We all know who wins

Let me start off by saying this advice doesn’t work for horror or for fantasy like George R R Martin or Joe Abercrombie where there are no real good guys and anyone can die at any time. On the other hand, Pat Rothfuss does this brilliantly. I’ll come back to that later. In a heroic fantasy, we all know who is going to win. The hero is going to slay the dragon and win the war. No one doubts that, but that’s not what makes a story great. I heard a question from author and former Pyr editor Lou Anders. What does James Bond have in common with the Harlem Globe Trotters? The always win, in spite of that, they are enormously popular. It’s not about who is going to win. It’s about what they going to have to go through to win. It’s how will they be changed by struggle. That is what draws readers in.

One of the modern masters of this is Pat Rothfuss. In Name of the Wind, the back of the book tells you much of what’s going to go on in the story.

 

My name is Kvothe.

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me.

 

You go into the story knowing all of this. Some of these elements have been explored in the series, and they were fantastic. Some is still to come. I’m still waiting on pins and needles to found out how Kvothe gets kicked out of the University. I know he has the title of Kingkiller, but which king did he kill? Knowing doesn’t detract from the story. I’ve read the first two books countless times and will do so at least once, probably two or three times, before the third one comes out, but I already know how the story ends. He’s going to end up as an innkeeper. I’ll even go so far as to say I know he’s going to defeat the Chandrean. The beauty in it is all that Kvothe goes through. It’s his childhood in Trabean. It’s his time at the University. It’s his service to the Maer and his conflict with Ambrose. That’s the thing you have to remember when crafting your story. The hero wins in the end. It’s important to have write the climax, the final battle well, but it’s just as important to show the steps your character took to get the point where they are able to fight that final battle. Your hero has to struggle. He has to have obstacles he overcomes along the way. This is where try-fail cycles come into play, where your character tries and fails to solve the problem. Often those problems make everything worse, but that’s what draws the reader in.

Frodo learns about the One Ring and is rightfully scared. As is often the case, first, he tries talking by trying to get Gandalf to take the ring from him. This doesn’t work. Failure 1. Next, after a myriad of struggles, he goes to Rivendale to give it to the elves, but everyone is arguing about who will take the ring. He realizes no one here can do it. Failure 2. His success, in Fellowship of the Ring, is fully accepting this role by preventing Boramir from taking it. You can tell almost from the very beginning that Frodo will end up carrying the ring, but that doesn’t change the fact that his story is one of the most timeless tales ever written. Knowing the ending doesn’t change that.

If only your end is good, your readers won’t get to it. If your story is just good enough to get to the ending, your readers will never reread it, so don’t worry so much about having the twist ending that no one saw coming. Make the solution unexpected, sure, but make the challenges the characters face along the way equally endearing.

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