Wednesday 3 August 2011


One question that I've been asked many times in the interviews that I've done over the last 9 months is whether I found it difficult to write the 'nasty' parts of 'Prince of Thorns'.

The implication seems to be that I should have found it an ordeal because what right-thinking human being could come up with such horror? An early reviewer went one step further and implied that I must share some of the unfortunate character traits she attributed to Jorg . . . because I'd written about him. Actually some kudos is owed to that reviewer for managing to insult Jorg, a hard task because he's guilty of most crimes you care to lay at his doorstep. Misogyny however is not a sensible practice to accuse him of since that would require a particular dislike of women as opposed to a generally poor disposition toward mankind as a whole.

In any event when I looked at the various unpleasantness on show in 'Prince of Thorns' it actually stuck me as quite mild compared to what I've read in other fantasy books ('A Dance With Dragons' released a month earlier than Prince of Thorns seems considerably more gruesome) and very mild compared to what I've read in other genres - in the crime genre for example. Last year I read 'Wire in the Blood' (based on the eponymous TV series I believe) and winced my way through very graphic descriptions of rape, torture, and murder. Moreover I've seen reviews that make direct comparisons between scenes in 'Prince of Thorns' and similarly themed scenes in other fantasy books, in order to say mine make the others seem mild. And yet when I looked at the relevant passages in one case I had four lines of indirect description of the event and the other author had four paragraphs of gory detail.

What's my conclusion? It's the power of 'I'. You can change 3rd person writing into 1st by a set of simple steps that could easily be automated - it's just a semantic trick. However, when you write in the first person it seems that the impact on the reader of any wrong doing is magnified by a considerable amount. Somehow that little 'I' does all the work.

"His fingers tightened on the old woman's throat, the flesh purpling around them. He felt her struggles weaken."


"My fingers tightened on the old woman's throat, the flesh purpling around them. I felt her struggles weaken."

And all of a sudden it requires a monster to write it?  :)

It seems silly, but that's my only explanation.

To be fair I don't know for sure that the authors of crime novels and fantasy writers whose villains are written in the 3rd person aren't constantly asked if it was hard to write the nasty scenes. But my feeling is 'not so much' and I'm laying the 'blame' at the door of the shortest pronoun of them all.


  1. I totally agree with you about how first person changes the emotions - it was one of my favorite things about The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear. It is easier to connect with the characters. I gave also read The Wire in the Blood which wad definitely graphic. I probably would not have finished it except it was required reading for a university course. I am glad to hear that you also found it to be a bit much. I continue to be excited to read your book - though I just started the WoT series so it might be a while. Congrats on your new blog choice!

  2. Third person provides a certain aesthetic distance. That's something HE did, not something I did. A first-person novel reads like a confession. It's the exact same psychological difference between hearing someone say, "He murdered six people" and "I murdered six people."

    Even though we should know better.

  3. Yay! Glad to see you blogging, Mark!

  4. Hey, any news of a sequel? I mean I know it's going to be one, but... when?

    No pressure, it's just the effect of George doubleR Martin's 6-year pause ...

  5. Hi Mada - 'Prince of Thorns' is the first book in a trilogy. The other two books are already written - so should I lose an argument with a bus tomorrow, my widow will ensure you have a chance to read them! As I understand it they're to be released a year apart. So August 2012 for 'King of Thorns'.

  6. I totally agree with your statement - even if I prefer to wirte in 3th person - but as you mention there are also ... more gruesome. And if this book wauld have been less gruesome it would has lost some of it's charakter and this would have been more than sad! Luckily all is like it should be!


  7. I was thinking about violence in fantasy on my flight yesterday. I read a passage from Peter Brent's history of Genghis Khan (Genghis Khan: The Rise to Authority and decline of Mongol Power). The passage described a battle between Khan's forces and Jamukha, a rival. Jamukha put Khan's army on the run, but rather than pursue Khan through the mountains, Jamukha turned around and put his fury to the camp of a neutral tribe, simply because they remained neutral, and boiled alive seventy of its leaders.

    Stop and wrap your mind around that for just a second.

    Seventy people boiled alive. Because they refused to take a side in a skirmish over ... wait for it ... grazing rights.

    Now I say this with all due respect, but compared to that kind of behavior, Jorg is a weenie.

    I see a point to your view that first person is part of the problem, but I also think that some people want their fantasy white-washed so there are no bedbugs, no rats, no disease that a benevolent healer can't heal, lords and ladies kill one another politely with poison and nary a drop of blood is ever spilled.

    It really disturbs me when I see people attribute character motivations to authors. I think that is unfair and juvenile.

    But hey, that's just me.

  8. You've nailed it, in my opinion. Though I often see reviewers who struggle to disentangle their own personal ideas of right and wrong from the character's. You don't have to agree with Jorg but damn, he makes for a fascinating point of view character. He's exquisitely broken and his jagged edges lacerate others so easily. I'm enthralled. And just when you think it can't get worse...

  9. I created a character called Neville for the Potatoes Anthology. He's a distillation of people that I worked with, and against, on the doors, with a garnish to spice things up. I then wrote another story that I didn't publish. All of his are POV. People equated his views (phobic/anti everything) with mine. Which I found utterly bizarre.