Character Study: Yeine

Writers cannot live by fiction alone, and I need some mental breaks from working on Book 3, so it occurred to me that folks might be interested in learning more about the thought processes involved in creating and writing the characters from the Inheritance Trilogy. This will be a series; you’ll be able to find all of them under the category header “character study”. And naturally I figured I’d start with our girl Yeine. Cutting for spoilers!

I’ve seen some readers speculate that Yeine is me. I suppose all of my characters are me to some degree, so in that sense she is — but beyond that, no. She’s half my age, has a vastly different personality (she’s solemn and thoughtful; I’m silly and tend to speak without thinking), an entirely different racial makeup, and completely alien sociodynamics. She looks nothing like me, doesn’t talk like me, doesn’t think like me. And she has entirely different taste in men. (I go for the safe, sane types.)

Frankly, Yeine is the sort of person I would find scary if I met her. She has the soul of the goddess of death, and I was very, very aware of this while I wrote her. While I try to depict her as an ordinary young woman in extraordinary circumstances for the most part, she’s not very ordinary. She’s been raised with some distinctly Machiavellian values, and she has a hefty streak of something I’d call sociopathy if I couldn’t look inside her head and know better. Readers get to see this too: she has perfectly ordinary emotions and insecurities. But from the outside, her behavior probably looks a bit creepy. She kills people with no apparent remorse, both before 100K and during the book. She’s impulsive, often making irrational decisions and riding them into the ground (e.g., obsessing over the mystery of her mother’s murder when she’s really got other things to worry about). She’s manipulative as hell, even toward her friends, and she’s not above hurting herself or others to get what she wants. It’s no surprise to me that she bonds closely to the most unabashedly violent of the Enefadeh, Nahadoth and Sieh. To be honest, if Yeine had been raised in Sky with a typical Arameri upbringing, she could’ve been a fine contender for the position of family head. Which is not really a compliment.

Pretty much the only way I could make her identifiable and sympathetic was to show her from the inside out (first person), so that people would see her thoughts and feelings, not just her behavior. I think this worked for most readers, but I’ve heard more than one person say that they simply found Yeine unlikeable. I wonder how those people would feel if I said to them, “Y’know, I would too, if I met her.”

But since I was writing her, not trying to become her BFF, I loved her. It’s much more challenging to write characters like her than it is to write characters who fit the societal mould, and — well, I can’t speak for most writers here, but for me, “challenging” = “fun”. Yeine is probably my favorite of all the protagonists I’ve written.

Those of you who’ve read the book — what’d you think of her?

11 thoughts on “Character Study: Yeine”

  1. I not only liked her but sympathized with her. I’m not sure if this means I’m just a sucker for first person or if it brings to light some secret sociopathy in my soul.

  2. I did like her, and actually don’t think she was quite as “sociopathic” as you make her out to be, or at least, it wasn’t that evident in the story. Yes, she could be rash and violent at times, but she’d just been thrown into a shark tank, she was completely over her head, and she was surrounded by enemies. I’d expect anyone to start flipping out a little in that environment. I was actually expecting her to get more violent, since she’s supposed to be the former ruler of a warrior kingdom.

    The only thing I really didn’t like about her was her lack of introspection. She was very judgmental about the Arameri, with good reason, but even after finding out that mommy wasn’t quite the wonderful, loving person she remembered, she refused to accept it, and never seemed to realize that she could just as easily have become one of them herself. The only thing really separating her from Scimina was her upbringing.

  3. I respected and admired Yeine, and I enjoyed reading about her.

    Oree, however, I identified with, so I was much more of a reader living within the story as I read.

    This aspect of reading/writing really fascinates me: how we interact as readers with the characters we’re reading about.

  4. Oh, wait. Not to mention what you talk about, which is how, as writers, as interact with the characters we’re writing. And how different characters are written differently.

  5. I was obsessed with learning about her from the start with the complex narrative (not only the first person, but the looking back–I’m trusting minor spoilers are ok given the nature of your post). I can see that had she been raised in the family, so to speak, she would have fit right in–and I think she realizes that as well, and that fuels her anger to NOT fit in. It would have been easy to give in to the temptation to take power with the idea of changing things (which could not have happened), so the choice she makes shows her strength (which arguably is linked to her obsessiveness about her mother, something I thought she focused on not only as distraction but as one thing that she felt she was important to her alone). The last protagonist/first person narrator I felt this obsesses about was Justine Larbalestier’s Micah!

  6. Amadan,

    Yeine was rash and violent long before she ever got to Sky. That was why I included her explanation of the Darre initiation rites — I wanted to make it clear that Yeine felt no particular discomfort over what we would call rape, or what she herself called murder. This was why Daytime!Naha recoiled a little, when he realized what she’d done — he knew her for a true Arameri then. And all Arameri are sociopathic; that’s pretty much the only way to survive life in Sky.

    Dunno that she could’ve been another Scimina; Yeine’s not that twisted. But another Kinneth? Definitely. I think Yeine probably did realize this on some level — but if she wasn’t willing to accept that her mother could be a monster, then she certainly wasn’t willing to see that trait in herself. Maybe she’ll deal with it now that she’s a god. Hopefully, or she’ll end up another Enefa.

  7. Yep, spoilers fine. Anybody who wants to click past the cut can’t say I didn’t warn ’em!

    Yeine’s resistance to her own Machiavellian nature isn’t just linked to her obsessiveness about her mother, IMO. It’s also there in her relationship with the Enefadeh. When Nahadoth challenges her to command him, and she refuses, she can’t articulate why — but this is why. She wants to. She’s not just drawn to him because he’s hot and some part of her soul(s) used to be his lover and all that — she’s drawn to him because he represents power. She wants to own him, basically. That kind of thing is like wine to her, and she comes from a family of alcoholics.

    I’m not sure her refusal shows strength; is it stronger to avoid the thing you fear, or face it? I honestly don’t know the answer to that.

    ::sigh:: I’ve had Liar on my list of to-reads for weeks now; everybody tells me it’s brilliant! But I’m reading veeeeerrry slowly these days — basically only when I’m commuting somewhere. Once Book 3 is done I’ll have more time.

  8. I truly enjoyed this book. Yeine (how is that pronounced by the way?) is a character I can’t relate to and I probably would have had a hard time liking her if you hadn’t written her story in first person, but because I was able to see inside her (through your brilliant writing I might add) I just loved her.

    I didn’t always agree with her choices but I did love the conflict she brought with her. I can’t wait until your next book is out. I’m very eager to read it. By the way, i’m having a hard time returning your book to the library. i just want to read it again and again!

  9. I really liked Yeine. IMHO, it was a honest look at a fantasy hero – nearly all of whom have to be somewhat sociopathic or have heavy-handed Deus ex Machina constantly on their side. The majority of great people in RL history, those who were able to really change things, tended to be sociopathic too.

  10. Yeine was a product of her environment, as she should have been… I found her to be Authentic (I’ve been called this ;) )
    and I was surprised by the ending, thanks. It didn’t happen quite as I expected; a true pleasure!
    I’m patiently waiting for the promo chapters if the second book; I’m intrigued at how the next book will proceed…

  11. I loved Yeine, I felt you did a great job making her a sympathetic character even with her character traits.

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