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2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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I'm hoping to be able to do more than one post per book, but I'd already started The Eye of the World when I finally got time to write this. I'll probably only do one post for the first book, then, which is a tragedy, since it has long been one of my favorites of the series. I also feel that it will be VERY important to writing Book Twelve. The Wheel turns; ages become new again and ideas return. I feel that the last book of the series should have numerous hearkenings back to this first book; that will give a sense of closure to this section of the Pattern and fit with the motif of the Wheel's turning.
That's just my gut instinct, and I'm not promising anything specific or even referencing material from the Twelfth Book. I'm only speaking of my general feelings as a writer, but Mr. Jordan's notes are far more important than any of my instincts.
As I read through this first book again, I was shocked by how well he had foreshadowed the later books in the series. This is the first time I'm reading WHEEL OF TIME all the way through as a professional novelist. I see things differently than I once did. I know how difficult it is to foreshadow across an entire series, and am frankly astounded by how well Mr. Jordan laid the groundwork for his future books. Min's prophesies are one great example, but equally potent is Mr. Jordan's use of mythology and story as a means of preparing the reader for events such as the Great Hunt, future interactions with the Aiel (and the People's relationship with them), and the coming of the Seanchan.
The ending was great. I mean not...you know. It's... I'm biased, because... I mean, what else am I going to say? But at the same time, I really did really enjoy the ending. It's fulfilling.
Did the ending make you reminisce more about the other books? Did you feel those other books had a little more power behind them after reading the ending?
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. He was a... He's a master of foreshadowing. He really is. It's not like certain other books where I don't want to name the authors, but you read book seven and you're like, "How did this happen? This isn't foreshadowed. You're just making this stuff up." I mean, I read the ending; he finished the ending before he passed away. And then I started the series and read it through again. And the things that were in there, foreshadowing that ending I read just blew me away. The detail, the level of detail in some of his foreshadowing. There are visions of scenes that people are having in the first few books which are scenes from the last book. Which is just amazing.
I think that definitely is something that he was master of.
I've already talked about it a little bit—one of the things is learning how to approach the middle books, specifically how to use the form to enhance the novel as a whole. One of the big things I've learned from Robert Jordan recently is foreshadowing.
I used to think I was good at it until I really sat down and studied what he was doing. Another thing I think I've learned a ton about from him is viewpoint; excellent use of viewpoint is one of the ways to keep all your characters distinct. In addition, juggling so many plots, etc., all of these things have forced me to grow as a writer and have helped me quite a bit with writing The Way of Kings.
People have been asking me to expand on that essay, though it was written (originally) to be part of a series I did on writing The Way of Kings. I never had the time, however, and that was the only one that was fleshed out, so my assistant suggested it might be a good fit for a Scalzi guest blog. However, I do worry that some of the ideas are unformed, as it was written to come after several other essays I was planning.
The short answer to your first comment is a yes, you are right. The realization I came to while working on The Way of Kings was that I was so accustomed to writing self-aware fantasy in the Mistborn books that I was searching to do the same with Kings. While anyone can enjoy Mistborn (I hope) it works best as a series for those who are familiar with (and expecting) tropes of epic fantasy to come their direction. That allows me to play with conventions and use reader expectations in a delightful way. But it also means that if you don't know those conventions, the story loses a little of its impact.
But this is an interesting discussion as to the larger form of a novel. Is it okay, in an epic fantasy, to hang a gun on the mantle, then not fire it until book ten of the series written fifteen years later? Will people wait that long? Will it even be meaningful? My general instincts as a writer so far have been to make sure those guns are there, but to obscure them—or at least downplay them. People say this is so that I can be more surprising. But it's partially so that those weapons are there when I need them.
It often seems to me that so much in a book is about effective foreshadowing. This deserves more attention than we give it credit. When readers have problems with characters being inconsistent, you could say this is a foreshadowing problem—the changes, or potential for change, within the character has not been presented in the right way. When you have a deus ex machina ending, you could argue that the problem was not in the ending, but the lack of proper framework at the start. Some of the biggest problems in books that are otherwise technically sound come from the lack of proper groundwork.
