I didn’t watch Lost.

          • Posted May 13, 2012 at 12:19 AM | Permalink

            That same character was named after the 17th century English philosopher, so you weren’t completely off the trail.

            Also, fantastic video.

    • Brady Dill
      Posted May 2, 2012 at 1:41 PM | Permalink

      He’s a writer, not a professional speaker.

  5. shizomou
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 12:23 AM | Permalink

    Yes! Was wondering why I couldn’t find it after I missed the live show.

  6. glittalogik
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 1:28 AM | Permalink

    Doors of Stone, THEN haircut. I think that’s fair.

  7. Tom
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 6:43 AM | Permalink

    Thank you, Pat! I was getting pretty bored and lonely in this corner over the past few weeks. It’ll be good to see the sun again now that I can finally watch this!

  8. Thaxll
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 7:57 AM | Permalink

    Hey Pat!

    Just wondering if you’re aware of the book Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold. (sequel too the excellent Curse of Chalion, but it works as a stand alone too)

    I’m asking because the protagonist Ista is exactly the sort of character you mention in the video. An “older” woman, a mother, with grownup children setting out to find her own place in the world.

  9. peterfasel
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 9:57 AM | Permalink

    Hey Pat,

    Yesterday was the first of May. Hope you had fun outside…

    • Posted May 2, 2012 at 10:04 AM | Permalink

      I did, actually. I’ll have more fun outside tonight so long as it doesn’t rain….

  10. QWOPtain Crunch
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 10:31 AM | Permalink

    Massively awesome beard is massively awesome.

  11. IvoryDoom
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 10:32 AM | Permalink

    With hair like that, you’d be royalty in the Midlands.

    But I will say, you could definately go for a beard braid…two would be especially awesome.

    P.S. Started Mistborn yesterday, and it is all you and many others said it would be. THANKS!

  12. Constance
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 10:49 AM | Permalink

    Your hair is your source of writing power, much akin to Sampson and his strength! Do not cut it, nor shave your face of the epicness that is your beard.

  13. Casey1974
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 12:25 PM | Permalink

    If in a corner I am to weep,
    softly to thyself I refuse.
    Be drunken mule or lovesick squid,
    I shall bray my pain to the moon,
    I’ll fuckin’ wail till I break the air.

    Sorry, not sure where that came from… Perhaps I was influenced by Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan?
    The interview is really good.
    I am curious to know if when you create a character, do you as the author make a conscious determination regarding the level of self-awareness that this new character possesses?

  14. Silly Red Panda
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 12:52 PM | Permalink

    Very interesting opinions and good laughs there, thank you so much for the link Pat!

    Also incredibly helpful for anyone interested in writing. Alas, the fountain of wisdom! I bow before you guys and how much you know already, aware of my own insignificance.

    You obviously have given much thought to these matters and have well-grounded opinions. Scientific even. It made me wonder, do you keep a record of favourite characters, passages and other things you liked and didn’t in books as a resource, or is it all just stored in your brilliant head from years and years as a reader&writer?

    PS – Hair and beard are fine, very iconic. May become a thing.

  15. Ryan Carrothers
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 1:14 PM | Permalink

    Really enjoyed this. Thank you for posting! Seems like a fun bunch of people to “hang” with.

  16. Notwal
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 7:32 PM | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this Pat. Was looking for it earlier and was disappointed when I couldn’t find it. Turns out it’s because it didn’t even exist online!

    Anyways, I’m going to go watch it now but I thought I’d leave this here first. It’s an image I thought you might appreciate.

  17. SeekingPlumb
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 3:52 AM | Permalink

    This is awesome!!! I’ve been so bummed that I missed it. Thank you!!!

  18. HeroineOfCanton
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 7:15 AM | Permalink

    Oh, that was fun! Thanks for posting.

