Writer's Panel for our Subscribathon!

Uploaded by geekandsundry on Apr 30, 2012


FELICIA DAY: Thank you so much for making time.
Your hair looks beautiful, as always.
I'm talking to you, John.
JOHN SCALZI: Well, you know, I tried really hard.
It's a new look for me.
I usually go for the David Crosby.
JOHN SCALZI: But I thought now, kind of the 21st century
might be time to move on from that.
FELICIA DAY: You know, I've met you a couple of times at
conventions, and the true story of it is that--
FELICIA DAY: We danced to Lady Gaga together.
And I will always know that.
JOHN: Yes, it was very exciting for me too.
It was weird because then I could tell people-- they'd say
so what you'd do last night.
I was like, well, nobody was going to dance.
It's Felicia's day, so I said all right, fine, I will do it.
We have a little bit of sound.
I think Amber's good.
What about Pat?
Somebody's got a little ringing going on.
Pat, can you talk a little bit?
PAT ROTHFUSS: Can you hear me?
Yes, I can hear you.
I can hear you.
FELICIA DAY: Can you speak a little bit, John?
FELICIA DAY: Ok, good!
We're good.
FEMALE SPEAKER: I just came to geek out for a second on John.
Hi John.
FELICIA DAY: She's a huge fan, John.
FEMALE SPEAKER: I haven't met you yet.
FELICIA DAY: I'm a huge fan of Amber's, so--
AMBER BENSON: I'm a huge fan of yours.
FELICIA DAY: Amber is actually a guest on a tabletop show
later this year.
So heads up.
FELICIA DAY: Not to say anything about it, I know.
So let me just introduce you and then I'm going to let Pat
lead the discussion.
But we have Amber Benson, who is an author, an actress, a
director, just an awesome, awesome person.
And she does a series called Death's Daughter.
I'm setting you up great.
AMBER BENSON: Death's Doctor, no.
FELICIA DAY: Yeah, Death's Doctor.
It's Death's Daughter.
And John Scalzi is a sci-fi uber-aller, I
guess that's something.
Shall I shut up?
And then there's [INAUDIBLE] who wrote Old Man's War and
many, many awesome huge sci-fi novels lately.
Pat Rothfuss, my friend and beard man, who wrote Name of
the Wind, as well as--
I mean, it's just one of the best fantasy novels written in
recent memory.
So all of you are very good to represent the genres that you
write in and authors in general.
And I appreciate it.
So Pat, go ahead and take it away.
PAT: Well, I was kind of curious just to talk about
character in general here.
And we do have kind of a wide array of people.
And don't be bashful about jumping in, Felicia, because
we do novel-y stuff stuff mostly.
But Amber acts, John has done consulting for TV, and you do
screenwriting, so we know we have kind of a cool, broad
array of different angles we can come at this from.
But maybe we could even start by talking about characters we
like and talking about what we like and what we've seen done
and why we think that works before we talk about the
tricks that we pull when we're trying to create cool
So like off-the-cuff, if you had to pick one character that
you thought was really cool, who would you pick?
No pressure.
JOHN SCALZI: I will go ahead and start.
Well, the first character events in science fiction,
actually, that really resonated with me a whole lot
was the character of Jubal Harshaw in Stranger In a
Strange Land.
JOHN SCALZI: Partly because he was funny.
He was crusty.
He had a point of view.
He was not someone who is trying to get along with
everyone, but he always had a point to make.
And as you get along, you realize that in some sort of
ways, particularly with Heinlein,
this is a stock character.
There's always the older character who imparts wisdom
and all that sort of stuff.
But the first time you encounter that character, it
really, really hits home.
So that was the one where I was looking at it and going
why can't he have his own book.
It was sort of like Falstaff in Shakespeare.
He was so successful as a side character, that I believe it
was the Queen Elizabeth said I would love to see
him in his own play.
And that's [INAUDIBLE]
The Merry Wives of Windsor.
He was resurrected from the dead in order to basically be
Elizabethan fan-fiction.
I was going to say one of the first recorded
instances of fan-fic.
AMBER BENSON: I think I'd have to go with--
I'm going to bangle, bungle, whatever the name--
Aloysius Pendergast, from the Lincoln Child,
Douglas Preston books.
Those are awesome.
He's just such an odd--
he's an FBI detective from the South, from--
I think it's from New Orleans.
And he's just got this weird sort of gentlemanly,
chivalrous thing going on.
But he's also very, very, very bright and very
technologically advanced, and just a
really interesting character.
And I kind of fell in love with those
books because of him.
And I just read one, and then I had to go get all of them.
JOHN SCALZI: Yeah, I had that happen with--
oh, sorry, go ahead.
PAT ROTHFUSS: [INAUDIBLE] what were you saying?
JOHN SCALZI: I said actually, speaking of mysteries, I had
that happen with Gregory McDonald's Fletch.
PAT ROTHFUSS: Oh God, yes.
JOHN SCALZI: The Fletch character, you know, the
Fletch character made me laugh so much.
And he just had such an attitude to him that--
it's the same thing with me, Amber, as happened with you.
I was like who is this Fletch character and why don't I have
every single one of his books?
And so you go out and you buy every single of the books.
And that's just what a fantastic character can do.
AMBER BENSON: It's so true.
You sit there at the bookstore or at the library
with like 17 books.
And they're just looking at you like you're insane.
You're like (INSANE VOICE) I want them all.
Every one is mine.
PAT ROTHFUSS: And Fletch is a great example of a book that
like I think every young-- but not young--
author who's trying to improve their craft
should really read.
That first book is like a master
class on writing dialogue.
PAT ROTHFUSS: 80% of the book is just dialogue.
There's no description.
It's like a play almost.
It's like Shakespeare.
All of the action is contained in the dialogue.
And it's so sharp and fast.
JOHN SCALZI: Yeah, I agree with that 100%.
It's definitely in terms of the dialogue and the back and
the forth and the humor, it shows that you can actually do
so much with the characters, even stuff
like expository things.
And you don't have to go the "as you know, Bob" route.
You can just [INAUDIBLE] as part of a natural flow of the
And it's one of the reasons, actually, that I say in terms
of the way that I do dialogue, that Gregory McDonald, who's
the writer, is one of the spiritual
forefathers of my style.
PAT ROTHFUSS: Oh, that's cool.
How about you, Felicia, if you had to pick a character or two
that you just love, what would they--
FELICIA DAY: I mean, I get so invested in characters,
whatever media I'm investing in.
As a kid, I loved Anne of Green Gables so much.
And I know it's really weird, but I wanted to be an orphan
with such a passion-
FELICIA DAY: I was halfway down the road, I was like I'm
just going to call myself an orphan, because being an
orphan seemed like the best thing you could do.
And The Five Children and It, like all these orphans--
I don't know what it is about orphan fiction, that
it's so important to not have any parents.
And yeah, you might go live with a weird aunt, but
basically you're a little bit unfettered.
And I don't know where that universality--
but anything with an orphan, even to this day
I'm addicted to.
PAT ROTHFUSS: Then, you might want to not mention that to
the parents.
FELICIA DAY: They knew!
They were like what is this with you need a first edition
of every Anne of Green Gables.
We can't afford that.
I'm like I need it.
PAT ROTHFUSS: I suspect all of the members of the Scooby Gang
were orphans.
That's really the only explanation I can
come up for that one.
FELICIA DAY: That's true!
What were they doing wandering the deserts and the roads.
JOHN SCALZI: A bunch of teenagers in a van with a dog,
wandering, no parental control.
They had to all been orphans and Fred, of course, is the
cult leader.
FELICIA DAY: Living the dream.
Living the-- you're right.
So, obviously, I get so invested in whatever char--
I get so invested in character that I literally--
that's the only reason I'd consume anything.
It's only about character.
And that's why I love games like Dragon Age and Mass
Effect, where I feel so invested in my character and
my relationship with the other characters.
And if they're drawn well, no matter what the genre or the
platform you're reading on, whether it's a book or a
screenplay or a movie or game, I think that really is what as
a person, to me, I am obsessed with.
PAT ROTHFUSS: And it's interesting.
People were picking out theirs, and I realized the one
that I had thought of or the couple that I'd thought of
were actually--
they weren't novels.
One of them was Wall-E from the movie.
PAT ROTHFUSS: Because my little boy is watching it now.
And that's amazing.
It's almost like the anti-Fletch.
There's no dialogue in the whole movie.
But Wall-E is this incredible character.
You love him.
And then if I was going to go the other end of the spectrum,
I'd pick Marv from Sin City.

