Man, did this one take longer than it was supposed to. What you’ve found is the final part of a look at my Fantasy Story Stats. Because, after four solid weeks of looking at each in-depth, I think a serious refocus on how these should be used is in order. And the best way to do that? Just use them on different properties and see what we learn.
Now, all of these stories are my favorites, first of all; seriously, I love each of the following properties. That said, I’m going to try and be really honest about them—because if you’re not honest with them, these stats do nothing. Sound interesting? I hope so; I’m pretty intrigued to see how this goes.
Disclaimer: Of course, as always, I have to remind you that I’m not an authority on any of the stories I’m about to discuss; these Stats are not a way of dissecting them and I’m sure that when I reread any of these stories, I’ll find reason to contest what I’m about to put down. However, I can confidently say that I am someone who’s been trying to complete a story of his own for years and, that said, someone who found looking at stories through the lens of these Stats helpful for my own compositions. As I’ve said before, these Stats are just tools and using them is more of an experiment and an opportunity for creative reflection than anything else.
Let’s do it!
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire)
By George R. R. Martin
Focus: 1-Character, 2-Plot
The striking thing about A Game of Thrones was how realistic it was for the genre. Oddly enough, this is absolutely in spite of the very first scene literally involving evil snow zombies. How does that even work? Because everything that comes after the White Walkers is absolutely realistic and heavy in Tone. Incest? Little kids getting paralyzed? A “dwarf” who isn’t at all the fantasy standard dwarf? All of these things (High Concept, Low Spirit elements for the genre) counteract the first scene, even undermining strong hints at dormant magic as omens or strange coincidences.
But oddly… even though the Tone undermines all of those fantasy elements… it also serves those same elements. Where other authors use incredibly unique world concepts, races, creatures, and monsters to draw readers, Martin’s work features humans almost exclusively. Humans with extremely Earth-centric towns, weapons, equipment and cultures. Humans who consider slightly large (based on the show) wolves as horrible beasts, and where genre-typical dragons and honestly super-familiar undead warriors stand as the most outlandish monsters you can find. But, really, these elements are served by the Tone. Having everything be so normal and real makes the White Walkers terrifying. It makes slightly bigger wolves really awesome. It makes a sword forged of slightly darker metal that always holds its edge the most incredible weapon ever (in direct contrast to extremely flashy lightsabers, for example). It makes you afraid of magic and uncertain what will happen when someone pisses off a witch. Overall, it is an absolutely masterful control of the reader’s experience and I bow before it.
The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle)
By Patrick Rothfuss
Theme: Stories, Myth, and Their Influence on Reality
Focus: 1-Character, 2-Plot, 2.5-Location
Here, I feel the Focus is especially interesting; there’s no question that The Name of the Wind is a story driven by its characters (the story is, literally, being provided by our protagonist after another character persuades him to tell it). Beyond that, however, I feel it’s arguable whether Plot or Location is the more interesting drive for readers. I can’t see how that could be an insult, but I’ll immediately specify that I found the story’s locations that intriguing; for me, part of the joy of reading was getting back to the Eolain and seeing what would happen there. Or getting to Elodin’s or Kilvin’s next class. One of my favorite moments in the story was when Kvothe explored the Underthing with Auri, and, in retrospect, I divide the story into four parts without trying: Kvothe with his family and traveling in their caravan, Kvothe in Tarbean, Kvothe at the University, and Kvothe outside of the University with Denna (all of these obviously focusing on locations).
Also, as always, I could go on about how High Concept this story is—the fact that it’s being related by the protagonist after he’s gone into hiding; the incredibly believable treatment of magic in the frame of the story; the specific allure of Naming; the countless, personal events that drive the plot and mirror our own lives. I would go on, but if you’ve read The Name of the Wind, you already know all of this and I have to immediately stop this from turning into a review.
Another note: Despite what I’ve said before (told you this would happen), I do think the Novelty of The Name of the Wind would be Medium-High; there’s just a lot more than simply “orphan boy goes to magic school,” a vague overview that absolutely undermines my love for the book.
Mistborn (The Mistborn Trilogy)
By Brandon Sanderson
Theme: Rebellion Against Oppression on Personal and Social Levels; Faith, both Personal and Religious
Focus: 1-Plot, 2-Character
Despite being set in a world where an evil god rules over a land constantly marred by black ashfalls, Mistborn winds up being Light-Medium in Tone and Medium-High in Spirit. How? Also, perhaps, what?
Well, the simple answer is Theme, Tone and Spirit.
The story carries a heavy Tone of Rebellion that’s supported by its characters—friends who have very jovial interactions with each other (in direct contrast to the gloom outside). The oppressive world is also undermined by the powers of the mistborn, who consider the mists (which come out at night—the most mythically dangerous time of day, as the story establishes early on) home. Vin in particular feels “free” in the mists (which is obviously relevant to the Theme). Finally, add to that the actual power that a mistborn can freely use out in the mists and how exciting those powers are for the characters and readers, and it’s actually easy to forget about the gloomy setting. On the contrary, as mistborn are generally only mistborn when they’re out in the night in secret, Pushing off of coins, the story actually becomes more exciting when it would otherwise be at its gloomiest. There’s seriously no end to how amazing I think this massive, thematic Soothing and Rioting is.
