Tag Archives: Robert Jordan

#amreading: The Wheel of Time, series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Once again, epilepsy has reared its ugly head in my family, and travel to and from hospital the hospital 70 miles north of my home has interfered with my ability to write. So, for today’s post I’ve chosen to reprise my review of a hearty 14-book trilogy. I’ve warned you that many of the books I love and turn to when I need a good book are NOT comforting in any way, and for many people the incredibly long, epic series, The Wheel of Time, definitely falls into the UNcomfortable category. This is for a variety of reasons.

The Eye of the World was the opening volley in what would ultimately become one of the most controversial series in epic fantasy. Written by Robert Jordan and first published in 1990, this series of books has polarized the most dedicated fans of true fantasy into two groups: the lovers and the haters.  No reader walks away from this series unscathed.

The story begins in the exceedingly rural village of  Emond’s Field. They are so rural that they have no concept that they are still considered to be a part of a larger country. The village is suddenly attacked by Trollocs (the antagonist’s soldiers) and a Myrddraal (the undead-like officer commanding the Trollocs).  These creatures are intent on capturing the three protagonists, Rand al’Thor, Matrim (Mat) Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, although why they are being hunted is not revealed at first. To save their village from further attacks, Rand, Mat, Perrin, and Egwene (Rand’s first love interest) flee the village, accompanied by the Aes Sedai Moiraine Damodred, her Warder, Al’Lan Mandragoran, and gleeman, Thom Merrilin.They are later joined by Nynaeve al’Meara, who is their village’s medicine woman.

This huge range of characters and the many, many threads that weave an incredibly tangled plot are what polarizes the reading community over this series of books. Originally intended to be a trilogy, it eventually expanded to encompass fourteen LARGE, long books.

Robert Jordan passed away in 2007 while working on the final book, leaving the series uncompleted, but he left the rough draft and enough notes behind that Brandon Sanderson was able to finish the series, eventually breaking that final volume into three very large  books, and bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion.

So what is the basis for the plot’s tension, what conflict could possibly draw the reader in and keep them reading for such a long, drawn out process? It’s Robert Jordan, folks–the eternal quest for power, and dominance through violence, religion and politics is the core of this tale.

According to Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge: The series draws on numerous elements of both European and Asian mythology, most notably the cyclical nature of time found in Buddhism and Hinduism, the metaphysical concepts of balance and duality, and a respect for nature found in Daoism. Additionally, its creation story has similarities to Christianity’s “Creator” (Light) and Shai’tan, “The Dark One” (Shaytan is an Arabic word which in religious contexts is used as a name for the Devil). It was also partly inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1869).”

I loved the first three books in this series. I both enjoyed and endured the next three, hoping Robert Jordan would get to the point and finish the damned series. I had become a little irritated with book eight, Path of Daggers, but by the time Winter’s Heart came out, I was resigned to never seeing an end to it, and was back to simply enjoying each strange plot twist and new random thread for what it was–just a great tale.

When Robert Jordan died, I was thrilled that Brandon Sanderson was the author tapped to finally bring that unwieldy mess together. There were so many different stories within the greater story that the task of winding up each thread must have been incredibly daunting, and he did it magnificently.

The reason so many devoted fans abandoned the series somewhere around book six , Lord of Chaos, was that Rand al’Thor’s story ( and Mat’s and Perrin’s) stalled, and Jordan was sent way off track by the stories of Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elaine Trakand. In fantasy, there is a large contingent of readers who want instant gratification are not going to wait around for eight more books. They proved it by jumping ship and trash-talking his work.

Throughout the series, the quality of the writing never faltered. The depth of story and the intensely alive characters whose stories graced those pages never failed to intrigue me. The fact that it felt like the conflict would never be resolved was, at times, upsetting to me as a reader, and is a lesson authors should take to heart with their own work.

To write a story that is so compelling that readers become so violently polarized over it is quite an accomplishment.  I see this happening with George R.R. Martin‘s fans right now. Although I adore him as a person, I’ve never cared much for his style of writing, as he jumps around too much even for me. Have patience, people! It looks like George has a large story there too, so it may take him a while.

For Brandon Sanderson to step into the wasps’ nest of controversy that was The Wheel of Time and complete the series with such grace and finesse is nothing short of amazing, and I am glad I stuck with it to the end. Brandon Sanderson has become one of my favorite authors because of what he did to wind up this epic series.