It's the anti- Wall-E. But I love that character too.
And the thing is when I get all these weird data points, I
try to figure out is there some commonality in these
characters that is like the essential element that would
make a good character?
Or maybe we can find a few essential elements that really
make some sort of--
I don't want to say archetype, but some sort of ingredient
that if I can steal this and put it in my characters, then
suddenly I can be more successful and I can cheat and
not have to put in all this leg work.
JOHN SCALZI: I think the first thing that all of these
characters have in common-- and while you were talking, I
was thinking of a completely different character from a
video game called Alyn Vance obviously from Half Life 2 and
from all the other ones.
FELICIA DAY: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
JOHN SCALZI: One of the things that each of these characters
has is you can absolutely believe that when you close
the book, they keep going, that they're not there just to
do "hi, I'm here for exposition," or "hi, I'm here
to be the sexy beast" and doing that.
They are there because they are characters that you can
see that even when your gaze as a reader is not on them,
they're often having a life.
They're off and doing things.
You know Wall-E's off there compacting.
Alyn Vance, they're working with the scientists in order
to fix the teleportation thing.
Everybody has--
each of these characters has an external life
outside of the book.
And you will never get to explore that, and you will
never get to imagine it, unless you do that fan-fiction
or something like that.
But that's why the fan-fiction works is because they are so
well-drawn that you can imagine their character traits
continuing on and building from there.
So even when the author himself or herself is not
doing anything with the character, you feel confident
enough that you know enough about that character, that you
can continue on.
So that's a real good question here.
That would be the easy acid test.
Can I write fan-fiction about this character?
If the answer is yes--
JOHN SCALZI: --then, you've got a character there.
That's almost like a roundedness issues or
verisimilitude or something, but that's a great litmus
test, the fan-fic test.
AMBER BENSON: Well, it's interesting, because coming at
it from an actor's perspective and now writing also, when
you're an actor, and maybe you can answer to this, too,
Felicia, you create backstory story for your character.
You create all this external stuff that has nothing to do
with what is in the script.
And I think as a writer, I have to sort of apply those
same skills.
Because I'm finding things that are totally outside of
that-- there's a whole life to the character that I have
nothing to do with, that goes on without me.
FELICIA DAY: Yeah, to me it's more of an emotional thing.
I tend to, if I look at a character, I feel this sensory
feeling that's outside of myself but is more attitude
versus facts.
Because I found that facts kind of ground me too much in
my intellect, that I'm way too in my head when I act anyway.
So as somebody who has that as the bar to get over to be
better, I had to force myself to think more emotionally.
AMBER BENSON: That's interesting.
FELICIA DAY: But you're right, in The Guild, I write
But it's surprising, people are like why don't you know
your lines?
I'm like writing as a writer is a completely different part
of the brain.
It's like taking it from here and moving to another area.
And it's so hard to take off that writer's hat, and be like
you can't rewrite this anymore.
You have to act the words.
So you figure out a way to justify it from your character
point of view.
It's, I think, the hardest thing I have in The Guild.
JOHN SCALZI: Well, Neil Gaiman once said, speaking
specifically about characters and the ways that authors
write them, is that the author always knows more about the
characters than the readers do.
And they only put in what's necessary for the story.
I think a few years ago there was a really good example of
this, where JK Rowling made the announcement, you know,
Dumbledore, he's gay.
And then there were all, a whole bunch of people like, oh
my God, he can't be gay!
If it's not in the books, then it didn't happen.
JOHN SCALZI: [INAUDIBLE] that big panic over Dumbledore.
But there was actually an article, I think, it was like
in The New York Times or something, where someone was
like well, no, he obviously can't be gay, because blah,
blah, blah.
And the answer was no, he can be gay and he is gay because
the author made him.
JOHN SCALZI: Whether or not you knew about it at the time
is irrelevant.
That informs the character.
That's what the author knew about the character.
And it made a difference in how that character played out.
And it also made a difference why there was that roundedness
there for that particular character.
Because the author knew more about the character than she
was putting onto the page.
PAT ROTHFUSS: No, I might actually--
and this would quickly digress us into like something very
esoteric, so I'm not going to go down that road.
But if we had more time, I would love to pursue it.
But I think there is no difference between actually
having more about the character that you know and
that you imply through the books.
And with Rowling, I heard somebody actually refer to
that particular incident as very cowardly of her, where
somebody said I've written gay characters into my books,
except I actually put it in the book.
I didn't wait until my initial sell-through was done.