And now, for the sake of acknowledging differences in the same writer’s projects…
By Brandon Sanderson
Focus: 1-Plot, 2-Character
In contrast, Warbreaker does not have to fight to maintain light Tone; the magic system of the novel, Breath, is based on color, resulting in a fictional society that employs color vibrantly (an obvious difference from the blacked out landscape of Mistborn).
More important here, however, is Spirit, which, in my Stats, is Medium (possibly weird at first glance). However, Warbreaker actively challenges your concepts of right and wrong, evil and good (something that the Mistborn series doesn’t start doing until the second and third books). Without spoiling anything, the Theme (as I see it) of choice creates a grey area that the novel settles into—not all villains are completely evil and not all people are completely good. As is the case between Siri and her sister, people can absolutely be different and make different choices or act in different ways, but that does not mean either way is inherently wrong or right. The world is too complicated for that because it’s a place where people can choose and those choices are really all that matters. All of this, along with a magic system that’s slightly more out-of-the-ordinary than mistborn powers (the overall effects of which are more familiar [as Jedi powers or superpowers] than the ability to breathe life into inanimate objects and have them do your bidding) means that there are more challenging elements in Warbreaker. It is, on the whole, a less comforting and familiar read than Mistborn despite the lighter Tone and premise.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
Subgenre: YA (?)
Focus: 1-Plot, 2-Character, 3-Location
Tone: Light /Fantastic
If you have not seen Avatar: The Last Airbender (the show, not the movie) then all I’ll say is that you should absolutely give it a chance because it’s legitimately amazing. On the list of kids’ shows that are not just for kids, Avatar is easily among the best.
But before I continuing gushing about how great it is, what’s interesting about its Stats? For me, the Focus; this is a case where almost all three elements of Focus are equally balanced in a story. You read to find out what happens next in the Plot (as with any syndicated show), but every episode also has pertinent character growth, supported by the ever present questions of what Aang will find in whatever drastically changed place from his past the group stops in. And there, of course, is also Location coming into play as the third Focus, although the world itself with the dynamic of the Four Nations, their cultures and the myth of the world of Avatar is enough of a Location draw on its own. Generally, however, each season takes place in another of the Four Nations, making Location that much more important.
Of course, the balance of Spirit is also interesting. Avatar is another case where the audience is presented with grey areas that challenge what they expect from character archetypes. This is an extremely important part of the show from the beginning. Bending is also unique enough of an approach to elemental magic that it feels silly to call it magic. Counteracting all of that, however, is the playfulness of the show; despite the setting, characters speak in what I consider Standard American, a term that extends to include extremely Earth-general mannerisms (people don’t fist bump or do peace signs, but they might bow or shake hands, never using any unfamiliar, Avatar-esque hand gestures or sayings [outside of ones that are meant to be funny because they’re so awkward and non Earth-Standard]). Avatar also creates and revisits its best jokes. And, finally (really), the premise is very nearly the old standard of “boy has great, exclusive power that he must use to defeat evil.” All of this creates an extremely comfortable atmosphere that balances the more challenging elements of the story extremely well (and hopefully proves that, used right, a degree of familiarity in a story can do incredible things).
Okay. Going to stop now. However, for the sake of looking at the difference in sequels (and the reason why I brought up a show from crazy long ago)…
The Legend of Korra
Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
Theme: Sibling Rivalry
Focus: 1-Character, 2-Plot
In contrast, The Legend of Korra has a much lower Spirit; it’s far more challenging to its audience. Even though it’s a direct sequel to The Last Airbender, it’s a much different show with a much more unique premise, a more complicated plot, and a far deeper look at the grey areas already mentioned here. On The Legend of Korra, people are often not who they seem and characters’ actions are often more personal and individual than they are cohesive and single-minded; on The Last Airbender, everyone was ultimately trying to help Aang defeat the Fire Nation, but in The Legend of Korra, everyone’s doing what comes naturally to them. Even characters who were set on helping the protagonists in the first season have now very naturally fallen back into roles that hinder the progress of our protagonists (Beifong being a great example). On top of that, the world from Airbender has evolved, becoming something much more unique. Even in the case of the protagonist, Korra is a very strong female lead who is actually vulnerable and human (directly challenging stereotypes of the flat, over-compensating super-badass female lead, or the comic-typical super-feminist). She’s so progressive that her sexual orientation and hairstyle choices are not the focus of any parts of the show—at all; in fact, her love life even takes a serious backseat to other issues that matter way, way more (like stopping wars).
The only balance is the way Korra is absolutely a legacy story; many subtle references are made to moments from Avatar. The story also actively uses the mythose of Avatar’s world as plot elements in Korra. Overall, these elements make the experience more comforting (and again demonstrate how well the High Spirit of a story can supplement a more challenging, Low Spirit sequel).
Well, I think that about wraps it up for my Fantasy Story Stats. Thank you, as always, for reading, and if you gained anything from these stats, please subscribe, drop a comment, give me a like, or do all of those things—I’d appreciate it.