In the end, the final resolution was satisfying, and was well worth the journey.  I have gotten rid of most of my hard copies, and am down to only one room’s worth of hardbound books at our house. I don’t buy too many hard copies of books, being a fan of the Kindle, and  but I did make an exception for this book.   For me, some books need to be in hard copy form and the Wheel of Time Series is one of them, as are the Harry Potter books. There was a large contingent of people who were upset that the epub edition wasn’t released until 4 months after the paper book, but this was a choice made by Robert Jordan’s widow and her publisher, TOR. It was a strange one in my opinion, but it was their choice.

Amazon’s early reviews of the later books in this series were rife with trolls and naysayers who couldn’t wait to emerge from the woodwork and have their say. Apparently very few of these people purchased the book, much less read it. That is the price of success and these days it’s almost an honor to have so many haters just spoiling to knock you down. But their strident caws and self-important rants should have no effect on the true fans of WoT. In my humble opinion these works are masterpieces and Brandon Sanderson’s three books are a triumphant finish to the series.

I love Brandon Sanderson’s handling of this series finale, and feel I more than got my money’s worth from this series of book, as I will definitely read it again and again–in my opinion it’s that good. If you love this series, you will love the way it ends!

The original cover artist for these amazing books was none other than the late Darrell K. Sweet, who was just as amazing a fantasy artist as is Michael Whelan. The newer covers are nice, but for me they lack the power of Sweet’s brilliant paintings.

And as we all know, I buy most books for their covers, even epubs, and then fall in love with the tale.


This post has been recycled and was previously posted as Comfort Books, the main course: The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson  in February of 2015 here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy, Copyright 2015-2017  Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.

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#amwriting: Redemption and the Hero’s Journey

WoT03_TheDragonRebornModern fiction often employs the motif of redemption–the notion that a person can counter a lifetime of misdeeds, but to do so, one must commit selfless acts of heroism.

Within the story arc, a fall from grace can make a protagonist more compelling, more multidimensional. A main-character who is not perfect is far more intriguing than a person with no flaws, because they are unpredictable. Nothing is worse than a predictable novel.

I see characters in books as if they were real people living through the events life hands them. When a character in a book experiences confusion, it’s an opportunity for them to learn new things. If they are frustrated, they must devise a way around that frustration, and if they are tested to the limits of their endurance, they will become stronger. Keep this in mind when you are writing. Don’t make things so easy for  your beloved characters–their struggle is the story.

No tension equals boredom which equals no readers.

For today’s’ post I’m using a famous work of epic fantasy as my example, but everything that I am saying pertains to every kind and genre of book you will write, assuming it is a work of fiction and involves fictional people. (Does not pertain to technical manuals.) (Insert ‘lol’ here).

Tales that describe the hero’s journey have certain tropes: they all involve a person who goes on an adventure and, in a decisive crisis, wins a victory. He/she then comes home changed or transformed.  This is a theme that most epic fantasy novels are built around, as is my medieval fantasy, Huw the Bard, and also my epic fantasy World of Neveyah books. However, every novel about people involves a journey of the human spirit, in one way or another.

398px-Heroes journey by Christopher Vogler

Hero’s journey by Christopher Vogler

So how does redemption fit into the hero’s journey? The events the protagonist experiences change his view of the world and his place in it.

Redemption can be portrayed many ways. A person who commits a terrible crime can do a heroic act, thus counter-balancing his prior sin.

Or there is the charming rogue: at the beginning,his life is focused solely on his own survival. Over the course of the story he gradually begins to care for his companions, and about the cause.

Then, there is the main character who begins the journey as a young and naive person. The first half of the book may show his fall from grace–he becomes disillusioned and callous. At the midpoint of the story arc he is once more transformed. This time events forge him into a hero.

Let’s look at Rand al’Thor, Robert Jordan’s protagonist in the (15 volume) Wheel of Time series. The Wheel of Time has great villains–a LOT of them– which is what drives the highly convoluted story line. There are times when Rand is as villainous as those he battles.

When we first meet Rand he is a naive young man from a rural village, who is pledged to be married to Egwene al’Vere, his childhood sweetheart. Many things occur to change him over the course of the following two years–15 volumes worth of terrible changes, both physical and emotional. In just the first three books:

  1. Rand is forced to leave home in the dark of night for his own safety.
  2. He learns he can channel the male half of saidin (magic/the ‘one power’) which means he will go mad, and should be killed for everyone’s safety.
  3. He is branded on both palms by his blade during an epic battle
  4. He hears the voice of a long dead madman in his head, and is told he is the reincarnation of that man.
  5. He is at war with himself and his hated abilities as much as he is with the evil Forsaken.
  6. He falls in love with three women, who eventually become his three wives, none of whom are Egwene, his fiance. This love-quadrangle challenges his strict sense of morality, increasing his stress.
  7.  He discovers the parents he was raised by were not his birth parents, and that he is the center of a prophecy.