It's interesting to think of it in terms of canon.
If canon is what is in the books, can the author do an
interview and say oh by the way, this is also true.
It's not really in the books.
And if it's not in the books, [SKEPTICAL NOISE].
JOHN SCALZI: Well, there was, in the specific case of
Rowling, there was some evidence that she knew that
ahead of time.
For example, Steve Kloves was the screenwriter of the movies
talked about at one point he gave Dumbledore a passage
which said something along the lines of oh, I remember when I
was younger, and all those women I was flirting with.
And she came to him and said yeah, don't do that.
JOHN SCALZI: Oh, in that case, it was there.
But I think part of that is also--
I think we discover the characters also while we're
writing them.
And we learn more about them as we go along.
In my own writing, in Ghost Brigades, there's a character
called Kingna, who shows up in the first chapter basically
because I needed an expository character to help set the
scene and it's like again, "as you know, Bob," blah
blah blah blah blah.
And then later on I needed another expository character,
and fortunately I hadn't killed off that character, and
I brought him back.
But as I went with that character, he was stubbornly
persistent about actually having a moral point of view.
And as I kept writing him, that moral point of view kept
on coming up.
And it became this one stock character that I used for
expositional purposes actually over the course of the writing
of the book becoming the moral center of the book and
becoming the person who tells the-- being the Yoda character
for the protagonist and telling him you have choices.
You have to make those choices.
And you have to live with them.
And no one was more surprised about this than--
you know, like I said--
FELICIA DAY: Do you get angry?
Did you get angry at your character if they took--
I mean, I've heard a lot of authors talk about that.
When you're writing, it takes you in a different place than
what you intended and you want them to.
JOHN SCALZI: Sometimes it can.
If a character gets uppity and you have a problem with him,
always have them eaten by a slug or something like that.
But in this particular case, he made them the book better
because he insisted on being something more
than the stock character.
He was like the--
to use the actor allusion--
he's the walk-on character that becomes so popular with
the audience that they stick him around.
He was my book's version of Urkel.
AMBER BENSON: Oh, you did not.
You so are [INAUDIBLE] you.
PAT ROTHFUSS: Yeah, that's going to sell it to the
readership right there.
People are running out right now to pick up your book.
JOHN SCALZI: Here's Urkel!
PAT ROTHFUSS: And Amber, I was curious about something you
said, because as the actor kind of inventing history, so
you know more about the character, so it gives you--
I think of it as like some place to stand for the acting.
Now what happens if--
or has this ever happened at all-- where some of the back
story you've created then suddenly gets disproven by
this direction that the writer is taking things.
AMBER BENSON: Oh, you mean as an actor or as a--
PAT ROTHFUSS: Yeah, as an actor.
AMBER BENSON: Oh yeah, that happens all the time.
You'll be like they do this and this person is-- they were
in love with this person and they did this with-- and then
they totally screw you.
They're like--
like in Buffy, they're like yeah, now you're a lesbian and
you're Willow's girlfriend.
And I was like oh, we didn't know that.
All right.
We're going to go in that direction now.
And it was awesome, but it was not expected.
FELICIA DAY: That's so funny, because in Dollhouse, the
character I played, Mag, was not a lesbian
until the second season.
I was like oh, oh, OK.
That's cool.
I'm going to go with that.
AMBER BENSON: I'm all right with that.
AMBER BENSON: Make out with hot chicks?
FELICIA DAY: Not a problem.
JOHN SCALZI: The name of your next band--
Spontaneous Lesbianism.
FELICIA DAY: Spontaneous Lesbian.
I love it.

