Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Gathering Storm - Chapters 6-9

In this section, several more characters get their first point of view, expanding the cast.
Sanderson’s style involves much more frequent changes in the point of view character. It changes at least every chapter, sometimes several times within a chapter. Shorter, more frequent points of view can make the pace quicker, and keep the reader’s attention only for the time necessary to drive the main points home; they are unlikely to be as analytical when there’s little time to digest what has taken place before jumping to the next locale. Jordan’s longer concentration on one locale for several chapters kept the reader more deeply immersed in the world, allowing time to flesh out more details. Jordan’s pacing was most effective when he’d spend only a few chapters in one locale, but returned to that locale several times in the story, allowing the story to progress. In later books, the pacing often felt off because he might only return to the locale once, leaving plotlines unresolved. This is unlikely with Sanderson’s pacing, which trades depth and detail for action and progress. 
In one example, we get Leane’s 4-page point of view, followed by 3 pages featuring Egwene. Why switch at all? Is anything accomplished by showing Leane when we’ve been following Egwene so closely? The main detail too unseemly for her to tell Egwene is the conditions of her captivity. It also makes sense that Leane would know the names of the two Yellows shielding her, but Egwene would not, yet that detail is of no import. Even the comfort Egwene provides to her is stated rather than explained through internal dialogue. The only other reason I can see is to establish that Leane is a point of view character so that readers don’t find it jarring if the action shifts to her at some later point in the story, but I don’t recall any major role she plays in this book. In short, adding a few pages from Leane’s point of view when Egwene’s would have done as well, was unnecessary.
In fact, Egwene’s point of view is pivotal, since immediately after leaving two sections of the Tower are transposed, an event that greatly affects a later battle. Egwene sees that the floor should have been “nondescript gray tiles”, but unless something really is nondescript, that adjective should not be used. There have been several examples of rooms changing, and being relocated, and the scale seems to be increasing. Will we later see entire pieces of countryside being randomly shuffled about the world? What good would any strategy be when the geography is ever-changing?
Ituralde scores a great victory, but realizes that ever more powerful forces will come for him; Seanchan pride demands no less. Several characters’ pride interferes with their decision-making.
Nynaeve senses a storm coming, but I wonder if she senses Rand’s mood? In earlier books, she acts as his conscience, so it seems plausible this great and terrible storm she senses is related to Rand’s future behaviour. I’d have to go back and see where else she has used this ability, and compare with what Rand was up to.
Perrin is lying in the mud fixing wagons, wondering how to fix his marriage. The metaphor of him lying in the mud as he contemplates this compares well to Faile’s own muddy metaphors, both of them relating to infidelities. Some of the language fits well with the earlier metaphors which implied neither of them was being truthful, even to themselves. In other ways, the language is much franker, seeming to embrace the truth presented on the surface. Perrin puts off his problems with Faile though, to concentrate on the other thing bothering him, which requires seeking out Rand and leading his men. It’s an unsatisfying deviation from the more important problem of Faile.
Siuan walks through the makeshift village the rebels have set up, and some of the descriptive text stands out as distinctly different from similar concepts described in earlier books. Let’s look at what the two different styles convey:
In earlier books, Jordan used examples to illustrate some of the points.
Once she gained the Tower, that second kitchen would be opened again, and the Novices still would need to eat by shifts, something unknown since well before the Trolloc Wars.
Delana would discuss anything, from how they were to find proper clothes for nine hundred and eighty-seven novices to whether Elaida had secret supporters among the sisters, another topic that gave most sisters a case of the prickles.
In Sanderson’s text, the same basic information is given, as a reminder, in the same way that Jordan often did when reintroducing a concept established in an earlier book. But here, the examples are more generic, not attributed to any particular person, not compared to any particular situation. Sanderson’s method is briefer, and conveys the apparent truth of the situation concisely. Jordan’s text was rich with detail and context, but much lengthier, surely requiring more research and consistency checks.
One of the only oddities about the village – if one ignored the fact that there were tents instead of rooms and wooden walkways instead of tiled hallways- was the number of novices. There were hundreds and hundreds. In fact, the number had to be over a thousand now, many more than the Tower had held in recent memory. Once the Aes Sedai were united, novices’ quarters that hadn’t been used in decades would have to be reopened. They might even need the second kitchen.
These novices bustled around in families, and most of the Aes Sedai tried to ignore them. Some did this out of habit; who paid attention to Novices? But others did so out of displeasure. By their estimation, women aged enough to be mothers and grandmothers – indeed, many who were mothers and grandmothers- shouldn’t have been entered into the novice book. But what could be done? Egwene al’Vere, the Amyrlin Seat, had declared that it should happen.
It seems odd that a detail-oriented person such as Siuan would not know more precisely the number of novices, or that the details Egwene reveals about eating in shifts at the kitchens wouldn’t have come from Siuan in the first place. Maybe Egwene learned it during her short stint as a novice?
Writing Lessons:
Each writing style has some trade-offs: detail vs. conciseness, specificity vs. time invested to write. Be aware of the benefits and downsides to the writing style you choose.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Gathering Storm - Chapters 2-5

In this section, the heroes slowly begin to think of the future beyond the Last Battle.
Egwene, forced to live as a Novice, must serve dinner to her antagonist, Elaida. Often, downcast roles of scullery maid or other menial roles showcase the hero’s ethics, hard-working, and struggling against odds, increasing the reader’s respect, which is probably why rising from a lowly birth station is an element in many traditional fantasy stories. Egwene’s struggle in the Tower is just such a plot, showing Egwene’s mounting ability to overcome physical abuse. Facing Elaida directly and being subjected to a more subtle and insidious mental abuse offers a different opportunity to do the same thing.
 Offering an example of what Elaida’s direct attention can do, we are shown Meidani, caught in a trap from which she cannot escape. Since Beonin betrayed Meidani’s identity, Elaida wasted no time in bringing her into proximity, so she can fully humiliate the woman, forcing her to research the very punishments she’ll have to endure once her true allegiance is revealed. Egwene realizes that direct confrontation with Elaida will end her crusade, but as soon as she decides to take a meek stance, Meidani is there to show the results. Elaida torments Meidani, a supposed confidante, relishing her power over the other woman. When Egwene arranges a distraction so she can also confide in Meidani, her gentle strength is in stark contrast to Elaida’s. Repeatedly, examples contrast Egwene’s behaviour with Elaida’s, almost always ending with someone considering what they have seen, comparing the two women. Egwene is being measured against Elaida, but no one has completely committed to her except for those with no choice in the matter.
Egwene understands by the end that physical pain is of no concern when compared to the pain of the spirit that comes from seeing what you love being rent by careless or bullying hands. This in turn stands in contrast to Rand’s plot, where he has been subjected to great physical pain, and is about to be put through an emotional wringer.
Similarly, Aviendha is being put to shaming work, as though she had no honour at all. She struggles to understand what the Wise Ones want of her, but is too proud to ask, and it is against her cultural upbringing in any case. Aviendha must figure it out on her own, as Egwene already have.
Gawyn has a short chapter, in which he questions whether he is on the right side. His reluctance to admit he chose wrongly when the Tower split has delayed this introspection. The realization that he faces his old mentor is presented as the instigating reason why he has reached a moral impasse, and must choose sides for once and for all. Earlier encounters with Egwene, and Min and Siuan forced him to make allowances for his behaviour, but pride as strong as Aviendha’s has kept him from switching allegiance completely. Gawyn serves as a proxy for Rand, whose pride is greater than anyone’s. The moral quagmire in which each of them finds himself makes them feel lost. The contrast between Rand and Gawyn and the choices and consequences they face will be more evident as the story progresses.
In Arad Doman, Rand is angry that despite all his efforts, no one easily believes that he has accomplished one of the greatest wonders ever. This angry and petulant attitude rings truer than introspective moments shared with Asha’man. But in those moments Rand begins to see beyond the immediate needs of the Last Battle, to the future and the legacy he will leave. I’ve contrasted this series, an American fantasy, to American History, beginning with the War for Independence, through the uncertainty of Vietnam, and the difficult choices of the 21st Century. This is the first we’ve seen of anyone thinking to the future, beyond the modern era. Rand has begun to realize, as have Aviendha and Egwene, that the Last Battle is not the end of everything, their hope is that it is the beginning of something, and they must begun to prepare for it.
Elsewhere, Cadsuane realizes that breaking Semirhage is nearly impossible, and is forced into introspection about how she could be broken, hoping to use the answer against Semirhage. She feels the pressure of time, worrying privately that she won’t be able to prepare Rand for the Last Battle. She contrasts Rand with Semirhage, admitting to herself that her progress with him is not much better than her progress with the Forsaken.
Writing Lessons:
It’s not always bad to follow a well-established writing convention, there is usually a good reason it is used so frequently.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Gathering Storm - Prologue to Chapter 1