WoT05_TheFiresOfHeavenThese things are just the tip of the iceberg that is the multitude of burdens carried by Rand al’Thor. As his story arc progresses, Rand starts out with well-meaning intentions, wanting to use his powers for good. As he gains power both politically and in the use of saidin, he becomes a tyrant in his own right. But he is still a good man despite his desire to feel nothing, and once again, though his own folly, he is completely broken down to his component parts. It is during the aftermath of his final breakdown that he is made a truly strong, competent leader.

Rand’s ultimate acceptance of who he is, the reincarnation of Lews Therin Telamon, is the key to his redemption. Only then does he have the chance of winning the prophesied battle against the Forsaken at Tarmon Gai’don.

When I read a book whose protagonists and villains challenge me I return to it later and analyze what it is about those characters that inspired such an emotional reaction in me. It always comes back to their many layers of good and bad traits.

gone with the windConsider Margaret Mitchell’s classic, Gone With the Wind: Rhett Butler is a man with many faults, but who is, underneath it all, a decent, likable person.

Characters that are multi-layered are intriguing, and will keep the reader turning the pages, to see what they will do next.

WoT10_CrossroadsOfTwilightIt is a rare person who is completely consumed by evil, and so when we see the softer side of the devil we grudgingly like him. Because of that idea, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at how Robert Jordan portrayed the Forsaken.

Lanfear and Asmodean were frequently pleasant, engaging people and one could feel a certain sympathy for them despite the knowledge that they had pledged their souls to serve evil.  Even Demandred had a certain cachet that one could relate to. Each one had the potential and the latent desire for redemption–and each chose to grasp for greater power instead.

What kept Robert Jordan’s die-hard fans waiting patiently for him to finish the series was his compelling characters–and that was also Jordan’s weakness as an author. He fell in love with the minor players and soon the side characters became as important in his mind as Rand al’Thor.

A_Memory_of_Light_cover (1)This chasing after so many character’s threads derailed the series for several books, because although they were entertaining books, they did not advance the story. Many readers lost interest by book six, and Brandon Sanderson had to really exercise restraint when, after Jordan’s death, he was tapped to finish writing the series (from Jordan’s copious notes).

Some characters in my own work also have story lines that feature elements of the hero’s journey, some experience a fall from grace, and find redemption. Character development within the core group and reining in my enthusiasm for the side characters is my current task, as I embark on the final draft of Valley of Sorrows.

Tempting though a “fifteen book trilogy” is, I vow that Edwin Farmer’s story will be completed within this last of the three books in the Tower of Bones series.

If the literary muses are willing, the side characters can have their own books, later.

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Elements of a story: Identifying your protagonist

War_of_the_FlowersGreat plots drive great stories, but the best stories start with a character that really moved me. The trouble is, when we first begin to write a story, one character leads to another and soon, each character is vying to tell your their own story. It’s sort of like a family gathering, where they all talk at once, and you love them all.

This makes writing a true stand-alone book difficult. Tad Williams managed to do just that in 2003 with The War of the Flowers.  Theo Vilmos is a thirty-year-old lead singer in a marginally successful rock band. Fearing he is past his prime, he seeks refuge in a remote cabin in the woods. There, he reads a memoir written by a (perhaps) dead relative. This relative claimed he had visited the magical world of Faerie. A series of strange events occurs and before Theo knows it, he too is drawn into a place that is both strange and yet familiar to him, revealing the truth about many things that had always puzzled him.

war_flowersWilliams had another great character to draw on in his little fairy, Applecore, but he kept it contained in one wonderful novel detailing Theo Vilmos’ adventures rather than going too far afield and having to serialize it. This is a model we lesser-known fantasy authors might want to take a closer look at and somehow revive: the stand-alone novel.

We might have a great story in our head, and we may have an awesome cast of characters dying to leap onto the page, but until we know who the hero is, we have no story. From the first page to the last, Tad Williams knew who his hero was in The War of the Flowers, and it’s clear that he never doubted it was Theo Vilmos.

Sometimes  identifying just whose emotional and physical journey you will be following is easier said than done. When faced with a pantheon of great characters, ask yourself these questions (listed here in no particular order):

  • Who among these people has the most to lose?
  • Which character do you find the most interesting?
  • Who’s personal story inspired this tale in the first place?
  • Who will be best suited to taking full advantage of all this plot’s possibilities?

Dragonbone_ChairFrom my point of view, one of the best fantasy series of all time is Tad Williams’  epic, three-volume masterpiece, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. It opens with volume one, The Dragonbone Chair. This is a very different tale than The War of the Flowers, much larger, and encompassing several entire cultures on the edge of disaster.