PAT ROTHFUSS: Felicia, you mentioned the whole-- the
character is gipping away with you.
And I would like to say, because if we're going to do
this kind of as a--
at least, thinly veiled how-to-- how to do good
AMBER BENSON: How to do do-good characters?
PAT ROTHFUSS: How to do good characters.
That's a different sort of fan-fic.
FELICIA DAY: How to do good.
AMBER BENSON: Sorry, sorry, it's been a long day.

PAT ROTHFUSS: One thing that does always bug me is when I
hear authors say oh, the character just ran away with
the scene or they just took off or they took control and I
couldn't get it back.
And it bugs me in the same way that it bugs me when I'm
somewhere and there's some parents with some kids.
And they're like running all over the place.
And they're tipping over the plants and they're molesting
the neighbor's dog and just being little fricking
And the parents are like oh you just can't do
anything with them.
Oh, they just take over the whole thing.
Oh-- and I'm like no.
Damn it.
You get in there and you be a parent and you do your job.
You institute some discipline.
That is what being a parent is all about.
AMBER BENSON: You save the dog from being molested.
JOHN SCALZI: [INAUDIBLE] might even said that later on, Pat.
PAT ROTHFUSS: But that's how I feel when people come up
sometimes with the author version of that--
sort of divesting themselves from the responsibility of
disciplining their characters.
Because, now, that said, does it happen?
Sometimes I'm writing the scene and somebody says
something and I look at it and I go this is going to end in a
huge argument and things will be said that now will destroy
relationships and nothing can ever be right between these
people again.
But it's not that the characters are taking control.
It's that I've created characters that have reacted
reasonably down this dialogue tree.
And it's not this one thing that was said that was wrong.
It's way up here.
Maybe it's three pages ago.
And so you have to unravel that conversation.
You get all the way back up to the top, and then you realize
this is where things went wrong.
I can't talk with my hands on this webcam.
It doesn't make any sense.
I need a whiteboard, like Madden, I can draw on.
But you need to find that place where your characters--
effectively, you lost control of them, then go back and make
sure that while staying true to themselves they still move
the story forward.
Because that's your job as the author.
Everything has to be in service to the story.
And yes, these wilful, these well-rounded characters can
sometimes kind of take the bit between their teeth.
But that does not absolve you from your
responsibility as an author.
You still got to get in there and institute some discipline.
FELICIA DAY: So as far as creating--
each of you has kind of--
I'm sure--
one favorite character, especially protagonists.
So how do you go about creating a protagonist that
you can live so long with?
Because I've never written a novel.
And I admire you guys so much for that,
because it takes so long.
And it's such a long process for me to write a screenplay.
So the idea that I would expand that all
of tenfold is crazy.
So how do you create a character in the beginning
that serves your plot that you think you could
live with that long.
And does it morph as you go around?
But what you do in the start and where does it end up?
PAT ROTHFUSS: For me, I knew--
it's funny that you mentioned plot, because I
don't do that so much--

I knew from the beginning that if people didn't like my
character, they wouldn't like my book.
And so this was 15 years ago, I really started thinking
about how can I make a character that people will not
just like, but hopefully love?
Because I knew if I could make them love a character, then I
would have them.
And they might forgive certain things like the fact it is
character-driven story and not a plot-driven story.
And maybe the fact that there aren't so many rooftop
moonlight chases and things blowing up.
AMBER BENSON: But there's some lyre strumming?
FELICIA DAY: There's plenty of what?
AMBER BENSON: Liar, leer, whatever it is, yeah.
FELICIA DAY: I don't know, yeah.
Either one.

PAT ROTHFUSS: And you know what?
The one thing-- you mentioned well-roundedness and the
litmus test of fanfic.
For me, I think a big piece of what makes a character
beloved, not just lovable, but able to be beloved by people,
is earnestness.
The fact that they are unashamed of who they are.
And it's a very ephemeral quality, but if you think of
it, Wall-E has it.
Wall-E is not ashamed of who he is.
Marv in Sin City.
I mean, he's a monster.
He's a sociopath.
But you end up--
you kind of love him, because he's so unabashed about who he
is and what he does.
He knows he's an awful person, but he runs with it.
And that's kind of laudable.
I don't know why, but it seems to be this element that if you
can make your character--
like Jubal again, Jubal does not apologize for being
opinionated and having a swimming pool full of naked
PAT ROTHFUSS: He just does.