In this section, conventional bonds and rules are broken while Rand makes a rule he vows not to break.
A borderlander farmer and his neighbors realize the Last Battle is upon them. They drop their lives, abandoning homes to set off to make a stand with their fellow men.
A sul’dam returns to deliver a message which will require her to break the taboos of her society.
A Seanchan banner-general learns that Trollocs are no myth, violently shattering her longstanding beliefs.
Graendal travels to Moridin’s fortress, where farmers try to plant crops that resist the Blight. Moridin lets her learn the other Forsaken’s plans, and unexpectedly, Semirhage is hung out to dry. Rand is to be unharmed, except in his heart, where she is to bring him anguish.
Ituralde surprises a much larger Seanchan army.
Masema the prophet is killed by Faile, who does what her husband cannot, killing the man who represents strict adherence to rules and the Light.
Most of these short sections show the bonds holding men being broken, in fact or metaphorically. The last one shows Faile killing the personification of rules that bind. The breaking of bonds, the end of custom, the shattering of ties between men. If this prologue matches the ones from past books, then we should see a lot more of this theme, and we will, especially as pertains to Rand.
Masema and Aram were each killed by Faile or Perrin, and each represented truth and strict adherence to convention and rules. This fits in with the discussion of their necessary dalliances in the previous book.
Demandred claims his rule is secure and he gathers for war. With talk of the role he should have been playing, keeping an eye on Rand the way Osan’gar was, his affinity for using proxies, the claim that his rule is secure, and the emphasis on channelers in the Last Battle, a reader should once again be hard pressed not to conclude that the least possible involvement Demandred could have with Mazrim Taim is telling him what to do, which is to gather an army of male channelers.
Rand surveys the countryside of Arad Doman, noting a pattern breakdown causing the wind to blow the wrong way, against itself. It is not the trees, but Rand’s banners which are blowing the wrong way though, a subtle clue that it is he who is at odds with the Pattern, that something is more wrong with him than reality, despite the many signs of it failing around him. The way his eyesight is blurred is a symbol for the difficulty he has in seeing things the way a normal man should. His sight and his view are both distorted. Setting the line that cannot be crossed, he says to himself: ‘ “You will question her, but you will not hurt her!”Not a woman. I will keep to this one shred of light inside of me. I’ve caused the deaths and sorrows of too many women already.’ No sooner stated, this rule is destined to be broken, as indicated by the themes in the prologue.
Moridin had ordered Semirhage to capture Rand, presumably to break him before the Last Battle. He must have two plans, one for if he is captured, one for if he remains free. The orders to Graendal to break his heart only become necessary because Semirhage failed. In either situation, the goal is to break Rand’s spirit.
A few bits of vocabulary and phrasing stood out as peculiar. I think they are more likely artifacts of Sanderson’s wording than Jordan choosing new words, because in past books his odd vocabulary included obscure words like widdershins, not contemporary words. Jordan was very good at avoiding contemporary words. Here are the examples I found:
Like the funnel cloud of a twister.
This ain’t no southerner wetfarm.
Rand’s peculiar apology to Merise: ‘Yes, yes Merise. I’m not trying to command you.’
Wouldn’t it just be ‘one of the High Blood’? Like the hair crest of a member of the High Blood.
They were well inside the Seanchan defensive perimeter.
Lews Therin’s rambles have no pronoun. Should have killed him. Should have killed them all. An oversight? Meant to make Lews Therin sound madder? There has usually been a distinct I, You, or We when Lews Therin speaks, signifying the distinct personality. Is this meant to show him growing indistinct from Rand?
Writing Lessons:
Using contemporary words, or older words, or futuristic words all have an effect on how the reader perceives the world you’ve created.

Robert Jordan vs. Brandon Sanderson

It is obvious that not all authors use the same writing techniques. Robert Jordan is my favourite author and after 10 months of blogging in detail about his writing, I feel I can pick out the individual elements of his writing style that other writers can’t mimic. Brandon Sanderson has completed the series based on Jordan’s notes and passages he had already written, for which I am eternally grateful to him, Jordan, Jordan’s family, Tor, and anyone else who worked to bring us the end of this story. Brandon Sanderson is an exciting author in his own right, but his style is not the same as Robert Jordan’s. Nor does he try to mimic it, the parts he writes fit his own style, and employ the techniques he knows best.
I’ll be analyzing the next few books, co-authored by Sanderson, in the same way I’ve tackled Jordan’s work. I’ll pick out which techniques were used to convey the author’s intent, discuss how well they worked, and contrast them with other examples in the series. Sometimes that means I’ll be directly comparing Jordan’s and Sanderson’s writing, sometimes I’ll declare that one of them succeeded where the other failed, other times I’ll show that they both missed, or both accomplished what they set out to do.
It’s likely I’ll frequently be talking about the challenge Sanderson faced in trying to adapt the conflicting needs of honoring earlier passages, sticking to the plot, filling in gaps, and working around what had already been written. Those aspects present a fairly unique set of circumstances for a writer.
All of which means there’s no contest between Jordan and Sanderson. I’m as interested in how Sanderson writes the Wheel of Time as I am in how Jordan wrote it. There’s no wrong way to write it, just different ways, chosen for different reasons. Analyzing those reasons and ways, and the techniques chosen can teach us about the craft of writing.
Writing Lessons:
There is always something more to learn.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Knife of Dreams - Summary