In this opening volume, Tad had many great characters to draw on, all of whom had strong stories. Indeed, there is a large cast of characters with incredible possibilities, but as a reader I liked that he managed to tell their stories without losing sight of the original story that sparked the series in the first place.

The fact that Williams was able to weave the many threads of such a large cast of characters into one enthralling story and still leave (Seoman) Simon Snowlock as the main protagonist with a gripping story-line  is amazing.

Green_Angel_Tower_P1Yet in this series, Tad Williams does just that. He could have written it as the story of Prince JosuaPrincess Miriamele, Binabik the Troll, or even the Norn prince, Jiriki. They are each compelling characters, with deep, intriguing back-stories, and any of them would have been an awesome protagonist.

Each and every one of the many characters in this series was strong enough to warrant a book of their own, but Simon the kitchen boy remains the central character, and the other story-lines are detailed but remain subordinate to his, fleshing it out and defining his ultimate fate, driving the plot to the final denouement, and the cataclysmic events in Green Angel Tower.

To_Green_Angel_TowerThis juggling act, this ability to not become sidetracked by your wonderful side-characters while telling their story is critical to the progression of your plot. It’s excruciatingly easy to become so enthralled with the story-line of a minor player that you derail your novel in the first draft.

I’m a gamer and I play Final Fantasy type RPGs. I adore side-quests, and I love a little back-story to flesh out whatever tale I’m reading, but just like in a game, the protagonist and the core plot has to stay in motion. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn has a lot of side-quests, and a lot of back-story, but despite the opportunities for derailment, it is propelled irresistibly toward the final catastrophic event, and does it in three admittedly large books.

A_Memory_of_Light_cover (1)As much as I adored the Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan seemed to fall into the trap of loving all his characters too much, and wanting to tell each of their truly epic stories in the one series–and it couldn’t be done without aggravating his fans.

Consider this: although it was originally planned as a six-book series, The Wheel of Time grew to encompass fourteen volumes, a prequel novel, and a companion book.  Jordan began writing the first volume, The Eye of the World, in 1984. It was published in January 1990. With Jordan’s death on 16 September 2007, the conclusion of the series was in question, but Brandon Sanderson stepped in and did a masterful job of taking Jordan’s incredible mass of notes and background, along with the rough draft and finished the series’ final three installments.

Stone_of_FarewellIt occasionally happens that you have chosen a protagonist, but another character suddenly seems to have a more intriguing way about him. It is up to you to make a decision–who will be the central character? If, after all is said and done, a different character than the one you originally thought was the protagonist comes to the fore, you must go back and rewrite your beginning to to reflect that.

Deciding who that protagonist will be is a matter of knowing which character has the most opportunity to take full advantage of all the possibilities. The other characters serve only to propel him/her to the final conflict.

Sometimes, as in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, that character is the 14 year old kitchen boy on the verge of manhood, and not the battle-hardened prince with the tragic history.

 

 

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Worldbuilding part 2: Geography

Map of Eynier Valley for HTB copy copyOne of the problems I have in my fantasy world is knowing where I am, how I got there and where I am going next.  Somehow it’s less of a mystery to the reader if I have some idea of the what world I am writing about looks like.

Many authors use locales that either currently exist or once existed in the real world.  This is a good way to do it, because your world is already well defined for you, and most everyone knows that Portland, Oregon is about 170 miles south of Seattle, Washington.  You are safe using currently existing terrain.

When we write a fantasy story, we start out with a great plot, but we are making the physical world up as we go along, and it evolves as the story does. This can be dicey unless you are really good at remembering what you said 3 months ago.  Epic fantasy often involves sending the hero off on a quest – and this means he/she will journey far from home.

Knowing where the protagonists are going, and when they’ll be there is crucial because readers notice inconsistencies; at least I do when reading other authors’ works.

I begin by drawing a sketchy map when I first begin the story. It is just a scribble at first, but this way I have an idea of where the towns are in relation to each other. I do it in pencil so at this stage nothing is finite; they are only approximations–artistic guesses.

Map of Neveyah, color copyAs I write, my map evolves with the story, becoming more complex as the topography becomes more clear to me. In the World of Neveyah, I began with a pencil sketch, and that evolved into a relief map that gave me the opportunities for injecting tension into the tale that I needed. It also provided me with a detailed explanation of where the resources were, so that funding my country was not an issue.

If you are writing epic fantasy, it is unlikely the hero will have a GPS to guide them.  By scribbling a map while I am setting the original story down, I know I have originally declared Armat is the nearest town to the portal, in Neveyah.  This is important because when I am really pounding out the words, I don’t always remember exactly what I wrote 22 chapters ago. Going back to make corrections is a  tricky business, as it is hard to know for sure if you have caught all your small errors in regard to places and the distances between them.