In the case you mentioned, however, I think I would have cut the creature. Because you said it was slowing things down. There's an old rule of thumb in screenwriting that I've heard expressed in several ways, and think it works well applied to fiction. Don't save your best storytelling for the sequel. If your best storytelling isn't up front, you won't get a sequel. Of course, once you're done, you do need to come up with something as good or better for the sequel, otherwise it might not be worth writing.
For The Way of Kings, I've had to walk a very careful balance. I do have ten books planned, but I had to make sure I was putting my best foot forward for the first book. I had to hang guns for the later novels, but not make this story about them—otherwise readers would be unsatisfied to only get part of a story.
Question for you, then, Brent. Have you ever planned out a story to be a certain length, then ended up deciding there just wasn't enough there to justify it? I had trouble learning this balance as a younger writer, and some of my readers know that I wrote two failed books (one called Mistborn, the other called The Final Empire) in which neither one had enough material to form a novel. It wasn't until I combined the ideas and story together and wrote Mistborn: The Final Empire that everything worked.
Are you an audiobooks listener? And if so, what sorts of books do you listen to?
Is it significant that Miles said that the "men of gold and red" would come and rule? Is there a connection between this and the "gold and red" cigar box that Miles keeps The Suit's comings and goings on?
This is all very significant.
It's been an interesting experience. So far as I know, I'm the only person in the world to have ever read through—beginning to end—the Wheel of Time, starting with Book One and continuing through until I reached the final scenes Robert Jordan wrote before he passed away. (Maria might have done it, but I don't think so—she pretty much has the books memorized by now, and seems to spot-read more than she reads straight through.)
This is an experience others will start having in the coming years, and perhaps they'll agree with me that it DOES change the series. First off, you gain a better appreciation for Robert Jordan's ability to foreshadow. Second, the slow parts don't seem so slow any longer, particularly as you see books seven through fourteen as being one large novel.
Brandon was talking about the differences between his writing and Jim’s, and choosing not to try and match styles because it couldn’t be done. He describe it as 'I do serviceable prose, where Jim wrote beautiful prose', and that there have been scenes he’s come to where he’s simply had to say 'I just have to do this my way, there’s nothing for it'.
He spoke then of Jim’s ability to layer subtle foreshadowing, which is something he’s never had to do outside of his story behind the story [he’s referring to the greater cosmos of his own works, the whole, Shards of Adonalsium and Hoid storylines that go on in the background]. He said it has been a real challenge to catch all the balls that Jordan left in the air, and that sometimes you can see that. ‘Some he caught smoothly, others he snatched from the air and slammed on the table. Some he even just said 'this happened'.
Finally he spoke of plotting, and how sometimes Jordan’s notes have said two contradictory things ‘maybe I’ll do this, or maybe I’ll do this other completely opposite thing’. Brandon said he then often had to choose between them, or sometimes choose a third thing entirely.
There are a couple of important foreshadowings in this chapter as well. One is the Seon sense of direction, which plays a very small-yet-important part in the climax of the book. The other is Sarene's insight into Ahan's character here at the party. If you've been following him, you realize that he is like she explains—a little too quick to act, not quite as politically shrewd as he'd like others to think. It's this scene, however, where I really wanted to lay the seeds of understanding in my readers, preparing them for his eventual betrayal.
This spy conversation is a remnant of things left over from a previous version. I'll talk more about it later. However, if it looked like I was foreshadowing something. . .well, I was. Unfortunately, the thing I was foreshadowing got cut. Again, I'll talk more about it later.
Yes, Dilaf manipulating the Dor is supposed to be a major 'What the. . . ?' moment in this book. I'm sorry—I didn't really give you much foreshadowing on this one. There really wasn't an opportunity; this isn't the kind of thing that Dilaf would use very often, for fear of betraying his secrets.
I think it works, however, since this scene is actually supposed to be foreshadowing itself. You'll find out more about Dilaf, obviously, in the next chapter.