A friend said, after skimming this blog, that I appeared to be shredding the author’s work, and wondered if I disliked the books. I can see how anyone looking at the fan sites might take our intense discussion of the minute details as harsh criticism, but we’re only willing to dedicate that much effort in discussing them because we enjoyed the books so thoroughly, and want to extract every last nuance we can. Particularly with a work that is layered like The Wheel of Time, where every passage has meaning, and every plot is inspired by several myths and legends, these discussions can take on many facets, combing over the same ground and finding new jewels to admire.
Knife of Dreams was the last book Robert Jordan wrote in its entirety before his untimely death. His writing had a flavour and depth unlike anything else I’ve found. Which is why I’m spending so much time analyzing it.
After the slow pace of Crossroads of Twilight, Knife of Dreams promises very early on to deliver resolution and action. The author accomplished this by establishing several countdowns early on, intending to dispel any doubts that this book would repeat the letdown of the previous book, which was at least partially due to the wait for its publication.
Beginning here, several plotlines directly mention the Last Battle is imminent, creating tension as readers recognize the heroes are not ready, forcing them to make unexpected concessions. Conflicts involving tens of thousands of Trollocs are handled easily, providing a reference that can be used in future books. A hundred thousand men in a battle is no longer a big deal, not when a dozen channelers can face it down without taking a scratch. Echoes of this are seen in Perrin’s rescue, where tens of thousands are involved once again, yet the victory is so overwhelming that the specific individuals he sought to rescue are unharmed by his assault of the city. Hundreds of Elayne’s best soldiers are disintegrated by just one Aes Sedai with a rod that shoots balefire, proving that warfare has escalated to a level where only the number of channelers matter, armies are inconsequential when facing them.  The unsurprising surprise revelation that the Black Tower is recruiting men to fight for the Dark One instead of the heroes is enough to put true worry in the reader’s heart. Hundreds of evil channelers could unleash even more destruction and death than in any of the conflicts presented in this book. One thing Robert Jordan has succeeded admirably at is to slowly build up towards the final conflict, edging the scale of battles slightly upward with each battle, and each book. The slow build is a distinctive feature of his writing, the reason why some fans think it’s too descriptive, and others keep finding layers of meaning.
The theme of Knife of Dreams leads into the Last Battle very nicely. The Knife of Dreams refers to the razor-thin margin between victory and defeat. In all of the conflicts in the book, small events turned the course of battle, or could have derailed the heroes’ plans. Just as the scale of the conflicts sets the low end of the standard for upcoming conflicts, the margin of victory established will always be close, and will be narrowest in the Last Battle.
Another theme running through the book is a question about how well the characters know each other. Mat and Tuon’s courtship shows them starting off uncertain about each other but growing confident in their understanding of each other. Rand is hopeful he can reach alliance with the strangers from Seanchan, whom he hardly knows at all. Traitors are exposed in Caemlyn without much ado, just a cynical acknowledgement that people lie. And cheat. The sections dealing with Faile and her romance with Rolan clearly state that she has remained faithful to Perrin, yet the descriptive text is a metaphor for her guilt over her situation, and her attempts to conceal secrets that are to widely known. I was sufficiently shocked at this contradiction, I had to go back to Winter’s Heart to reread when Perrin wakes in Berelain’s tent, and found the text could be interpreted as Perrin asking Berelain what alibi she has crafted. Whether either Perrin or Berelain cheated is not the point so much as them questioning whether the other did. In both cases, the text reads as though Perrin and Faile are unreliable narrators, refusing to acknowledge what happened even to themselves. In a preview of what Rand will later go through, the young couple instantly forgive each other anything that happened while they were apart, accepting that despite their love for each other, neither of them is without flaws. Concealing events that are the opposite of what the characters lived through while showing their point of view is an incredible accomplishment.
If you think you know Perrin and Faile well enough to say they never cheated on each other, ask yourself if you knew Robert Jordan’s writing well enough to say he wouldn’t have written such a thing, or conceal it if they did cheat.
Writing Lessons:
Make use of unreliable narrators to defy expectations and conceal key information.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Knife of Dreams - Chapters 35-37 and Epilogue

In this section, Elayne gains a throne and Mat gains a wife
Dyelin throws her support behind Elayne, publishing her proclamation so it cannot be rescinded. Dyelin claims she never had any interest in the throne, and that it should stay in the Trakand family unless there is good reason for it not to. More importantly, she finds Elayne is an excellent ruler, has believed she would be a great ruler since before she went to the White Tower, and praises her in a manner reminiscent of Elayne’s mother Morgase. As the symbolic mother, Dyelin’s praise elevates Elayne to full womanhood, as well as to ruler of Andor.
The remaining High Seats are skeptical and question Elayne, but she explains herself and turns the question back on them. What would they have done differently? Nothing, as it turns out, and they quickly recognize her worth as ruler and throw their support behind her. Ellorien holds out, but promises to come when Andor marches to the Last Battle.
Elsewhere, Karede enters Mat’s camp in pursuit of Tuon, believing that her abductor is Thom Merrilin. Karede’s perceptions of Mat’s followers give a brief and accurate summary of where they stand in their relationships with each other and with regard to the Seanchan. Mat rides up with Tuon, settles a dispute between his Aes Sedai and the damane Mylen, and proves he can’t be touched with the One Power. Karede has a brief spell of confusion as Thom is revealed to follow Lord Mat, who rides up with Tuon and her maid. Karede may not know who Mat is, but now Tuon does, when he finally returns her to the protection of her bodyguard. Mat doesn’t know or trust Karede with her, until she reveals how she followed his career even after he was posted elsewhere. She trusts him, so Mat does as well.
Tuon tells Mat that love is possible, but she is marrying to serve the Empire. She thinks he is lying about his misadventures beyond the redstone doorways, but tells him of her damane’s prophecy, foretelling who she would marry. Mat takes some of her soldiers, while his own men give her a proper send-off. Riding into possible danger, she removes the veil, affirming her identity, and is ready to die as who she is. For his part, Mat has a new identity he has not yet accepted, a nobleman, the Prince of the Ravens.
I have a long-standing theory that Mat is Gaidal Cain, despite the obvious flaws. Tuon’s political view of her marriage added to Mat’s constantly wandering eye makes it plausible, even now, but for Mat’s admission that he may actually be in love with Tuon.
Suroth’s point of view could have been a chapter of its own, or this could have been a chapter from Tuon’s point of view. The amount of time elapsed and the brevity of the section make it appropriate for the epilogue instead. In a show of justice being served, while Tuon claims her new identity, Suroth is stripped of hers.
At the Black Tower, Pevara, and five other Red Ajah meet Mazrim Taim, his first appearance on-page since The Path of Daggers, and claim the right to bond Warders, which he grants. Having Tarna initiate the idea of bonding Asha’man provides a means to get her out of the White Tower and isolate Elaida. A middleman like the Keeper of the Chronicles would have to take Elaida’s side.
Taim’s closing words are a jab at those of us who stuck with the theory that Taim is Demandred. Using a phrase associated with Demandred, even if it was communicated to other Forsaken, will ensure that Demandred comes to mind when someone else utters it. The phrase ‘Lord of Chaos’ is also associated with trickery and deceit, so it is unclear if the author meant to invoke Demandred, or revoke the association. That tag has more than one association.
Writing lessons:
Use a tag associated with one character to bring them to mind when it is applied in another context.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Knife of Dreams - Chapters 31-34