  1. Map your world:
  • How big are the continents, and what is their shape?
  • Are there inland seas? If so, are they fresh water seas like the Great Lakes?
  • Where are the oceans? Where are your port cities located?
  • How large is your protagonist’s country?
  • If they travel, what type of terrain will they be crossing?
  • Does your protagonist’s country have near neighbors?
  • What about mountain ranges? Mountains, swamps, rivers and oceans are all important when you are adding local color to your background.

The physical environment affects the hero’s journey.  Mountains are difficult to travel in, as are swamps and deserts; and these environments will greatly color the story.

Wheel of time mapA map doesn’t have to be too detailed; it is only a bare-bones reference for you as the writer, and possibly for the reader later. Of all the books I have read, the books whose maps I have referred back to most while reading them are those in the Wheel of Time series, written by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.  The map is not too detailed, but it does give you an idea of where Tear is in relation to Amadicia – both of which figure prominently in the travels of all the main characters, and it remains accurate through the entire series.

The thing is—maps, unless they are drawn by satellite GPS–are inherently wrong in regard to actual distances and such. All they can do is provide a general idea of where the cartographer thought things were.

But what about sci-fi—how do you build an entire planet that may or may not exist?

This is where I brainstorm the possibilities: I spend hours on the internet researching the physics and the possibilities of each and every technological thing that appears in my work. Morgan Freeman, Michio Kaku and Stephen Hawking are my invisible friends, but the best hard facts are found through scouring the internet.

  1. Locate your planet:
An example of a system based on stellar luminosity for predicting the location of the habitable zone around various types of stars. Planet sizes, star sizes, orbit lengths, and habitable zone sizes are not to scale.

An example of a system based on stellar luminosity for predicting the location of the habitable zone around various types of stars. Planet sizes, star sizes, orbit lengths, and habitable zone sizes are not to scale.

Situate your planet around its sun in what we arm-chair physicists refer to as “The Goldilocks Zone.” Life may exist in the most challenging places, but we humans can only exist in a narrow range of temperatures, in a world with a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere, and where water exists in abundance. We need a magnetosphere to protect us from lethal radiation. We also need to be situated around a friendly-to-us kind of star, or a G-type main-sequence star. A K-type main-sequence  star may also support our kind of life, as may others, but we know the G-type will for sure. A good-sized moon is also optimal to stabilize the planetary wobble, but not having one opens the plot-possibilities of severe climate stresses due to an unstable orbit.

Alpharse is the setting for a future novel that grew out of a short scifi story. I’ve done a certain amount of prep for it: it’s a colony world, still in the terraforming process, and human habitation is still either underground or in the Asteroid Ships that originally brought the colonists to the system.

It’s located across the galactic arm from my protagonist’s home world of Lorann, and to travel the quickest route involves crossing an area of the galaxy inhabited by the Ernsaa, a race of methane-breathing beings who don’t want anyone coming near the worlds they claim. Thus, the closest route is now closed to them and it now takes twenty years real-time to get from Alpharse to Lorann even with the technology available to them. This means the colonists are on their own and can expect no help.

  1. Consider the Uninhabitable (by humans) Terrain:
  • What is the surface of the world like at this time?
  • What makes it dangerous?
  • Can humans breathe the air yet or must they wear protective suits?
  • Are there native organisms, or was it a young world when it was first colonized?

In regard to the maps you are drawing for your story: if you choose to incorporate your map into your book, that is an awesome addition—but for the love of J.R.R. Tolkien—don’t put maps in your books that have nothing to do with your story.

Candar Map. Recluce series, L.E. Mdesitt Jr.I have talked about this before: one of my favorite series of books, written by L.E. Modesitt Jr., has a huge failing–the maps suck!  In Fall of Angels, The Chaos Balance, Magii of Cyador, and Scion of Cyador, all of which take place before the world of Recluce is dramatically altered, the main characters are traveling all over the continent to places that don’t exist on the maps provided in the front of the books! The series span several thousand years, and the cities and geography changes radically, but the maps are stubbornly stuck in the timeframe of the first book in the series, Magic of Recluce, which actually details the last years of the story.

There is absolutely nothing on the map in the front of the book that pertains to the time frame of Scion of Cyador. Lorn, the main character, travels all over Cyador! I can only assume the crappy maps and the many typos and inconsistencies in several books of Modesitt’s Recluce series are the fault of his publisher, one the Big Boys of Publishing, TOR, who has done a great author a terrible disservice by not addressing these issues before publication. Despite the typos and stupid maps, I love Modesitt’s work and highly recommend it.

