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Jay Lake
Date: 2008-12-08 05:54
Subject: [books|process] Pratchett's Small Gods
Security: Public
Tags:books, demonhead, green, process, writing
After an enormous amount of galley reading (Green) and critical reading (Demonhead) this weekend, I just couldn't face Herman Melville again, so I gave myself a cookie with my nth re-reading of Terry Pratchett's Small Gods.

Pratchett is one of those rare writers who turns off my Producer brain and taps directly into the Consumer vein. Which is to say, most media I consume hits the internal editor and is processed thereby. This is largely a good thing, I believe, as it is related to my critical thinking skills, professional development, etc. Pratchett can take me back to the sensawunda which kept twelve-year-old me hiding in the bookstacks to devour Andre Norton or a Heinlein juvenile because I wasn't allowed to check out as many books as I could read in a weekend.

A funny thing happened on the way to the literary afterglow, though. Small Gods was the first Discworld book I read. In many ways, it remains my favorite, though The Truth has it in a photo finish, and likewise The Wee Free Men. This time I was noticing the scaffolding of craft which drives Small Gods, and I mean that in a good way.

Brutha has one of the most amazing character arcs I've ever seen in fiction. Regardless of what you think of Pratchett, fantasy or humor in genre, this book is worth reading for the sake of studying what Pratchett does with Brutha's transformation, and how he does it. Plus, if you're not hip to Discworld, this is one of the best entrees into that continuity, as it's more-or-less a standalone work.

What books (genre or otherwise) do you like for demonstrating character arc and development?

Originally published at jlake.com.

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User: the_blue_fenix
Date: 2008-12-08 14:20 (UTC)
Subject: Is Bujold too obvious?
What books (genre or otherwise) do you like for demonstrating character arc and development?

Because I'm thinking a lot about Sgt. Bothari's story arc right now.

I'm writing a fanfic right now where I take a character through a sin-and-redemption arc approximately one percent as bad as Bothari's, and judging by reply comments readers are having heart attacks.

It must therefore follow that in making Bothari a mad rapist and murderer AND universally beloved, Bujold is about a hundred times better than I am. Which was about the order of magnitude I'd expected, frankly.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-12-08 14:37 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Is Bujold too obvious?
I almost mentioned Bujold in the post, though I wasn't really thinking of Bothari at the time. She's one of the few besides Pratchett who can just dig into my vein and drive me. Good call!

(And I still wince at the sheer waste of Bothari's death, years after I'd first read enough to understand his character arc.)
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Kristine Smith
User: kristine_smith
Date: 2008-12-08 15:13 (UTC)
Subject: (Possible spoiler??) Re: Is Bujold too obvious?
(And I still wince at the sheer waste of Bothari's death, years after I'd first read enough to understand his character arc.)

That death took me aback too, because--for me at least--Bujold managed to make a woman who killed her rapist an unsympathetic character. A testimony to how well she wrote Bothari, or simply because we heard about his crimes secondhand. Not something I expected.
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User: biomekanic
Date: 2008-12-09 00:26 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Is Bujold too obvious?
Me too, I still swear when I read that passage.
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Elizabeth Coleman
User: criada
Date: 2008-12-08 15:31 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Is Bujold too obvious?
I'm in the middle of Samuel Delany's Dhalgren right now, and I've learned a lot about character development from it. The main character has amnesia, and when he comes to the strange post-mini-apocalyptic city, someone dubs him, "Kid" and it sticks. Maybe he changed it to Kidd, I don't remember which came first. Anyway, his name keeps shifting (Kid, Kidd, The Kid) and his personality changes subtly with each name change.
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User: mcjulie
Date: 2008-12-08 14:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Sam in Lord of the Rings.
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User: jackwilliambell
Date: 2008-12-08 15:33 (UTC)
Subject: Demonstration of character arc and development?
A wonderful, and very short, novel by John Crowley (crowleycrow) titled 'Engine Summer'. It is out of print and can be difficult to find; try looking on the literature as well as the SF&F shelves.

'Engine Summer' is not only a character-driven story, the very soul of the book is about character and the development of character. Yet this isn't in your face; in fact the machinery works in a way which builds throughout the story via separate threads of meaning (despite being told by a single viewpoint) which converge at the very last page -- when the main character achieves his lifelong desire to be a saint and loses it at the very same moment. And then, somehow, gets it all back in a manner far stranger than he could have ever imagined...

Very few books can make me cry. This is the only book that has ever made me cry at each re-reading.
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User: farmgirl1146
Date: 2008-12-08 20:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
FWIW, Pratchett works on so many levels that reading them and picking up on a new level is like reading a "new" book.
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Mister Eclectic: Chocolate
User: howeird
Date: 2008-12-09 00:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yup, there's something about Pratchett's writing which produces a willing suspension of critical thinking. Probably because his command of the language is so good, and he's not taking himself too seriously. I've enjoyed the character development of most of his major players in Thud!, Going Postal and Making Money. Isn't character development what makes a Great Book™? Dickens springs to mind. Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations and even A Christmas Carol. Your friend Mr. Melville's Captain Ahab is another example. Heinlein's Lazarus Long has a somewhat bizarre and twisted character arc across several books. Vidal's Myra Breckinridge is another. Dustin Caulfield, Oliver Twist, Capt. John Joseph Yossarian. The Bridge Over The River Kwai shows what happens when several character arcs intersect in unexpected ways. So many characters, so little blog space. :-)
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User: mmegaera
Date: 2008-12-09 02:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Somebody else beat me to Bujold. Rats.

What she does with Mark Vorkosigan in Mirror Dance is nothing short of miraculous, too.
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