In this section, Elayne turns a sour experience into crushing victory!
A professional purse snatcher does what no one else has been able to so far, following Mellar to the Lady Shiaine’s home. Giddy at the prospect of capturing a circle of Darkfriends, two Black Ajah, and giving the boot to Mellar, Elayne hastily assembles the Aes Sedai and Warders to raid the manor before they disperse. Mellar’s treachery is strongly downplayed; his arrest is but a footnote.
Elayne cleverly gets the two Aes Sedai she is unsure of in linked pairs, so they cannot channel to disrupt her plan. The raid goes perfectly, until the unforeseen arrival of four other Black Ajah, seemingly still bent on capturing Elayne as Moghedien ordered so long ago. Shiaine is grateful for the rescue, but is quickly put in her place; these women have their own agenda which has nothing to do with Moridin’s or Shiaine’s. This is not the first time that one evil plot has been undone by another concurrent evil plot, where the villains do not share information or objectives.
Careane is unveiled as Black Ajah, and is stabbed by Vandene. Careane’s treachery is strongly downplayed; her death is also but a footnote, since the immediate menace is the six Black Ajah who will have no trouble killing the remaining Warders and carrying Elayne off. Fortunately, none of them know Traveling. Maintaining control over who can Travel is important for several plotlines, and devising ways to keep it secret from the general population of channelers and Mat’s group, while simultaneously allowing other heroes to make liberal use of it must have required intricate planning on the author’s part. Be careful of the tools you give your heroes, because they may make life too easy for them.
Birgitte responds correctly to Elayne’s capture and the death of the Warders. She goes for the only help capable of stopping channelers: other channelers. Birgitte appeals to the Sea Folk’s sense of self-interest, and the Black Ajah are captured and Elayne freed. In minutes, they had destroyed several hundred soldiers, providing yet another example of the escalation of the battles and their outcomes. Obviously, the Last Battle will involve large numbers of channelers, and the value of soldiers will be much less than in traditional warfare.
Birgitte had been forced to give away a number of soldiers to Dyelin to defend the city gates, which made a big difference in the city’s defense, but little difference in Elayne’s rescue which depended on the One Power. With the city under attack from one of Elayne’s rivals for the throne, she Travels into position and catches them between the city walls and her army. It is enough to win, yet the thin margin of victory could have gone the other way several times.
Elsewhere, Karede divines Mat’s plan, and moves to intercept him, setting up another tense conflict where small chance-driven events may make the difference between victory and defeat.
Robert Jordan has a particular way with his sentence structure, often crafting lengthy sentences filled with descriptions, information, the character’s personal views, symbolism, and inference. Since I’m nearing the end of the books he wrote himself, it’s long past time to study these more closely.
Just  two of the mirrored stand-lamps were lit, six flames filling the sitting room with a dim light and the scent of lilies – so much of the lamp oil had gone bad that it was always perfumed, now – but a crackling fire on the hearth was beginning to take away some of the early hour’s coolness.
In this sentence, the room’s temperature, odour, and lighting are described, establishing a mood. There are links to other ideas and plotlines: the Dark One’s touch, Elayne working at early hours of the morning, insufficient supplies to meet needs. Elayne’s situation is symbolized, she can hardly shed light on the solution to her problems, but another source will give her what she needs. So many things conveyed with just one sentence.
Gliding to one of the carved sideboards, she wrinkled her nose at the silver pitcher holding goat’s milk and poured herself a cup of dark wine before taking a chair across from Elayne.
In this sentence, the first part might have been dropped but leave the entire meaning intact. Instead of breaking the sentence into smaller parts, Jordan links them together as a complete sequence of related events. He does it again with the next sentence:
Deni made a move as if to try dragging her out, but Elayne shook her head.
In this case, an action is begun, another is contemplated, and then both are negated. Three actions in one short sentence.
The gag, a dirty piece of rag with a vile, oily taste, tied so tightly that it dug into the corners of her mouth, had been meant to keep her from shouting for help at the gates.
This is not simply a description of her gag, but has added links to explain her captor’s attitude (tightness of gag), and the reason why she has a gag in her mouth, which will lead to an explanation of Elayne’s own strategy.
At last, however, even the most diehard began shedding weapons and armor, and if not every voice cried for quarter, the roar was still thunderous.
Here, large scale events are summarized with a quick series of events. The words ‘at last’ convey Elayne’s hopes as well as the finality of the situation. Using words like ‘roar’, ‘thunderous’, and ‘every’ conveys the large scale of their surrender. Describing the actions of many through the actions of few, either by making them representative, or extraordinary, allows the entire scene to be condensed.
Writing Lessons:
Give longer descriptive passages more weight and interest by linking the ideas and actions within them.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Knife of Dreams - Chapters 28-30

In this section, Perrin and Faile have a happy reunion, except for some overhanging doubts.
I was taken aback by the possibility that the chapters detailing Faile’s theft of the Oath Rod contained a second layer of meaning, one which pointed to her sleeping with Rolan, and being so secretive about it that she doesn’t even mention it in her own thoughts. I went back and read the chapters in Winter’s Heart where Perrin wakes in Berelain’s tent and found the same thing. Neither situation means that any cheating took place, but the author definitely used language and symbolism to infer the possibility of it having happened.
In the chapters detailing Faile’s rescue, I found other symbolism which continues to support the author’s intent for readers to question whether they are being told the whole story. Galina represents truth, and both truth and Galina let Faile down. This is symbolized by Galina plunging Faile and her followers into the basement of a burned out building. The ruined timbers that collapse on them represent the web of lies that must be concocted to hide their actions with the Aiel men.
The jumble of charred timbers and half-burned boards filling the staircase resembled one of those blacksmith’s puzzles her Perrin enjoyed. Almost everything seemed to be propping up something else. Worse, the heavier timbers might be beyond all of them working together. But if they could clear enough for them to be able to crawl through, writhing between the thick beams… It would be dangerous, that crawl. But when a dangerous path was your only route to safety, you had to take it.
Much of the effort to move the timbers fails, and further shifting causes more of them to tumble into the dirty basement. The soot and ash dirtying their faces represents their shame. It means that despite their best efforts, they cannot come up with a story that can’t be unraveled. It is only when they are able to signal Faile’s other followers that they are able to escape. Rolan, the Brotherless, and the gai’shain help Faile escape the basement, representing their pledge to preserve Faile’s secret. What she did, she did for them, and they will protect her. Rolan will keep her secret as well, but not without exacting his price. A pinch on the bottom for each of the women represents something more, a price willingly paid for freedom.
At Theoryland we put great stock in quoting the text, but here is a situation where the quoted text is of no value in understanding what may have happened. Readers can accept the story told as it appears, for after all, Perrin and Faile are in love, and would never betray each other. Or, they can note the hidden symbolism and wonder, how well do I really know these characters? The author’s goal isn’t to state the truth one way or the other, it is to cast doubt. Readers won’t know for sure, they must have faith and belief in their interpretation of events, just as Perrin and Faile will have to.
The question of how well you know someone recurs frequently in this book. Mat and Tuon state it bluntly, as they circle each other warily in their courtship. Elayne’s spies and traitors aren’t presented in the shock and awe style of writing where the betrayal carries important consequences. It’s more of a gentle questioning of how far Mellar, or Sareitha, or anyone can be trusted. The motives of High Seats are vague, and are interpreted in the obvious way, with a small chance of deceit, just as the Seanchan Banner-General is someone Perrin has to decide to take at face value, and to trust. Rand’s encounter with the fake Daughter of the Nine Moons was a more direct betrayal, but his gamble to put trust in this unknown person fits the theme which runs through the relationships in this book. Perrin and Faile’s relationship is the inverse of Mat and Tuon’s. Where readers are comfortable with Perrin and Faile’s fabled honesty, and wary with Mat and Tuon’s usual unreliability, the author inverts the roles, creating doubt about the trustworthy and giving confidence in the scoundrels.
Aram is another case of someone who we thought we knew well, yet he suddenly turns on Perrin. His motivation is to protect Faile from Perrin, as explained to him by Masema, who knows no shades of grey, only the stark black and white of the moral code he and his cult have constructed around the Dragon. Aram would have killed Perrin for not being perfect, but both Perrin and Faile easily conclude that the other may have behaved imperfectly, which doesn’t matter, so long as they are together.
Min’s Viewings about the falcon and hawk, and the tinker with a sword all involve this particular part of the storyline. Why were these images important enough to merit a Viewing? Why present them to readers unless they meant something to Perrin? The falcon and its leash are obvious, but what do the other two mean if not the scenario I have described?
This is the last we see of Therava and Galina. Therava’s ability to crush the spirit of one of the most powerful women in the world stood out far more than Anath’s mild spankings of Tuon. I was sorely disappointed Semirhage’s alter ego was not as impressive as the Shaido Wise One, though that will be rectified in the next book. Therava overcame Sevanna’s ineptitude, and Galina received a just punishment for her actions. A feeling of justice is important to convey to the reader, if it is desired to keep a hopeful tone to the story. In this case it is convenient to contrast Galina’s fate and actions with Faile’s. They both may have betrayed the faith placed in them, but the consequences for each match the severity of their betrayal.
Writing Lessons:
Contrast one relationship with another to drive a point home.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Knife of Dreams - Chapters 26-27