In conclusion, situating and building the physical world your characters will live in takes a day or two of your time, but once you have it all together, your work is so much easier. Taking notes and adding to your map and your style sheet as you go will keep your work consistent and make the setting of your story real to your readers. When you, as the author, have only a mushy idea of what sort of world in which your characters live, you will inadvertently write contradictions and inconsistencies into your work, so do your homework from the outset.

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Comfort Books, the main course: The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

The Eye Of The WorldFor the main course of this three course meal I’ve chosen a hearty 14-book trilogy. I warned you that many of the books I love and turn to when I need a good book are NOT comforting in any way, and for many people the incredibly long, epic series, the Wheel of Time, definitely falls into the UNcomfortable category. This is for a variety of reasons.

The Eye of the World was the opening volley in what would ultimately become one of the most controversial series in epic fantasy. Written by Robert Jordan and first published in 1990, this series of books has polarized the most dedicated fans of true fantasy into two groups: the lovers and the haters.  No reader walks away from this series unscathed.

WoT05_TheFiresOfHeavenThe story begins in the exceedingly rural village of  Emond’s Field. They are so rural that they have no concept that they are still considered to be a part of a larger country. The village is suddenly attacked by Trollocs (the antagonist’s soldiers) and a Myrddraal (the undead-like officer commanding the Trollocs).  These creatures are intent on capturing the three protagonists, Rand al’Thor, Matrim (Mat) Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, although why they are being hunted is not revealed at first. To save their village from further attacks, Rand, Mat, Perrin, and Egwene (Rand’s first love interest) flee the village, accompanied by the Aes Sedai Moiraine Damodred, her Warder, Al’Lan Mandragoran, and gleeman, Thom Merrilin.They are later joined by Nynaeve al’Meara, who is their village’s medicine woman.

WoT03_TheDragonRebornThis huge range of characters and the many, many threads that weave an incredibly tangled plot are what polarizes the reading community over this series of books. Originally intended to be a trilogy, it eventually expanded to encompass fourteen LARGE, long books.

Robert Jordan passed away in 2007 while working on the final book, leaving the series uncompleted, but he left the rough draft and enough notes behind that Brandon Sanderson was able to finish the series, eventually breaking that final volume into three very large  books, and bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion.

WoT10_CrossroadsOfTwilightSo what is the basis for the plot’s tension, what conflict could possibly draw the reader in and keep them reading for such a long, drawn out process? It’s Robert Jordan, folks–the eternal quest for power, and dominance through violence, religion and politics is the core of this tale. According to Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge: The series draws on numerous elements of both European and Asian mythology, most notably the cyclical nature of time found in Buddhism and Hinduism, the metaphysical concepts of balance and duality, and a respect for nature found in Daoism. Additionally, its creation story has similarities to Christianity’s “Creator” (Light) and Shai’tan, “The Dark One” (Shaytan is an Arabic word which in religious contexts is used as a name for the Devil). It was also partly inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1869).”

300px-WoT08_ThePathOfDaggersI loved the first three books in this series. I both enjoyed and endured the next three, hoping Robert Jordan would get to the point and finish the damned series. I had become a little irritated with book eight, Path of Daggers, but by the time Winter’s Heart came out, I was resigned to never seeing an end to it, and was back to simply enjoying each strange plot twist and new random thread for what it was–just a great tale.

When Robert Jordan died, I was thrilled that Brandon Sanderson was the author tapped to finally bring that unwieldy mess together. There were so many different stories within the greater story that the task of winding up each thread must have been incredibly daunting, and he did it magnificently.

The reason so many devoted fans abandoned the series somewhere around book six , Lord of Chaos, was that Rand al’Thor’s story ( and Mat’s and Perrin’s) stalled, and Jordan was sent way off track by the stories of Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elaine Trakand. In fantasy, there is a large contingent of readers who want instant gratification are not going to wait around for eight more books. They proved it by jumping ship and trash-talking his work.

TheGatheringStormUSCoverThroughout the series, the quality of the writing never faltered. The depth of story and the intensely alive characters whose stories graced those pages never failed to intrigue me. The fact that it felt like the conflict would never be resolved was, at times, upsetting to me as a reader, and is a lesson authors should take to heart with their own work.

To write a story that is so compelling that readers become so violently polarized over it is quite an accomplishment.  I see this happening with George R.R. Martin‘s fans right now. Although I adore him as a person, I’ve never cared much for his style of writing, as he jumps around too much even for me. Have patience, people! It looks like George has a large story there too, so it may take him a while.