Okay, so I'm a prude. I'll admit that. I like my characters to be married before they have sex. Besides, Sarene is right—she deserves a wedding. She's waited since chapter two to have her big, princess's wedding. She deserves something official. So, Raoden and Sarene spend this night apart. Besides assuaging my moral sense of decency, it works much better for the plot to have them apart.
Notice that Raoden awakes here, much in the same way that he did in chapter one. I kind of wanted this chapter to call back to that one. Both chapters open with a slight sense of peace, followed by awful discovery. Both end with Raoden being cast into hell.
So, call me melodramatic, but I think the Kiin surprise is one of my favorite in the novel. I've been foreshadowing this one from almost the beginning. And while it isn't a major part of the plot, it does suddenly explain a lot about Kiin's character.So, in case you couldn't infer it from the text, Kiin is Eventeo's (Sarene's father) older brother. He should have inherited the throne, but he wasted his youth on pleasure voyages and exploration, visiting foreign ports while his little brother stayed behind and helped rule the kingdom. (Their father was ailing, and often Eventeo would have to hold court for him and attend the other tasks of king.)
Some minor crisis arrived at the same time as their father died, and Eventeo—thinking his brother unworthy of the throne—eased into the role of king and was crowned before Kiin was the wiser. Eventeo dealt with the problems of state, and generally was a good king. When Kiin got back from his latest trip, however, he was furious to find that his crown had been stolen from him. He demanded it back; Eventeo refused, and had Kiin banished.
Kiin was popular with the military men, however, because of the heroic figure he cut. He was the adventuring sailor, while Eventeo was a scholarly bureaucrat. Over the next few years, Kiin managed to gather a naval force from pirates, deserters from Eventeo's armies, and mercenary forces. It was during this time he nearly died to the accident that crushed his throat. He took the name 'Dreok,' after Aon Reo, and sailed against Teod, trying to take the throne by force.
Eventeo won (barely) and Kiin escaped with his life (barely.) He went to Arelon to recoup and plan his next invasion. However, he fell in love with Daora, and slowly began to loose his hard edge. A decade or so later, we have Kiin the chef and home-maker.
I think it's a great backstory because of the questions it leaves. Eventeo did something that might have been right for his country, but something that was legally incorrect. All excuses aside, he usurped the throne. Kiin wouldn't have made a good king—he didn't have practice at administration, and he was a brusque, impetuous young man. However, the throne still should have been his.
Moments like this one—when the secrets, foreshadowing, and hints all click together—are one of my greatest joys in writing. We've got a few more good ones coming up in the book. However, I did go a little overboard in places. We'll talk about that next.
Somewhere in the italicized pre-chapter blurb of the prologue here is the clue one needs to figure out the over-arching mystery of the entire series. If you figure it out, good for you! If you don't, you'll have to wait until the last chapter of the final book to get it explained. . . .
The reference to northern mystics, in this chapter, is a foreshadowing of the powers of Keepers, such as Sazed. One of their abilities is to make themselves heavier and lighter. You won't see much of that until book two, however.
We mention the Lord Ruler's flawless memory here. This is actually the only time in the entire series that it's mentioned. However, this is an important clue for later. However, as I'm writing this, without being able to hide this text, I don't want to explain too much and inadvertently ruin something. However, if you've finished the book, you might be able to figure out why the Lord Ruler might have a reputation for being able to remember things.
Oh, and by the way. People often ask me how far ahead I plan my novels. Well, I've noted already in this annotation that some things—such as the Kelsier-Marsh-Mare relationship—come to me as I write. They appear when I need something to fill a particular hole in the story. Other things, however, are quite well planned. Want an example?
Kelsier's warning about not flaring metals too much is a foreshadowing for book three of the trilogy. You'll see what I mean in a couple of years. Also, there's something very important about Vin's brother that will be hard to pick out, but has been foreshadowed since the first book...
We get another mention of the Deepness here. I am a bit sad that I didn't get to spend very much time in this novel explaining the mythology behind the Lord Ruler's rise to power. I get to plenty of that in the next two books, fortunately. So, you've got a lot to look forward to.