In this section, a jumble of viewpoints leads up to Rand getting injured.
Following Egwene’s lengthy chapter, the next viewpoints are short, and are divided oddly amongst the chapters. Here are the viewpoints, the number of pages in each, and the chapter they fall in.
Chapter 25: Tarna 6, Mat 12
Chapter 26: Tuon 12, Perrin 15, Faile 3
Chapter 27 : Rand 15, Mat 9
It is an odd partition to have Tuon’s viewpoint sharing a chapter with Perrin, when the viewpoint immediately preceding it was Mat’s, who is in the same locale as Tuon. Why not have shorter chapters with no shared viewpoints? Why throw a Mat section at the end of a Rand section, when there is no logical link between Rand’s and Mat’s actions? Tarna’s viewpoint was filled with trepidation, Mat’s also, but less so. Mat is more in control of events once he meets up with his army again. Tuon’s section is back to mild confusion and study of the situation. Perrin is nothing but preparation for conflict, and worry for how it may pan out. Faile is down to a desperate gamble. The range of emotions these characters feel is similar to what Rand has gone through in preparing to meet the Seanchan. Trepidation, study, preparation, and a gamble at the end. But it’s not just Rand; each of these characters also went through something similar in their predicaments. The viewpoints are divided this way to avoid repeating each character going through similar emotions, which could make for arduous reading. The emotions and concerns expressed in each of the sections stands for the others as well. And in the end, each of the characters will make their gamble, knowing that there is a knife-thin margin between victory and defeat, which relates back to the rhyme at the opening of the book. All of these plotlines are linked thematically.  
The Tuon section reveals that surprisingly, she knows as little of Mat as he does of her. Even as a willing prisoner, Tuon plots how to undermine the enemies of her Empire, considering ways in which she can make life difficult for him or his army. Tuon’s inner thoughts have been kept from readers to maintain the mystery around her, so that they are unsure of where Mat stands with her. As their royal wedding nears, it is finally time to reveal some, but not all, of what her goals are, and how she thinks of Mat. This is an excellent opportunity to switch from his viewpoint to hers, since the author’s objective is now to keep some mystery around Mat’s brilliant plan to escape Altara.
Perrin’s plans are much less secret. Readers have been told about the Forkroot, and how Perrin will sneak some men inside the city to help Faile escape, which are the major tricky parts, the rest simply being placement of the troops. Perrin is able to put aside worries about Whitecloaks nearby, more Shaido septs reinforcing his enemies, and a ripple in the Pattern that feels as though he will be undone. That ripple represents how he may become undone by the secrets Faile may be keeping, but his singular focus lets him dismiss it, as he would dismiss anything Faile had done amongst the Shaido. He has an objective, and he will not let moral obstacles prevent him from reuniting with Faile any more than physical ones.
Perrin’s thought on Berelain are so forthright, I can’t help but feel his perspective is wrong: “Light, how could anyone believe there was anything between him and her? She was as beautiful as ever, true, yet the scent that had minded him of a hunting cat was so long gone from her smell that he barely remembered it. The bedrock of her scent was patience and resolve, now. She had come to accept that he loved Faile and only Faile, and she seemed as determined to see Faile freed as he was.” Berelain doesn’t give up, and Perrin’s smells are unerring, so Perrin has either misinterpreted what the smell means or is not being entirely truthful. It’s quite a leap to start suspecting that a bluntly honest character such as Perrin is hiding something that he can’t even address in his inner thoughts, something that contradicts the text told from his perspective. Consider this possibility: Perrin was ready to make a deal with the Dark One to get Faile back, and may have needed Berelain’s help so bad, he gives in to her as the price. Having paid her price, he tries to pretend nothing happened, to which she replied: “Very well Perrin, if that’s the way you want it.” Whether it is true or not, the author has carefully crafted the discussion between these two the morning he woke in her tent, so that a hidden meaning can be gleaned. Enough to raise suspicion, not enough to prove anything. Other clues point to a hidden meaning in the above passage as well: how exposed must she be for him to know the bedrock of her scent?  Why would she no longer smell like a hunting cat, unless she had already caught her prey? Could his forgetting that smell represent him hardly remembering what they did together? Obviously, there is never a Berelain point of view because that would reveal what is meant to never be revealed. Writing with double meaning, or to imply a double meaning, takes a particular attention and skill.
For her part, Faile is involved in rebuffing Rolan’s suggestions that they play kissing games. She plays coy with him, unwilling to lose a potential escape route. Faile hopes that the Aes Sedai Galina proves true, or she may have to take up Rolan’s offer. Readers know Galina is lying, and this represents Faile’s only truthful option being taken away. Faile recognizes that her only slim hope of not having to hide anything from Perrin lies with this woman, who is frantic and unpredictable. Giving the Oath Rod to Galina represents Faile trying to tell the truth about Rolan. The results would be unpredictable, possibly wild, with no guarantees despite Faile trying to force one out of her. The next post will further delve into the symbolism of Galina.
Rand confronts Semirhage, and loses a hand and his eyesight for it. With two other characters having somewhat successful interactions with Seanchan, there is still some expectation for Rand to come out of this well, despite Suroth’s involvement. There is some mild confusion about timing, as readers may be led to believe this scene takes place after Tuon’s return to Ebou Dar, so that Rand can meet her. The confusion is quickly resolved by the revelation that Semirhage was disguised as Tuon. Semirhage represents pain, based on her reputation, but Rand refuses to acknowledge any pain, whether from his old wounds or the loss of his hand. He is effectively cutting himself off from feeling anything, the wounds to his soul somehow eclipsing the grave physical wounds he has taken.
This uncaring sentiment is echoed when Mat refuses to give aid to the Seanchan soldiers he has cut down with his new tactics. Tuon approves: “A lion can have no mercy.”
Writing Lessons:
Unreliable narrators may require you to write true things with double meanings, not deal with certain things, or write outright lies.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Knife of Dreams - Chapters 24-25