Towers_of_Midnight_hardcoverFor Brandon Sanderson to step into the wasps’ nest of controversy that was the Wheel of Time and complete the series with such grace and finesse is nothing short of amazing, and I am glad I stuck with it to the end. Brandon Sanderson has become one of my favorite authors because of what he did to wind up this epic series.

In the end, the final resolution was satisfying, and was well worth the journey.  I have gotten rid of most of my hard copies, and am down to only one room’s worth of hardbound books at our house. I don’t buy too many hard copies of books, being a fan of the Kindle, and  but I did make an exception for this book.   For me, some books need to be in hard copy form and the Wheel of Time Series is one of them, as are the Harry Potter books. There was a large contingent of people who were upset that the epub edition wasn’t released until 4 months after the paperbook, but this was a choice made by Robert Jordan’s widow and her publisher, TOR. It was a strange one in my opinion, but it was their choice.

A_Memory_of_Light_coverAmazon’s early reviews of the later books in this series were rife with trolls and naysayers who couldn’t wait to emerge from the woodwork and have their say. Apparently very few of these people purchased the book, much less read it. That is the price of success and these days it’s almost an honor to have so many haters just spoiling to knock you down. But their strident caws and self-important rants should have no effect on the true fans of WoT. In my humble opinion these works are masterpieces and Brandon Sanderson’s three books are a triumphant finish to the series.

I love Brandon Sanderson’s handling of this series finale, and feel I more than got my money’s worth from this series of book, as I will definitely read it again and again–in my opinion it’s that good. If you love this series, you will love the way it ends!

The original cover artist for these amazing books was none other than the late Darrell K. Sweet, who was just as amazing a fantasy artist as is Michael Whelan. The newer covers are nice, but for me they lack the power of Sweet’s brilliant paintings.

And as we all know, I buy most books for their covers, even epubs, and then fall in love with the tale.

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Never been there

©connie j jasperson 2014

©connie j jasperson 2014

Maps are awesome additions to books.  I love drawing them, and I love books that have them.  When I was reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series I was constantly paging back and forth to the maps, wishing for smaller, more localized maps. They don’t have to be accurate–but they do have to give some idea of where the action is taking us.

When I formatted Huw the Bard, I included three maps. At the front I left the whole map of Waldeyn. Then I split the the map, north and south,  so curious readers could see how the two halves of Waldeyn differ from each other, and how that difference in terrain affected his journey. The  second map is inserted where the second stage of Huw’s journey begins.

the chaos balance l.e. modesitt jrI did it that way because I am a voracious reader, of anything by L.E. Modesitt Jr.  but I am angry with his publisher, TOR Fantasy, for not updating the maps in his Recluce books. The maps in the front of that series of books detail the world AFTER The Chaos Balance, and bear absolutely NO resemblance to the towns in fully half of the books that are set before that time!

Sigh. All that money spent for beautiful artwork for the cover was a good investment, oh, mighty publishing giant, TOR–but the interior could use NEW MAPS! Give me the coordinates and I’ll draw them for you! (oh dear, I’m hyperventilating again….)

375px-Baynes-Map_of_Middle-earthOne of the best maps of of a fantasy realm that I’ve ever seen was the map of Middle Earth as done by Pauline Baynes in 1970. It is beautiful, a complete work of art on its own, as all maps once were in the golden age of discovery.

I won’t lay claim to being an artist on this level, nor will my maps ever achieve this kind of style and creativity, but I am working on new maps for the world of Neveyah, and the Tower of Bones series. The ones I have right now are all in color, and they don’t translate to black and white for print.

So I am back to square one, but I will have the new maps for TOB complete by February 1st. The new cover is done, and the manuscript has been re-edited. Now we are down to the final stage of proof-reading, to ensure I have not made any strange new errors in the ms. I am not in a hurry for this, as rushing to publish is why that book has been pulled and re-edited. This is where being an indie is both dangerous and awesome–I bear the sole responsibility for the final product.

I leave you with another great map, David Eddings’s original map for the epic fantasy series, The Belgariad:

BelgariadMap

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Sinking the Hook

book-cover-middlemarchThe books that ring my bells all start out with a really great hook–in some cases the first line is the clincher, but most definitely by the time the first page has passed, I am hooked and ready to be enthralled.

Some of the best first lines ever: George Eliott’s Middlemarch starts, “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” That line makes you want to know Miss Brooke. And who is the observer who chronicles this?