JOHN SCALZI: I think to that point, you got two things.
A good protagonist is either someone who you can see
yourself being or someone you can see yourself being with.
And not being with like necessarily in a relationship
sort of way, but that you can see them as being
part of your life.
I mean, who wouldn't want to have a crusty but fair, sort
of older Jubal Harshaw character?
Who wouldn't want to hang out with Wall-E and see him do his
guilelessly guileless things.
And so each character that you go through you kind of want to
have that sort of intimate connection.
I mean, intimate not in the Cinemax way.
But I mean it in the way that you can see them as being part
of your life either as adjunct to you or a filter through
which you can see yourself.
And I think that that makes a huge difference.
One of the things I get accused of a lot for John
Curry, who's the protagonist of Old Man's War is people
call him [INAUDIBLE]
He's supposed to be me.
Part of that is my fault because when the book starts,
he lives in my hometown and he actually lives in my house.
So I can see where there's a problem.
But the fact is that he's not meant to be me, but he is
meant to be close enough in the way that he used the
world, and close enough in the way that he apprehends things
and looks at them and processes them, that someone
like me, and by extension, because I'm a nerd, someone
who is like my audience can get him.
They make sense to him.
And they don't have to spend a whole lot of time pretzeling
themselves into that character.
Now you can have really excellent characters where
you're like I have no connection with you at all--
I mean, to go outside of nerd fiction--
Lolita, Humbert Humbert, you know.
No one wants to be him.
But Nabokov's genius is, of course, that he makes you
understand where that guy's coming from even if
you don't want to.
And the rest of us go well, I'll just give you someone you
can relate to.
AMBER BENSON: Well, it's the anti-hero, which is something
that's very intriguing to me.
I like writing characters that are fallible, and who make
mistakes, and are hard to get inside of.
They're not earnest.
They're not looking for you to love them.
And I think that's why I like film noir so much.
You have these sort of hard-boiled--
these characters that don't fit in society, who aren't
everyman, who have demons that they're wrestling with.
And to me, that's much more exciting,
like a Humbert Humbert.
You know what I mean?
Although I love earnest protagonists as well, but I'm
sort of turned on by anti-heroes.
There's just something about the bad boy, I guess, that
every woman loves.
FELICIA DAY: It really is.
PAT ROTHFUSS: I'm glad you said [INAUDIBLE]
I didn't have to.
FELICIA DAY: What is that about?
JOHN SCALZI: It's crazy.
FELICIA DAY: For some reason to me, like when you're
talking about a anti-hero, for some reason, they get away
with a lot more, those bad boys, in the genre fiction
versus like if you saw a firefighter be like
hey, lady, come here.
You know, it's not as hot.

AMBER BENSON: Something that is really interesting to me,
and I was talking to my friend Sarah [INAUDIBLE]
because we both write kind of bitchy characters, female
protagonists, who people sometimes get annoyed with,
because they're not aspirational characters.
You don't want to be them.
You know what I mean.
And so we were talking about how anti-heroes, male
anti-heroes are looked up to and put on a pedestal, whereas
female anti-heroes--
there's not a lot of them.
And they're sort of ridiculed.
There's sort of like well, she's not a woman.
And it's really frustrating as a woman, I want to read about
women who are like that, who are fallible and messed up.
FELICIA DAY: Well, you get the B-- for some reason, they get
the "B" word.
They get oh, she's just a bitch.
FELICIA DAY: We have this very shorthand terminology that we
can throw around really easily without thinking about it with
a woman who is more of an anti-hero.
But with a guy, there's a lot more subtlety.
And they're allowed to get away with a lot more.
I mean, I think it's kind of an universal problem with
women in general is that if you're firm, and you don't--
you know all those flaws that you put in an anti-hero don't
fly is as far without a girl, a woman, being
stereotyped in a way.
JOHN SCALZI: Yeah, no, that's absolutely true.
You can say about a male character "he's a dick, but--"
JOHN SCALZI: You don't get the "but" when you have a
character who people describe as a bitch.
JOHN SCALZI: And it's also, as a guy who tries to write women
characters who are not just stock characters, it becomes a
problem for us too.
It's sort of like how do you make that balance so that you
write characters who clearly do not have the same sort of
lifestyle or background that you do, and still do them in a
way that you don't immediately show your [INAUDIBLE].
And that's a really hard thing to do.
It's a really hard thing for guys to write female
characters that legitimately feel female.

PAT ROTHFUSS: These underlying cultural things about what we
expect, what's acceptable behavior from women and what's
acceptable behavior for men, the huge problem with it is
that it's so invisible.
And it's not that we see a female character standing up
for herself and being sarcastic, and we don't think
oh boy, I'm culturally programmed that I perceive
this as being non-feminist.
What you think is I don't like this character.
She's a bitch.
Whereas you can make a list as long as your arm about male
characters who are very compelling in that same way.
And I actually bit off way more--
well, hopefully, not way more than I can chew, but a bigger
project than I was expecting.
I'm trying to write a story right now with a female
character who, without getting into it too much--
first off, we have a real paucity of good female
characters in fantasy, especially epic fantasy.
We're kind of under Tolkien's shadow there.
And even the female characters that it's acceptable for us to
have-- you're the damsel in distress, whatever--
the reaction to that which is the plucky, over-capable, Red
Sonja type.
That's fine too, but that's a cliche of its own.
But there are good characters that you can have, but there's
only a few of them.
If you can be like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon--
the young, powerful maiden hero.
Or you can be kind of this wise old woman at
the end of her life.
You can be a mother.
That's very acceptable.
And you can be a hero, if you're a young girl who wants
Or if you're an old woman who's kind of
fighting the system.
But you can't do it if you're a mom.
AMBER BENSON: It's prepubescent women, like
You're totally right.
PAT ROTHFUSS: But usually only if they're virginal.
AMBER BENSON: Yes, totally.
It's all wrapped up in sexuality.
As soon as you start to have sex, then it's not cool for
you to be a hero anymore.
PAT ROTHFUSS: Now Joe Abercrombie writes a character
in one of his books, whose name escapes me unfortunately,
where he is all the things that you just described them
not being able to be.
And part of the thing that's fun about that reading that as
a reader is it really is a unconventional character to
such an amount.
And I do wonder how much flack he got for doing
something like that.
PAT ROTHFUSS: Mary Ann Mullenraj, on a related
subject, was taught when she was talking about-- she wrote
all about writing about characters who are different
races and stuff like that.
In particular, with whole folks who are writing
characters of other races.
She's saying two things will happen.
One, you need to write those characters.
And two, you'll get them wrong, and that's OK.
Because part of the process of doing it is understanding it
as a writer.
And I think you can make a larger argument with any
character that is not just exactly where you are, is that
you're going to write them.
You are going to fail writing them in a significant way.
But the fact that you are making the effort to write
them at all does two things.
One, it gives you experience, B, inevitably it will give you
feedback so the next time that you do it, you will fail less
spectacularly until you finally get to the point where
you get it right.
And I think that's actually an important point to make.
PAT ROTHFUSS: And, actually I can also view it as forward
motion for the genre as a whole.
PAT ROTHFUSS: Because we can screw up as a group a few
times, and then hopefully the group can
learn from our mistakes.