Oh, and no. I don't know what Camon's throat-rope is tied to. You did have a foreshadowing of this kind of execution earlier in the book. (Though, to be honest, I added that in during a rewrite. I didn't come up with particular method of killing someone until I got to this point in the book. It seemed to me that the Inquisitors wouldn't just kill Camon. They'd do something more drastic.)
There are a couple of things that Robert Jordan did, like...there are many things he did better than I do, but there are two things that he did amazingly better than I do that have been really hard to try and approach. The first one is his mastery of description. I...prose is not....you know, I do serviceable prose. I don't do beautiful prose in most cases. I occasionally can turn a phrase, but he could do beautiful prose in every paragraph, and that's just not one of my strengths. Pat Rothfuss is another one who can do that, if you're read Name of the Wind; it's just beautiful, every line. Robert Jordan I felt was like that, just absolute beauty.
The other thing that he was really good at was subtle foreshadowing across lots and lots of books. And it's not something I'd ever had to do before, unless you count my hidden epic, and I had never had to try and approach that level of subtlety, and it was a real challenge to try and catch all of those balls that he'd tossed in the air and he'd been keeping juggling. In fact, I would say, one of the most challenging parts, if not the most challenging part of this, was to keep track of all those subplots and make sure that I was not dropping too many of those balls. And you'll be able to see when you read the books which of those subplots were really important to me as a fan and which ones I was not as interested in, because some of those, I catch less deftly than others, and some of them I just snatch from the air and slam into this awesome sequence, and some of them I say, "Yeah, that's there."
And that's the danger of having a fan that does this. There were so many of those things. Fortunately, he left some good notes on a lot of them, and in some of them I was able to just slide in his scenes, and in others I had to decide how to catch that, and what to best do with it. But there's just so much. So much undercurrent going on through the whole books, through all of them, and so many little details in the notes that it's easy to get overwhelmed by it. Fortunately I have Team Jordan, Maria and Alan, to catch a lot of those things that I miss, but even with them there are things he was doing, that we don't even know what he was planning to do, that we just have to leave as is, and let it lie rather than trying to wrap it up poorly, because we don't know how he was doing to do it.
More on Foreshadowing
Brent, I think you're absolutely right several places in there. (Though I feel like I should object on principle, so there's more conflict to our narrative. Good storytelling, and all that.)
Yes, there are things I can get away with now that I couldn't before—or ones I didn't try to get away with before. One big one is flashbacks. In my early years as a writer, published and unpublished, I stayed far away from flashbacks. Partially because I'd been told to do so, and partially because I'd seen them done poorly from a large number of other new writers. There are good reasons to stay away from them, and the advice is good. If you do flashbacks the wrong way, you'll break the flow of your narrative, risk undermining the tension of your story, confuse the reader, and basically make a big old mess.
Then Pat Rothfuss comes along and does a narrative-within-a-narrative where the entire book is basically flashback, and it works really well. I do know, however, that Pat had a lot of trouble selling that book of his to start. (Though admittedly, I'm not sure if that was the flashbacks or not. I seem to remember he added the frame story later in the process, and that the huge length of the book was what was scaring people away at first.)
I guess this brings us back to the first rule of writing: you can do whatever you want, if you do it well. Regardless, I decided—after some deliberation—that I'd use flashbacks as an extensive device in The Way of Kings and the rest of the series. None of these were in earlier drafts of the novel, however, because I knew that many readers (and editors) have a knee-jerk reaction against flashbacks because of how likely they are to screw things up. Now that I'm established, however, I feel that people will trust me when they see them.
(One thing I'm leaving out is that I think I'm a better writer now than I was before, and if I'd tried these flashbacks during earlier days, I'd likely have flubbed them.)
You talk about foreshadowing, and make some great points. One thing I think that I want to bring up is the idea of nesting reveals. I always try to have a nice spectrum of types of plot twists and revelations in the book. Some are easier to figure out, others more difficult. My experience has been that some readers want to try to guess what is going to happen, and others do not, but both appreciate a legitimate twist in the story. (One that was clearly foreshadowed, but not made obvious.) As so yes, there are going to be different types of readers, and some will see the foreshadowing that others will not. Some won't care at all if the story just twists unexpectedly (and without explanation) while others will consider it a put-downable offense.