How about this first line from Ulysses, by the king of great lines, James Joyce: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

pride and prejudiceOr, take this quote from the Guardian regarding the first line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” The one everyone knows (and quotes). Parodied, spoofed, and misremembered, Austen’s celebrated zinger remains the archetypal First Line for an archetypal tale. Only Dickens comes close, with the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light etc…” 

Good first lines are critical. They have a singular duty, to involve the reader and kidnap them for the length of the book. Our first lines must make the reader beg to know what will happen next.  We have to think about that first line, those first paragraphs, and how to land our reader.

TheEyeOfTheWorldDoes your first line have to introduce your main character? I think not. Dickens introduced an era in his opening lines, and it works. In his Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan frequently opened with a glimpse into the side of evil, illuminating that which Rand Al Thor must somehow prevail against, and that always hooked me.

Regardless of what you introduce, the hook MUST pertain to the tale. It must reveal something about the book in such a way that it sticks with the reader. Do not waste time in getting to the plot, because even a good hook cannot save a bad novel.

The first pages of books that intrigue me introduce a “dramatic question” and even if the reader doesn’t realize it, that question can often be answered with a yes or a no–will the hero succeed? Will good conquer evil? Will love triumph? What the hell happened to drive Lews Therin Telemon mad and what will happen next?

Consider these things when writing the opening paragraphs:

1. The opening lines set the tone for the story

2. The opening lines introduce the dramatic question that is the core of the story

3. The opening lines introduce the sense of place, the setting of the story.

Ask yourself where the story truly begins, and start there. What came before that can be cut from the final draft, as it is just background information that is necessary for your reference.

I think it’s good to read books outside your genre, and read them with the idea of understanding what makes them classics. Read literary fiction, read romance, read sci-fi–read widely if only to see what a different genre is about, how it is different from what you write. In all fiction, the first pages are the ones that kidnap the reader. Covers and blurbs may sell the book, but the first pages plunge the reader into your world.

 

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On Motivation

Periodically I get so far off track that I have to completely scrap the mess I am working on.  It’s as if I began writing one book, but somewhere along the line it becomes another.

300px-WoT08_ThePathOfDaggersOne of the worst, most divergent messes I have created as a writer occurred early on in my current work-in-progress. I was  apparently channeling Robert Jordan. (The Path of Daggers) (Sorry, Wheel of Time fans–I had to say it. I loved the series overall, but he lost us there. It’s okay to admit it.)

I became so completely sidetracked by the stories of my random squirrels…er…side characters…that I completely lost track of the character whose story I had begun writing. I wrote well over 200,000 words that did not advance that story.

I got so lost that I had to rein it in somehow. I’m not Robert Jordan, so there’s no way folks are going to stick with me while I meander through 15 books in the trilogy.

I shelved that MS, re-titled it  Junk for my next book,  and started all over again, this time with an outline. But all is not lost–I have 3 books worth of material for later, and it was a good exercise in how NOT to write a novel.

What originally got me going off in so many directions  was the search for one particular character’s motivation. WHY does he behave the way he does?   I wasn’t sure how to go about it, and I began by writing a backstory that I knew would never make it into the book. It was intended to show me who this person is, and what motivates him, but it got out of hand rather quickly.

In a workshop I attended at a recent convention,indie author  Lindsay Schopfer boiled character motivation down to one  simple thing: Need. Every action by a character must be motivated by some need.

Well, it sounds simple, enough, but it really can be complicated. After Lindsay’s talk, it occurred to me that I had gone about it the hard way. The simplest way would be to graph it out, and the internet is rife with all sorts of inspirational thingys of this nature, but I’m a rebel. I gotta do it my own way.

SO–I was a bookkeeper for years–I fired up Excel, and made me a handy-dandy Motivational Chart, where I identified the characters, what their action was, and what motivated that action.

What does a character need? Well, what do real people need?  The basics are  food, shelter, and garments. Once they have those items, they may need transportation, they may need entertainment. They need companionship. They need spirituality, or love, or sex. Once we identify what a character needs, we need to know how far they are willing to go to acquire it.

The lengths they will go to achieve their goal is the real story

This is one section of the long chart:

motvation table

Now, you don’t have to be able to use MS Excel to make your own motivational chart. Get your ruler out, and block off sections on a standard sheet of paper. If you don’t have a ruler, use the straight side of something long, like a foil-box or a plastic-wrap box.  The point is, you want to tame the chaos on one horizontal tier of a grid:

character –>his actions –> and why he did it (his motivations.)

motivation table - blank

In the process of doing that you may find yourself ironing out some plot wrinkles, as I did. I am a linear thinker–so I need to have my characters as clear to me as if they were my dearest friends. For me, that means I will make a chart from now on, rather than wasting time writing words to nowhere.

After I did this, I wrote 25,000 words that launched the real story. Charting my character’s motivations works well for me.  I will be story-boarding my work in this fashion in the future.

 

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