In this section, Egwene digs at the foundations of Elaida’s White Tower.
Egwene has resolved to undermine Elaida from within the White Tower, even though she has been demoted to a Novice, and is given Forkroot regularly to prevent her channeling too powerfully. Elaida knows Egwene is purportedly a Dreamer, but either cannot or doesn’t care to do anything to prevent her from using that ability.
Egwene’s lengthy section is one of my favorites in the series. It is told slightly out of chronological order, focusing on her success at forging and maintaining her identity instead of her success at undermining Elaida. The character achieving victory through personality conflicts instead of plot-driven progress has been demonstrated several times throughout the series. Egwene ends her first beating by the Mistress of Novices surprisingly calm despite having howled while it was being administered. She got the beating for claiming to Amyrlin, and she earns two more visits for the same before leaving the room. While Egwene earns punishments, she also is able to avoid bending her neck, and never does curtsy or call an Aes Sedai by their honorific title.
Every time Egwene is punished, she has another chance to prove to herself, and the world that her will is stronger than those who would seek to craft her identity. Every beating reinforces her self-confidence, and makes her wholeheartedly embrace her identity as Amyrlin. Egwene was already willful, and now she is being tempered into a being of self-knowledge and force of will that will eclipse all others in Tel’aran’rhiod. While Elaida believes she is breaking down Egwene’s resistance, she is in fact making her more resilient, and more powerful. Throughout the series we’ve seen several occasions when force of will and identity are the keys to victory, and Egwene is ahead of the other characters in developing an unassailable identity; several of the others still have some uncertainty or hesitation in embracing who they must become.
By repeatedly demonstrating that she will not become a Novice in fact as well as name, Egwene earns respect in ever-increasing amounts. Novices begin by bullying her, while the Red Ajah crows over her situation. She earns a spanking in every class, and the Mistress of Novices Silviana must adjust Egwene’s lessons and provide extra Healing to avoid drawing blood from the repeated beatings. Other Aes Sedai ignore Egwene in the Halls or the cells where Leane is imprisoned. Egwene drops hints to the Aes Sedai giving her lessons, all aimed at undermining Elaida, usually earning a penance. Small illustrative parallels are squeezed into Egwene’s lessons, such as former Amyrlin Shein Chunla, a woman whose identity as Amyrlin was subsumed by the Hall, which resulted in many egregious errors being made by the White Tower.
Despite lack of progress, Egwene begins to see each visit to the Mistress of Novices as a badge of honor, proof that she had refused to yield. The Novices try to emulate her, and quickly stop when they earn their own punishments, yet Egwene carries on. She gives advice to Accepted, consoles fearful young women when ghosts appear or corridors change location. She endures hard labor, yet the taskmistress in the kitchens is surprisingly kind with her. Eventually, Alviarin, the fallen Aes Sedai seeks her out, as does the kidnapped King of Illian. The first Aes Sedai she brings to her cause is Beonin, the betrayer. Beonin believed herself free of her Oath of fealty to Egwene, but a combination of logic and dislike for Elaida brings her to follow Egwene’s instructions. Doesine, a Sitter and Black Ajah Hunter, decides not to send Egwene to be punished for failing to curtsy or address her properly. Silviana finally begins to treat Egwene as more than a Novice to be spanked. Symbolizing her success, the Novices slip honey in Egwene’s tea, and offer her a cushion to ease her soreness. Embracing her identity, Egwene puts the cushion aside before sitting her tender parts on the hard bench, and the Novices are fully hers. She hasn’t reached anywhere near the influence she needs yet, but she is winning her war.
That chapter is in contrast to Tarna’s visit to Elaida’s apartments. Elaida is leading one of the rebel infiltrators by the nose, waiting for a chance to snap the jaws of her trap shut, seeming to relish the future opportunity to crush the woman’s spirit and betray their apparent complicity. Part of her sadistic joy comes from worry that the infiltrators are in collusion with the Ajah Heads, who are continuing to meet with the rebels in pointless negotiations. Where Novices and Accepted come to Egwene for advice, Elaida’s most trusted associate won’t discuss certain topics for fear of unleashing Elaida’s fury on herself. Elaida hopes to gloat over Egwene’s situation in person by having her serve Elaida’s private meal with one of the infiltrators.
Oddly, the chapter ends with Mat’s point of view, and the next chapter continues immediately from where it leaves off with Tuon’s. The division of chapters for the next while is peculiar, but discussion of it is best suited for the next post.
Tuon asks Mat to kiss her, but with Mat having such an unreliable point of view, it’s hard to tell who is more flustered by their first kiss. Their unique relationship is devoid of any traditional romance.
A Seanchan army and a landslide obstruct Mat’s escape from Altara. His band of soldiers is not far off though. Will he overcome this obstacle with his personality or his army? If the past is any indication, some element of character and personality will be the focus.
Writing Lessons:
The end result of a plotline is more powerful when developed slowly and incrementally, and relates more to character than plot elements.

Knife of Dreams - Chapters 22-23

In this section, secondary characters make the story their own.
One thing that stands out in The Wheel of Time is that no matter that the central conflict is centered around Rand, every character believes the story is about themselves. We get two examples of this, with Harine and Romanda getting full chapters from their point of view.
We last saw Harine up close entering Far Madding, in a point of view from her sister Shalon. At that time, Shalon’s own conflict seemed to end, as she found the acceptance of her sister. Now Harine is looking for the resolution to her own story. Despite Min’s Viewing, Harine has not become the Mistress of the Ships, and Harine is certain the Viewing is simply off in its timing, rather than wrong. When Elayne is putting so much faith in Min’s Viewing, this situation serves to undercut the reader’s confidence in Viewings and prophecies, and induce them to think of ways in which the Viewing may have been misinterpreted. Just like the words and Aes Sedai speaks, the Viewings are supposed to be true, but what is left unsaid may have an entirely different meaning.  
Harine and the other women of the First Twelve are gathering to meet with an envoy from the Dragon Reborn: Logain. As with most of the shorebound, Logain fails to understand the dignity and respect due to the Mistress of the Ships, since he cannot interpret the medallions representing her rank, and he simply wouldn’t care if he did know, since his orders from Rand take precedence over all else. Logain’s words reflect Rand’s hardening stance on all matters; “Mourn if you must, but mourn on the march for Tarmon Gai’don.”
Logain’s attitude towards the ritual suicide of a culture of pacifists is coarse and heartless. Like Rand, he is aimed at his task alone, and all other considerations are distractions to be swatted away. The Amayar took their lives in reaction to the cleansing of saidin, as foretold by their prophecies. As discussed in posts on Winter’s Heart, the cleansing represented forgiveness for Rand’s murders of several men. The deaths of the Amayar represent a price paid for that forgiveness, a price beyond the time Rand spent incarcerated. Although not causally related to the cleansing, giving up their lives is a symbolic action foreshadowing the Last Battle when Rand will do the same to save the world. If Rand was supposed to learn anything from the news, it is lost on him, as shown by Logain’s reaction.
Harine is accepted back as Rand’s ambassador from the Sea Folk, a decision the Mistress of the Ships has no choice but to accept. Rand has thus delivered Harine a second chance to atone for her past mistakes in making a poor bargain. To do so, she will have to endure Rand’s harsher attitude, as well as Cadsuane’s expectations. We should expect A Memory of Light to present a situation in which Harine can conclude her story, and complete a task that redeems her, and it will likely involve telling Rand more about the Amayar.
Romanda is perturbed by all the futility and failure she sees, and chooses to lose herself in pleasant tales of romance and adventure. This guilty pleasure stands out starkly against her personality, which is very pragmatic and prideful. She not only abides by custom, it is a central tenet of her beliefs. All of the new things Egwene or Nynaeve has come up with are frowned upon, and her reluctance to see possibility instead of actuality left her unable to see that Egwene was more than a novice until it was too late for her. Even as the Last Battle approaches, she sees change as an obstacle to be overturned and adherence to the old ways as the path to victory. A victory she will be central figure in, if Elaida and Egwene can be thrown out.
Nisao reveals her secret hunt for the assassin amongst the rebels, having come up against an obstacle that she cannot overcome. Egwene’s orders to carry out the search and to keep it secret now conflict with each other, and Nisao can decide which one takes precedence and act upon it. Since Lelaine already figured out that a search was underway, revealing as much to Romanda is easily rationalized.
An encounter with Sharina and the Mistress of Novices has Romanda recognize that some of the changes being effected are very practical and useful, which makes undoing them all the more unlikely, which in turn grates on her sense of how things are supposed to be. She started the chapter firmly against all things new, and now she has twice had to grudgingly admit that some of the changes constitute progress.
The third encounter that pierces her mindset is the arrival of Merise and her Asha’man warder. Here is something that definitely should not be, although if it must exist, the relationship correctly involves an Aes Sedai with a subjugated male. The Asha’man Narishma tells the Hall that someone tried to pierce the warding against eavesdropping using saidar, at which point Delana abruptly leaves. Narishma offers the Dragon Reborn’s Asha’man to be bonded, which the Hall hastily accepts. Further questioning reveals Asha’man have already bonded nearly fifty Aes Sedai, which puts all other ugly realities out of Romanda’s head; this is an abomination! Equality is intolerable, even if the bonded Aes Sedai are Elaida’s followers. The exact count gives Narishma another opportunity to talk about Hopwil’s death at the hands of a woman who could extraordinarily use saidin.
It is highly doubtful Romanda’s unchanging view of the world could have made the leap of logic to link Narishma’s tale with Nisao’s hidden assassin, without being repeatedly hammered with events that defy her structured world view. Her insight that Delana must be arrested would have been even more believable if she had left the Hall after another sister demonstrated that she could detect saidin, instead of just before this new weave was tested. As it is, Delana made her own early leap of logic, simply worrying that an Asha’man in the camp might unveil Halima.
Siuan might have been a logical character to have used for this chapter instead of Romanda, since she is Blue Ajah, and should have known something of the dead sisters and Cabriana. She also is within the group of loyal Egwene followers, and might have made a better first stop for Nisao than Romanda. However, Siuan could not have been in the Hall, so one of the Sitters had to have the point of view instead. Once Siuan was disqualified, the author had to find the character best suited to be told all of the relevant pieces of information and who also had access to the locations where each would be revealed. Once Romanda was selected, the events had to be structured to affect her such that she could reach the desired conclusions. Having now conceived of the inconceivable, Romanda is ready to accept Egwene as Amyrlin.
Writing Lessons:
Treat every character as though they are the hero of their own story within your story.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Knife of Dreams - Chapters 20-21

