As promised, here is the next installment of Discourse Grammar in The Name of the Wind! Since it’s been a while since our last post, I’ll try to jog everyone’s memory a bit. Last time, we talked about Kvothe’s embedded narrative, and the fact that it follows its own plot diagram.
The innkeeper sets the stage with his description of his early life as a member of the Edema Ruh—focusing in particular on his first encounter with the Chandrian, an inciting incident if ever there was one.
Next in Kvothe’s story, however, comes the developing conflict.
Although Kvothe’s narrative actually includes even more embedded stories, the rest of the book mainly consists of developing conflict—at least until the first climax.
According to Robert E. Longacre, developing conflict involves an increase in intensity that often reveals itself through grammatically marked “episodes” (35, 37). These episodes—or scenes, like in a play—occur throughout The Name of the Wind, especially after we’re introduced to Ambrose Jakis, Kvothe’s rival in the University.
As the innkeeper confesses, Ambrose and Kvothe early on develop an intense loathing for one another: “To deem us simply enemies is to lose the true flavor of our relationship. It was more like the two of us entered into a business partnership in order to more efficiently pursue our mutual interest of hating each other” (219). This rivalry intensifies throughout the entire novel until it eventually comes to a head in the final suspense of the story.
According to Hengeveld and Mackenzie, “Episodes are [. . .] characterized by unity or continuity of Time (t), Location (l), and Individuals (x)” (133), a formula that Rothfuss for the most part follows whenever antagonists such as Ambrose are involved.
When the two first meet, Kvothe is attempting to gain access to the Archives at the University. The entire scene takes place in the entrance hall to the University archives, where Ambrose and Kvothe argue about whether or not the younger boy should be allowed in when he has just passed his entry examination and is not yet “in the book” (168). The episode also includes a peak, where storyline clauses appear back-to-back with short, abrupt sentences.
Ambrose turned back to me, his smile bright, brittle, and by no means friendly. “Listen, I’m going to give you a little advice for free. Back home you were something special. Here you’re just another kid with a big mouth. So address me as Re’lar, go back to your bunk, and thank whatever pagan God you pray to that we’re not in Vintas. My father and I would chain you to a post like a rabid dog.”
He shrugged. “Or don’t. Stay here. Make a scene. Start to cry. Better yet, take a swing at me.” He smiled. “I’ll give you a thrashing and get you thrown out on your ear.” He picked up his pen and turned back to whatever he was writing.
I left. (169, emphasis added)
Although the first sentence includes descriptive reduced clauses such as “his smile [was] bright” and “[his smile was] brittle,” punctiliar verbs are also used throughout the peak—as evidenced by the bolded words.
According to Longacre, “the reporting of speech is quite regularly a storyline function even in the absence of an explicit formula of quotation” (123). Although the paragraphs of dialogue may be missing the typical quotation formula, “he said” is implied, adding to the storyline clauses in the peak. This section of the episode also includes simple subject-verb sentences such as “He shrugged” and “He smiled” as well as the one-sentence paragraph “I left”—all of which indicate mainline.
The scene has all of the grammatical markings of an episode, including a peak and occurring at the same time and place with the same cast of characters. However, the episode is also revealed as developing conflict through the use of tension.
According to Burroway and Stuckey-French, “Conflict is a fundamental element of fiction” (249), and that conflict is often created through tension. Dialogue in The Name of The Wind for the most part always “advance[s] the action” (Burroway and Stuckey-French 79, emphasis in original), filled with tension that further develops the conflict of the narrative.
For instance, tension is seen throughout Kvothe’s interactions with Ambrose, especially during repartee such as in the dialogue paragraphs mentioned above. A key element of developing conflict, this tension is also seen to a large extent through Kvothe’s interactions with Denna, the eventual love interest of the story.
Denna’s importance is alluded to in the opening of Kvothe’s story, where the narrator says, “In some ways, it began when I heard [Denna] singing. Her voice twinning, mixing with my own. Her voice was like a portrait of her soul: wild as a fire, sharp as shattered glass, sweet and clean as clover” (39). Although conventional episodic structure is usually set aside during the protagonist’s meetings with this character, a significant amount of tension arises whenever she is mentioned in the narrative.
According to Burroway and Stuckey-French, “There is more narrative tension in a love scene where the lovers make anxious small talk, terrified of revealing their feelings, than in one where they hop into bed” (80). This fact is especially seen during Kvothe’s journey to the University, where he first meets Denna:
It slowly began to dawn on me that I had been staring at her wordlessly for an impossible amount of time. Lost in my thoughts, lost in the sight of her. But her face didn’t look offended or amused. It almost looked as if she were studying the lines of my face, almost as if she were waiting [. . .].
In that breathless second I almost asked her. I felt the question boiling up from my chest. I remember drawing a breath then hesitating— what could I say? Come away with me? Stay with me? Come to the University? No. Sudden certainty tightened in my chest like a cold fist. What could I ask her? What could I offer? Nothing. Anything I said would sound foolish, a child’s fantasy [. . .].
Neither of us spoke. (148)
Although Kvothe has only just met the young woman, he immediately feels drawn to her, and a thick layer of tension develops between them as so much is left unsaid. The scene occurs in the midst of a cluster of summary paragraphs, but it is also one of the only instances when Denna is mentioned within a clearly defined episode. For instance, the scene occurs in the same time and place, and the only characters present are Kvothe and Denna.
This portion of the episode mentioned serves as the dramatic peak, but since Rothfuss places the reader distinctly in Kvothe’s thoughts during the episode, storyline clauses are almost nonexistent. However, one could argue that the peak is instead marked through other means.
According to Longacre, “Rhetorical questions may be used with effect at the peak of a story” (42). The long string of rhetorical questions, the abrupt responses such as “No” and “Nothing,” and the one-sentence paragraph “Neither of us spoke” all indicate the peak of the episode. As Sandra Scofield states, “Every scene has a function in the narrative,” whether it is to “introduce new plot elements” or “reveal something about a character” (15). Kvothe’s blossoming love affair certainly builds tension within the narrative, but it also helps build the story to its climax.
Guess what part comes next? 😉
A Brief Works Cited
- Burroway, Janet, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. 8th ed. Boston: Longman-Pearson, 2011. Print.
- Hengeveld, Kees, and J. Lachlan Mackenzie. Functional Discourse Grammar: A Typologically- Based Theory of Language Structure. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
- Longacre, Robert E. The Grammar of Discourse. 2nd ed. New York: Plenum, 1996. Print.
- Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind. New York: Penguin, 2007. Print.
- Scofield, Sandra. The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer. New York: Penguin, 2007. Print.