The particular mess that I stepped in is-- it would be
hard enough I was trying to write a young, sexual,
character who was going out to be a hero.
That would be hard enough.
But I actually aimed for something-- there's this huge
hole in the genre, where if you're a mother, you can be a
hero, but generally speaking only out of revenge, or in
defense of your children.
AMBER BENSON: Like Kaitlyn Stark from Game of Thrones.
That makes anything you do acceptable, whereas a guy
could just run off and be a hero anytime he wants, but
what I tried to do is actually write a woman who's a mother.
And her children are grown up.
And she's not old.
You know, I mean, she's decrepit.
But her kids are adults, and they have their own lives and
she's like you know, I want to go out and see the world.
And so she does.
And it's so hard.
I can't crib off anyone else's characters.
There's no heroes that are mothers later in their life.
FELICIA DAY: That's good.
JOHN SCALZI: But isn't that kind of exciting, Pat?
JOHN SCALZI: Now you are going into the uncharted territory.
And it means that you will fall into the crocodile pits
and the quicksand and everything else.
But on the other hand, if you pull it off, A, people will go
good on you for that, and second of all, one of the
things that you always try to do as a writer, particularly
of characters, is you want to do things--
you want to avoid the rut.
As much as it's easy to do the characters that you know that
you can do, if you continue to do them all the time, you get
a reputation from oh, it's just another one of his X
characters or oh another one of her Y characters.
And so it's fun to do the one that people aren't expecting
and kind of look at it and go, I don't know what to do with
this character now.
And now I'm angry at you, Patrick Rothfuss, for not
making me comfortable.
FELICIA DAY: Well, that's that.
Hey, you guys, so the audience is asking a lot of questions
and you guys can ask them by sending a tweet with a hashtag
And I'll take some questions and throw them at the panel.
PAT ROTHFUSS: That'd be awesome.
FELICIA DAY: And also, we are going to--
at like 10 minutes before the hour, we're going to get
people in here who are fans.
And my question would be-- we're going to pick three
people to bring in.
And my question would be pick a fictional character that
you'd want to go into the zombie apocalypse with.
So that's the question.
And send your questions to #geekandsundry.
And we'll pick three people to come in and play with us
before the end of the hour.
And I have a question from Twitter from a guy named--
from Rick Cole.
And the question is--
I think it's good-- what makes a good antagonist and how do
you come up with one.
PAT ROTHFUSS: Ooh, ooh, ooh!
FELICIA DAY: So forget protagonist, what's the
JOHN SCALZI: I don't think Pat knows the
answer to this question.

PAT ROTHFUSS: For me, this actually ties in very closely
to the whole hero question, because it used to be a hero
was flawed, a great person with a flaw.
And so what made them cool is that they were in some way
awesome or powerful or socially apt or they were a
king, but what them interesting was the flaw.

That was basic literary theory for like 2,000 years.
But then at some point, our heroes stopped being flawed.
Our heroes became perfect, because they were supposed to
be somehow laudable or moral or whatever.
But when our heroes lost their flaws, they stopped becoming
And so they end up getting external
flaws, which is a villain.
Think about it.
Superman cannot be a standalone character because
he's just awesome.
He needs--
if he was Oedipus--
Oedipus has his own deal.
He can run his own show.

PAT ROTHFUSS: But as soon as you get Superman, this hero
with no flaw, you need to give him a villain or an antagonist
and that happened at some point, where we started
needing villains because our heroes weren't making things
complicated enough for themselves.
AMBER BENSON: Made them perfect.
JOHN SCALZI: I can probably help you
pinpoint when that happened.
Because I think that there's a lot of correlation between
what you're speaking of and the emergence of two very
important censorious things-- the Hays Code for film, and
the Comics Code for comics.
PAT ROTHFUSS: Absolutely.
JOHN SCALZI: Because prior to these things, you could have--
in the development of characters--
all these flaws and so on and so forth.
But specifically with the Hays Code-- and even more with the
Thomas Code because it was oriented towards juveniles--
that there really was a list.
And it was strictly voluntary, but you know, come on.
You couldn't have your protagonists do
questionable things.
And also, you had to have villains who were doing
specifically questionable things that got their
comeuppance at the end.
And because of that, I mean, this is just to go back to
Amber with noir, that was the great wellspring of noir.
Because you had to make these basic, really, archetypes
imposed from outside.
You had to make them interesting.
And that's kind of how they managed to play with that.
And the problem specifically with film is that film is our
greatest communicative media.
It really bleeds into everything else that we do.
And so we'll see a lot of the storytelling conventions from
that extremely popular medium flow down to everything else.
And it really wasn't until the Hays Code started breaking
down in the late '60s and early '70s that we also had a
similar breakdown in genre literature
along those same lines.
With comic books, it took even later, until the '80s, leaving
aside the underground comics.
But actually in the mainstream comics, where you had people
like Moore and Miller and stuff like that, finally,
going you know, comic strip?
JOHN SCALZI: So I think that that's part-- that's a great
deal of that.
PAT ROTHFUSS: Yeah, but while a villain might not be
something you really want, an antagonist is
extraordinarily useful.
And it only took me about four years to learn that, so
So don't throw the baby with the bath water.
Not so good.
Shakespeare didn't need it.
Neither do you.
But antagonist?
Very useful as something to move your story.
AMBER BENSON: And they should be as real as your
They should feel like real people.
And they should move off the page and go and live their own
lives as well.
The same rules apply to both.
PAT ROTHFUSS: Absolutely, absolutely.
JOHN SCALZI: You don't want to have stock evil characters.
You want to have-- when I try to write antagonists, I try to
write them that--
well, the thing you understand is that with everybody, they
are sort of the hero of their own tale.
The antagonist very, very rarely thinks
that they are evil.
You might have someone who--
the new fashion is, I'm a serial killer and I know I'm a
sociopath, but that's just the way it is.
But even then, they still cast themselves as the protagonist
of the particular tale.
And if you keep that in mind that there could be an
alternate universe version of your story in which your
antagonist is actually the hero, then that makes their
motivations and characters go back to Amber's point, a lot
more interesting.
AMBER BENSON: Yeah, All's Quiet on the Western Front is
a beautiful example of that.
It's like a different point of view, and it's not the United
States' point of view.
It's not my personal point of view.
But you understand and empathize.
Snape from Harry Potter is another wonderful antagonist.
You understand where he's coming from and why he does
what he does.
And you have empathy for him.
Even though what he does sometimes is horrible.