In this section Lan resumes his quest, and Rand checks in on old allies.
Lan’s quest in the Blight has been paused since the end of The Eye of the World. In truth he set aside his suicidal need to avenge his homeland when he agreed to be bonded by Moiraine in order to fight the Shadow in a more constructive fashion. Twenty years of chasing down obscure leads in two-street villages and cities must have seemed so opposite to how he intended to live. But a Malkieri’s word is his bond, and he held to his task for two decades, finally rescuing a handful of Emond’s Fielders from the Shadow, leading them to the Blight, where he finally got another taste of the destiny that awaited him, a man vs. Blight showdown to the death.  Lan’s quest mirrored Rand’s own in The Eye of the World, and the tales of Malkier and Manetheren formed Rand into the man he needed to be to defeat Ba’alzamon. As I have postulated before, while Lan’s mentorship enhanced Rand’s manhood and battle prowess, he also led Rand astray, forming an idea in Rand’s mind that he alone could face the Dark One, and that he must do it alone, with as little help as possible. Rand still isn’t completely over that attitude, and neither is Lan.
Since leaving the Eye of the World, Lan has given cursory advice to the boys, but has had no character to speak of. Moiraine passed his bond as though he were a tool, not a man. Moiraine’s death compelled him to seek out Myrelle, who was able to save him from death by despair. Sent to Ebou Dar to help Nynaeve, he represented no more than her just reward for finally breaking her block by surrendering. He has been part of the d├ęcor, acting out his role, but had little say in anything, including the choice of where he goes. Lan recognizes that he is of little use when a hundred thousand Trollocs tear across the fields. He can’t advise Rand, he can’t fight Rand’s enemies. Rand has outgrown his need for Lan.
So, Lan grumbles that someone should be doing something in the Borderlands to prepare for the Last Battle. Nynaeve says that is his duty, while hers lies with protecting Rand from Alivia. She unselfishly grants him his long-standing wish to march into the Blight, to fight the Shadow. But, she selfishly dumps him as far from his ultimate destination as she can, to give him a chance to gather allies. Free from all past restrictions, Lan is his own man for the first time since New Spring, twenty years earlier. His quest parallels Rand’s, and there is a good chance that events surrounding Lan in A Memory of Light will be written to show what doesn’t work, to raise tension, to give examples foreshadowing Rand’s potential fate.
Verin’s letter sets a precedent for Lan’s departure. The rationale that she can serve Rand better elsewhere could easily have come from Lan, and saves a lengthier explanation on his part. The idea that followers can pick up and leave has been established, so it is natural that any other followers who can serve better elsewhere will also go, and readers will immediately understand why without having to explain it all over again. Placing these two departures in the same chapter highlights the utility of this technique.
Rand has seriously started talking about the Last Battle, making last-ditch attempts to reach terms with the Seanchan so he can focus on his ultimate task. The hundred-thousand strong hordes of Trollocs he fought at Algarin’s manor heralds the Last Battle. Aside from a handful of Saldaean soldiers, Rand’s meager forces took no losses in a battle greater than any seen in centuries. They were dispatched as though a mere nuisance. The scale of conflict has been magnified, yet it was treated as a minor skirmish, like the regular Shadowspawn attacks that used to peck at Rand in the Aiel Waste. Treating an epic event in a decidedly un-epic fashion leaves plenty of room to ramp up the emotion for the real Last Battle.
Rand saw obstreperous drunks being thrown out of inns and taverns in the early morning, in Tear. Obstreperous means noisy, boisterous and unruly. The word itself feels unruly, reflecting its meaning. Authors must feel happy to use a word so poetically.
Rand’s ta’veren aura ends the rebellion in Tear within an hour of his arrival. The various rebellions in the kingdoms he rules have served the purpose of showing that people always try to wriggle out of complete obedience, even though Rand attempts to have it from his followers. Guards who protect an empty room because Rand wasn’t precise that it was Callandor they were guarding, not the room itself, demonstrate the flaws in Rand’s ideal servants. Weiramon once again shows that if Rand tries to do everything himself, he won’t get anything done for want of continually having to place everyone back where he wants them.  Those examples are done now, the focus is moving to Arad Doman, a chaotic place where no law exists, where Rand will try to stamp out lawlessness with an enormous influx of manpower. The battle with Lews Therin over Rand’s mind and body, the willful attitudes Rand is displaying, the chaos in Arad Doman, and the imminent Last Battle all mirror and represent each other to some extent. As in the early books, Robert Jordan is back to having the locale serve the character’s story.
Writing Lessons:
Treat events with the emotional intensity you want the story to have at that point, not because they happen to be pivotal or grandiose.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Knife of Dreams - Chapters 17-19