    I’ve been thinking about a lot of what was said, especially about protags. An earnest character who you want to know/be/have a beer with can certainly be very interesting and memorable. And I liked that Amber brought up the anti-hero, but I still think those protags can be people you want to know/be/have a bourbon with while sitting around Rick’s Cafe Americain.

    What I find fascinating are the authors who can create compelling characters who you don’t want to know/be/have a drink with. Perhaps it’s because my book group discussed Long Day’s Journey into Night yesterday just a couple hours before I watched this that I was very struck by the fact that I would never accept an invitation to dinner at the Tyrone’s, but heaven knows those characters fascinate me. To take another example, my husband, who watched the video with me, said “I wouldn’t want to go over to George and Martha’s for a round after a party,” yet we will both watch Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf endlessly.

    It’s just interesting to me to figure out how narratives can revolve around unlikable people, and yet be hugely compelling. Of course, in the two examples I used above, there’s a great amount of sympathy for those characters, so that’s certainly a draw. Anyhow, I ramble before I’ve had my three cups of coffee in the morning.

    • IvoryDoom
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 11:16 AM | Permalink

      The whole time I was reading what you wrote all I could think of was Gatsby. LOL! I always really liked the book, but found the characters to be just what you described…completely unlikeable. Same for Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

      I think its something thats really exhibited a lot in classic novels.

      Also I recently read Shadow of the Wind By Carlos Ruiz Zafon, it has an awesome anti-hero in it, Julian Carax, it was one of the best novels I read in a while and actually surprised me in the end. Which is rare.

      • edean203
        Posted May 4, 2012 at 1:17 PM | Permalink

        I thought of Julian Carax while watching this too. Shadow of the Wind is phenomenal!

        • IvoryDoom
          Posted May 7, 2012 at 12:36 PM | Permalink

          Agreed. 5 star novel right there, couldnt put it down!

          (And what can I say, when it comes to anti-hero’s….he’s just about the best since Lestat)

  19. mailclu
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 3:19 PM | Permalink

    Hey, Pat!

    I’m a bit curious as to how you perceive a character like Thomas Covenant. You could call him an anti-hero, but he doesn’t really have that lovable shamelessness that you mentioned (at least not to me). To be honest, I was never very invested in his own well-being in The Land, which is contrary to how I viewed him in those few chapters in the “real world.” I felt great sympathy for him there, but I often found myself to be pretty detached from Covenant for the majority of the original trilogy. Do you think he has any sort of ‘spark,’ or does Donaldson’s success lie primarily in his linguistic and world-building proficiency?

    • mailclu
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 3:38 PM | Permalink

      Also, does Felicia spoil the ending of Mass Effect 3? I’m working my way through the games, and I’ve managed to keep myself from discovering plot points for this long. I paused the video quickly, and I’d like to know if I can finish it.

  20. yes
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 11:45 PM | Permalink

    This has nothing to do with what you posted, but I was just wondering what you did for money and stuff during the fourteen(?) years it took you to write your first book.

  21. Posted May 4, 2012 at 10:08 AM | Permalink

    Hi Pat,
    I heard you talk about the lack of good female characters in fantasy/sci-fi at the NC Stellacon a while ago, and it came up again in this hang-out.

    What do you think of Cordelia Naismith from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga? She’s a strong female character who was strong before the novels began, and kept her strength throughout the saga without being a stereotype that I recognize, and she’s one of my favorite characters in sci-fi even though her son is really the focus of most of the stories.

  22. leaf101
    Posted May 4, 2012 at 3:39 PM | Permalink

    is pat going to Origins Game fair?

  23. Tove
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 10:01 AM | Permalink

    How come I manage to get everything they say in the video, except the names of the books and authors they reccomend? I think my own understandig of english laguage is having a good time bullying myself.

  24. AshtheViking
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 5:08 PM | Permalink

    Loved this. Of course I love both you and Felicia Day so anything involving both of you is an automatic win.

    unrelated, I was looking through sites with literary tattoos and found this one:
    I was wondering have you heard of many people getting your words permanently inked on them and what you think of it?