PAT ROTHFUSS: You could almost argue that the difference
between a protagonist and antagonist is
just point of view.
JOHN SCALZI: No, I think that's absolutely correct.
I do.
And that's what makes a good antagonist interesting, is
that you can see them as having motivations, as being
heroic, and doing the things that are necessary and that
they just happen to be in opposition.
That said, something it is fun just to have someone who's
just plain mad, barking evil.
Let's not undersell that.
But that's not that's a
character, that's an archetype.
If you're actually working towards making a character,
then there's got to be more there than
just hi, I eat kittens.
quick questions of--
FELICIA DAY: Yeah, I'm looking down here.
We have a question about-- which I think is kind of
about writer relationship with fans and e-publishing.
As an author, I think in past times you aren't so connected
to your audience.
Do you feel like that connection tilts your point of
view, as far as trying to please them?
Or maybe it changes your plans for a character that you
really didn't like, but they like them so much, you have to
keep them around.
Or how do you keep yourself kind of pure as far as your
vision of where you want the story go with so much fan
input happening every day in a way?
Where's the next book?
Pat, where's the next book?
FELICIA DAY: Come on Pat, [INAUDIBLE] do it.
Give me-- work for me.
PAT ROTHFUSS: I'm writing it right now.
You can't see me typing below this [INAUDIBLE].

PAT ROTHFUSS: And it's true.
We have a real immediate connection with our fans now.
And we can go onto forums and read what people are expecting
or hoping for.
I don't.
I really deliberately don't.
But I don't think it's that new, because Doyle killed off
Sherlock Holmes.
And the fan response was so [INAUDIBLE]
PAT ROTHFUSS: He had to retcon it and bring Sherlock Holmes
back, because people wouldn't stand for it.
JOHN SCALZI: And also, I think specifically relating to
genre, there's always been a huge connection with fandom,
so to speak.
I mean, science fiction predates the internet by a
considerable amount.
Writers in science fiction and fantasy--
and also mystery writers and romance writers, because they
have their own conventions-- anytime there is enough of a
culture that there is conventions or something like
that, you always have that sort of immediate
reaction from fans.
I mean, we've all been to the conventions.
We all know the autograph line where they get their 45
seconds with you.
And they'll be like "I really like that character.
I think that you should do more with that character." And
if you hear that enough--
or "I have a question about what you did then"--
but it happens enough and it gets into your brain.
But I think that there are two things there.
It's one thing if Queen Elizabeth says oh, I would
like Falstaff.
Because that's sort of the equivalent of your publisher
going "you know, we could make a whole lot of money, if you
do this." And as a business person, you kind of have to
consider it.
PAT ROTHFUSS: Whoop, we lost you, John.
PAT ROTHFUSS: I think you pulled
out a cord or something.
JOHN SCALZI: Well, I can see me.
FELICIA DAY: We can hear you now.
Something happened, but you're back.
You're back.
JOHN SCALZI: I just apparated and I'm back.
So what I was saying is it's one thing if your liege or
your publisher is saying it and you have to give it
economic concern, but if you are not actually specifically
in control of your own story and characters that you can be
hugely swayed by your readers, then you're probably falling
down somewhere in the author department.
And it's not to say that you can't listen to the readers.
It's not that they don't have good ideas or
they can't be an influence.
But ultimately, you have to be the guy that says no, this is
what actually happens.
PAT ROTHFUSS: I think there's a reason that the word
"authority" has "author" in it.
AMBER BENSON: Oh, that's interesting.
Yeah, that's a great--
PAT ROTHFUSS: A certain amount of megalomania is almost
required for what's really an arrogant enterprise.
We're saying "I am going to create something from whole
cloth." It could be if you're going to get swayed so easily
by your fans, probably would also be swayed very easily by
your publisher, by your beta reader, by your girlfriend, or
your mom, or something like that.
How about you, Amber?
Do you end up struggling with this?
You've got a real good connection with your readers.
I am very connected to my readers.