In this section, Rand and Elayne lose control of something.
Birgitte confirms that Elayne didn’t get lost; it was the Palace that changed. Since she can’t do anything about the danger or problems that come with locales changing suddenly, instead, she stoically goes on with the things she can do something about. The mutable geography is not necessarily the same as bubbles of evil, which have a more sinister and violent effect, but they are just as random.
Young Perival correctly deduces that a third of the High Seats of Andor are keeping their distance because of the nearby Borderlander army. Elayne’s earlier meeting with the Borderlanders in Winter’s Heart is still bearing fruit, yet it also gives the impression that not much has changed since then. That will come to an abrupt end with Arymilla’s apparent bribery of the mercenary companies guarding Caemlyn. Arymilla expects to have the city within a week. As with the Perrin storyline, establishing a firm countdown to disaster ramps up the tension and dispels any sense of drudgery or lack of progress. One way or the other, with Arymilla’s scheme unfolding, the plotline will be resolved.
A discussion of House Mantear, the House that Rand is descended from, added to Elayne’s unswerving confidence her babies will be born safely, linked a few ideas in my mind. Elaida’s Foretelling was that the Royal Line of Andor is the key to winning the Last Battle. She thinks it means Elayne, but readers know it probably means Rand, and there is a slight possibility it means Morgase, or Luc, or some other secondary character. However, I’m surely not the first to see that Rand and Elayne’s children are descended from the two most recent Royal Families of Andor. Could all of Moridin’s schemes be aimed at Rand’s children, to prod him in ways he couldn’t be prodded before? Could Rand’s children or his attitude towards them be the key to winning the Last Battle? To fit the themes in the story so far, the Last Battle will have to be about Rand affirming his identity for once and for all. In what ways could his children factor into that? Will they represent the humanity he is trying to save, or will they represent a sacrifice on his part?
Reanne’s death and the discovery of a doll that should have been taken by a fleeing Kinswoman rule out Merilille as the Black Ajah. Sadly, it means Elayne can add a number of probable murders to the bill, since it implies that most of the vanished Kinswomen were killed, and did not run away.
Loial interviews Rand for his book, and is told almost nothing really useful, something Theorylanders are familiar with from RAFO-filled author interviews. The boys from Manetheren have rubbed off on Loial, for he is ready to address the Stump with his views that the Ogier should stand against the Dark One rather than flee to another Dimension using their Book of Translation. Loial acquiesces to his Mother’s demand for a wedding, which takes place minutes after her arrival, the only hasty thing Ogier ever do. For all of his fear that his life would be dominated by a wife, she asks him what he would do, and then supports him in that decision.
I once asked Robert Jordan why Rand had never thought again about the mysterious stranger who saved his life in Shadar Logoth. At last, Rand does so now, recognizing his face as the one that has been appearing in his head shortly after he thinks of Mat and Perrin. It’s likely this was the point of the story in which this information was bound to appear, and not the direct result of a fan’s question. Rand also concludes that the stranger used the Forsaken’s so-called True Power. He stops short of realizing that the stranger may be a reincarnated Forsaken, failing to recognize that the Lord of the Grave is more than a name, it describes one of his abilities. The ability to parse out information slowly is often difficult, as authors are eager to show off the wonderful world they have created. The trick is in supplying just enough new information to keep the reader happy without going beyond the minimum that the reader needs. The Wheel of Time’s length, multiple plotlines, numerous characters and publication schedule have demonstrated that it is possible to dole out clues very slowly, over two decades, and still maintain an air of mystery and wonder with each revelation.
Rand’s madness isn’t getting worse, but he is at the point where he and Lews Therin seem evenly balanced, as represented by Lews Therin’s several comments that he doesn’t understand why he has voice in his head. Establishing how even they are, mirror images of each other,  is key to the surprise when Lews Therin grasps the One Power from Rand during a monumental Trolloc attack. Lews Therin wails that he can’t move his hands, as though it is his body and Rand has grasped physical control of the body from him. A Trolloc attack, even in numbers of hundreds of thousands, is no longer enough to threaten the heroes. Unless a monkey wrench is thrown into the works. As has often been the case, this obstacle is not a physical one but one of identity. Who is Rand? Is he really Lews Therin? Rand’s immediate need is to strike some agreement with the madman in his head or he will die. When the metaphysical argument has physical consequences that can put Rand and his allies in harm’s way, the stakes are raised far more effectively than if the attack had simply been overwhelming numbers of Shadowspawn.
 Writing Lessons:
Time pressure not only increases tension, but can dispel any concerns that the plot isn’t moving.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Knife of Dreams - Chapters 13-16

In this section, Elayne has no control over the little things.
The price Elayne must pay for her efforts to take the throne is discomfort and annoyance. She and her warder are exhausted. The mercenaries won’t do as she commands. She continues to endure the inconveniences of pregnancy and the uninformed opinions of helpful followers who want the best for her baby. And in this case, by climbing the city walls in the rain to see her opponents flee, she is drenched. There has been a continual series of assaults on the city walls, the defense of which must be led by someone. Who else is there to do that? Birgitte laments, echoing Elayne’s feelings. A small start towards a solution comes in the form of an Andoran officer who has led ten thousand men to the Palace by Gateway.
A series of encounters in the palace prevents Elayne and her followers from changing into dry clothes. Former damane are beginning to assert their new identities. Sul’dam ready to admit they can channel will be sent back to Seanchan to undermine the foundations of their society. Vandene is still leading a search for the Black Ajah in the Palace. The Sea Folk pester her with questions about their missing apprentice. Every person she meets tells her to change out of her wet clothes. When the Sea Folk Windfinder repeats this advice for the umpteenth time, Elayne screams in frustration. The notion of someone in a position of command being told to do the same thing over and over by everyone proves to be quite funny.
Even the Palace itself seems to conspire against Elayne, as she gets lost. This is the first time a new sign of the Pattern breaking down is shown; physical locations rearrange themselves. The author is quite intent on making sure readers understand that nowhere in the world is safe from these random events or from the bubbles of evil like the dark clouds of lightning over the Inner City.
Aviendha has the ability to tell what the function of a ter’angreal is. There is no basis for this Talent. It is simply the fact that other rare skills are Talents that allows the author to throw a new Talent into the story and have the reader accept it at face value. By now there have been enough Talents and new weaves shown, some surprising even the Forsaken, that one more seems plausible. This Talent for knowing what ter’angreal do avoids author intrusion by way of explanation and the lengthy info-dumps that might have come with it. The Talent is made more believable by introducing it gently, showing Aviendha’s progression from vague understanding to sure knowledge. To diminish any remaining scorn from readers about introducing the Talent, Aviendha is summoned away from Elayne’s side before she can catalogue the contents of the ter’angreal cache in its entirety. An ability that can’t be used is more likely to be accepted than one that is revealed just as it is needed or useful.
Elayne receives a ter’angreal in the shape of a knife from Aviendha that may be able to make her undetectable to the Dark One and his minions. She loans Aviendha an angreal in exchange. This ter’angreal could be a real Knife of Dreams, but its absence in the rest of the story infers that the title is more of a metaphor, as in the quote from the beginning of the book, describing the margin between victory and defeat in each of the characters’ plotlines.
After looking over her meal, the Aiel Wise Ones pester her about getting a midwife. Elayne angrily agrees, thinking she’ll be just one more woman to make sure her meals are wretched.
Elayne tells some mercenary captains to be happy with what they are being paid and firmly threatens to throw them out of the city if they show signs of further grievances.
An expert pickpocket is brought before Elayne and set the task of following Captain Mellar, who has lost the trust of Elayne and Birgitte. Could Shiaine’s plan all along have been to plant an obvious flunky in Elayne’s midst so she could lure her out of the Palace? There are many ways such a plan could go wrong, but maybe no more than if the original assassins had tried to kidnap her and smuggle her out of the Palace undetected instead.
Writing Lessons:
Conceal contrived plot elements by making them the latest in a series of similar elements that were not contrived.