  25. Posted May 7, 2012 at 6:23 AM | Permalink

    For the sake of my internet not dying, I only watched the first 15 minutes. But I gotta say! Conversations between authors, especially about writing, are totally awesome. You guys all knew like exactly what you were talking about.

    To Felicia: Anne of Green Gables is a beautiful book! I fell deeply in love with it, could not put it down! Orphans make for brilliant characters.

    Patrick: I never saw the complete movie Wall.E but I’ll definitely have to one day! I liked what I have watched. ALL of the characters from Sin City are awesome. Sin City in general is awesome.

    Personally, I love characters who have dark pasts, and/or are a little/a lot insane (Zuko and Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Catherine from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Light Yagami from Death Note etc…)

    Fanficion is not only a great way of deciding whether the character was written well enough that you know enough about them to make them live on without the author, it’s also GREAT entertainment if you’re reading, and good practice if you’re writing.

    I’ll have to come back another day and watch the rest of the video! It was great to see this little gathering, you all had great stuff to say!

    • IvoryDoom
      Posted May 7, 2012 at 12:42 PM | Permalink

      I’m right there with you on liking characters from a darker past.

      I generally choose the villian as my favorite character, even though I dont particularly want them to succeed, a lot of writers just put more into the villian because they have to build that dislike of them. So the quality of there story is usually higher in my opinion.

      and….Prince Zuko…amen to that, my favorite character from Last Airbender. :heart:

      • Silly Red Panda
        Posted May 7, 2012 at 5:12 PM | Permalink

        Hear hear. Zuko is amazing!

        I’m with you both, villains tend to be extremely interesting and entertaining. And as discussed in the video, they believe what they’re doing is right so isn’t it another side of the story?

    • Jam
      Posted May 7, 2012 at 10:28 PM | Permalink

      I like how eclectic your list of dark past characters is. I would highly recommend Sand dan Glokta from the First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie.

  26. Chloe87
    Posted May 8, 2012 at 9:07 PM | Permalink

    I wasn’t going to say anything, but yes you are very hairy. An animalistic vibe comes through the screen though, which is kinda kool. Anyway, loved this panel, I have now throughly researched yourself and Amber and Pat, be weary. All super awesome people and great role models, I hope I can create something as good as some of your stuff. Well honestly I just want to create something, don’t really care if it’s good or not as long as I like it :)

  27. rcole
    Posted May 15, 2012 at 7:58 AM | Permalink

    Excellent video sir.
    I enjoy hearing about your upcoming book ideas, especially about a motherly female protagonist. It got me thinking about female characters (mothers in particular), their role in fiction, and what items/people take the role of their children. The thought left me a little saddened that there are not more matronly heroes and, as you said in the video, that such a double standard exists.
    I was also extremely surprised to hear Felicia Day mention Anne of Green Gables, as it is one of the major tourist attractions (aswell as the authors home, etc) for where I live (Prince Edward Island). I wonder if someday, bus loads of school children will be set free in the “House of Patrick Rothfuss” to marvel at the furniture, or point out a chair that you used to sit in. Silly thought, but with most things being transitive, it just might happen.
    Thanks again for the video, I hope to see many more and I also think you should kick Whedon’s butt at Tabletop sometime…

  28. marianomaldo
    Posted May 16, 2012 at 5:13 PM | Permalink

    “Ferro” in Joe Abercrombie’s “The First law trilogy” is a great female antihero! + not virginal…

  29. jazdia
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 9:56 AM | Permalink

    I’m coming late to this discussion, but I hope you still read it, Pat. My question is: what do you think of fanfiction?? Since you spoke of it? I have written some in the past couple of years, and to me, it has helped me think about writing again, like a stepping stone. I know I need to come up with my own characters, but I like how you described the characters that are so strong that you want to know about them off the written page as the ones that fanfics are written about – that is what drove me to read and then to write. I hope this makes sense!

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