You know, I just write what I want to read.
I write stuff that is interesting to me, and I make
no apologies.
If you don't like what I do, then there are other things
you can go read.
And if you do like what I do, great, and
let's keep moving forward.
You have to have a group of people that you trust.
And you take their opinions on things.
And that's sort of it.
That's your group.
And outside of those couple of people, who can kind of help
you constructively to move forward with what you're
doing, you can't listen to every Tom, Dick or Harry who
wants to tell you what to do with your characters.
Usually, they're like "I love what you're doing.
That's great" when you meet them.
But sometimes you get the people who are like "I hate
what you're doing.
I hate what you did to that character.
FELICIA DAY: I think a good example of that recently is
the ending of Mass Effect 3, which--
I don't know how to feel about that.
Because there's a sense of ownership, I think, in video
games, that is much different than an author, even a TV,
because you're participating in a way that you're so
invested as a person that it seems like people get so much
more outrage about video games than they
do about book endings.
Yeah, people get outraged about TV and book endings, or
you take characters, but there's something special
about video game players.
And it's kind of hard, like how much do
you bend in a sense?
PAT ROTHFUSS: I think you're absolutely right.
It's an investiture thing.
You have this huge buy-in to the character.
Do we have time for one more question?
And then we're going to bring in some people who submitted
their zombie apocalypse.
Although I'd like to hear each of you talk about who you
would want in a zombie apocalypse--
very briefly.
Yeah, I think we have time just for you to answer that or
one other question.
Which would you rather do?
PAT ROTHFUSS: Let's do the zombie apocalypse one.
FELICIA DAY: OK, let's do the zombie [INAUDIBLE].
And then we'll bring in some fans to tell about theirs.
And then we'll move on to our 3:00.
This is, by the way, before we end our official discussion, I
want to say thank you to all of you.
You are so fascinating to listen to you.
And this is just a really cool way to share with fans, as
well as your knowledge and the fact that you're so open is
really appreciated.
You guys, if you are watching and want to contact the
authors further and talk to them, they're all on Twitter,
except for Pat, who everybody's screaming get on
Twitter, Pat.

Here's the question.
How much do you want Pat on Twitter?
How much do you want Pat to finish his book?
FELICIA DAY: To write, I know.
JOHN SCALZI: There you go.
AMBER BENSON: Let him write.
PAT ROTHFUSS: April 1 would be a good day for
me to get on Twitter.
FELICIA DAY: April Fools.
So the control room will get everybody queued up from
Twitter who's going to win the contest.
But let's go down the line.
Amber, who would you want in a zombie apocalypse?
AMBER BENSON: I don't know.
FELICIA DAY: Fictional character.
I would take the Steppenwolf.
FELICIA DAY: Steppenwolf
AMBER BENSON: The Herman Hesse character.
AMBER BENSON: I would take Steppenwolf with me.
I would take the band.
No, I would take the Steppenwolf with me.
I forget.
Harry Haller or whatever his name is.
I would take him with me.
I don't know why.
Because he goes [INAUDIBLE]
magical sting later.
He'd help me with that.
I don't know.
No, that's good.
JOHN SCALZI: If you're asking everybody this question, you
know, actually I would go back to Heinlein.
I would take Michael Valentine Smith, because he could rotate
all the zombies at a 90 degree angle from everything else.
Problem solved.
I should just be--
I'm one of the ones for the you're having a big--
get everything over with it as quickly as possible.
FELICIA DAY: Pat, who would you bring?
FELICIA DAY: That's a good one.
PAT ROTHFUSS: For various reasons.
FELICIA DAY: I mean, sure.
Yeah, I could imagine.

Do we have any guys queued up, guys, for the zombie
apocalypse or should we take another question here?
Take another question, OK.
AMBER BENSON: Wait, you didn't answer, Felicia.
FELICIA DAY: Oh, I actually answer this question in next
week's blog episode.
So not tomorrow, but next week.
So it'll be in glorious HD.
It will be beautiful.
So let me find another-- one more last question.
PAT ROTHFUSS: Actually, here, I've got a
quick one for everyone.
PAT ROTHFUSS: So it is April 1, right?
We should--
because there's probably--
I know a lot of people on my blog were saying I want to
know about this.
I want to know about this.
They were asking questions, not so much about character,
but about the books and my stuff.
So we should take this opportunity on April 1, each
of us tell a lie about something that is coming up in
our future work.
Yes let's do that.
And then we're having fans come in.
So let's do that first though.
This is fantastic.
FELICIA DAY: Hey, Alec, we're going to answer one quick
question here.
And then we're going to get your zombie apocalypse answer.
ALEC: Sounds good.
PAT ROTHFUSS: Pat, go down the line.
Make up something about April Fools.
JOHN SCALZI: Yeah, Pat you start.
PAT ROTHFUSS: I suppose it's fair.
In the third book, nobody dies.

It all works out just fine.
JOHN SCALZI: In the next Old Man's War series book,
everybody goes from green to cerulean.
on how they all apprehend each other.
This is absolutely true.
AMBER BENSON: I'm actually turning my characters from the
Death's Daughter series into S&M erotica for the next book.
Well, I hear that that's real popular nowadays.
PAT ROTHFUSS: I'd love to beta read that for you.
FELICIA DAY: Yeah, really!
We got a beta reader right here.
Thanks, all three of you, for being here.
I really appreciate it.
Everybody make sure to follow them on Twitter.
And I've been leaking their Twitter on my stream a lot.
So support their work.
And if you don't know about their work, please go out and
support them, because they all make amazing, amazing fiction.
So, thanks you guys.