In the spirit of tossing questions back and forth, then, let me ask you this: I just mentioned above that you can do anything in your writing if you do it well. Yet I've also talked a lot about the importance of foreshadowing. What do you think? Is it ever justified to have a total Deus Ex Machina? (For those who don't know, this refers to a major plot twist—usually involving the heroes/protagonists being rescued from danger unexpectedly—that is not explained or foreshadowed.) How might one do this well? Or is it an exception to my rule? Is my rule even really a good rule?
(Also, all, please forgive typos in this post. Just back from book tour after a long day traveling, and wanted to make sure I got this posted. But I'm kind of drooping here.)
What do you like most and least working on the novels?
Liked Perrin, and misses writing some of the PoVs. Had to constantly research things to make certain it was accurate, but won't miss fulfilling everything that was foreshadowed...lots of the foreshadowing will be mentioned in the encyclopedia in a year and a half.
Um...did you notice...(in a louder voice)...has everybody standing around me read the book?
Okay, spoiler! Just warning you.
Spoilers! Okay, did you notice any good foreshadowings for Egwene's death aside from Guinevere and the Year of the Four Amyrlins?
Um...(laughs, looks at Jenn)....those are very good. I mean, it's mostly, you know, the Guinevere myth and things like that, but there's...(to Jenn)...there's others, aren't there?
The Year of the Four Amyrlins is the only, like, really nice one that I've latched on to, you know? Because it's like, she's talking about, "It's almost like now..." and it's like, "Everybody came to grief in the end...." And it's like...yeah.
Was the "innocent" foreshadowing in early The Great Hunt—that you mentioned on Twitter when you were doing your reread—do you remember that?
Yeah, I do remember it, and people have asked me this, and I can't remember what it was! (crosstalk)
And you don't remember what it was. And then there's the one in The Dragon Reborn Chapter 27.
Yeah. Oh, I can probably remember that one.
Can I email you about those two?
Yeah, you can email me about that one, because I can find that one. Because I know which one that one was, but I can't remember the other one. I feel so bad! It's like...
Well, was it Leane and Perrin, with the crown and the High Chant?
Like, she said something about, "Next the blacksmith is gonna be wearing a crown and speaking in High Chant..."
Ohhhhh, yeah! I bet it's that one, because...yeah.....
It's kind of an innocent foreshadowing....
...No, you're right.
I think you kind of avoided my question, and then you later kind of...
Yeah, I think it's that one, because it's Perrin becoming king.
Which finally happened in this book.
In the Mistborn Trilogy was one of the coolest twists I've ever come across, and foreshadowing is kind of a tightrope walk. If you don't point out Chekhov's gun often enough, it won't have impact when it's fired, but if you belabor it, it'll be too obvious that it's important (almost like watching an old cartoon where you could see which objects were going to be animated before the fact because they stood out so much against the static background), and the payoff won't be as satisfying. How do you determine exactly how much to emphasize foreshadowing?
For me, I use beta readers to help with this. They give me a read on when I'm being too heavy handed, and when I'm not being heavy handed enough.
I like novels where a multitude of different threads, some hidden, twist together to a surprising conclusion. This is one area where I think I've, for the most part, done a good job in the past. Working on The Wheel of Time, however, I was able to see Robert Jordan's hand in new ways—and see how delicate he could be with some of his plotting and characterization. I worry that sometimes, I beat people over the head with a character's goals, theme, and motivations. It's because I feel a character with well-defined motivations is one of the hallmarks of a strongly written story.
However, I do think I need to learn to be more subtle—and The Wheel of Time taught me a great deal about this. Robert Jordan's light hand in dealing with the Thom/Moiraine relationship is a good example. Other characters, however, stand out as well—Pevara is an example. The subtle clues about how some of the Sitters who had been chosen were too young is another example of his very delicate hand. It's not an important thread, in the grand scheme of things. Little touches like this, however, are what makes a world live beyond the page. It is something I think I learned from this project—not necessarily how to accomplish this (we'll see if I can), but how to recognize and appreciate it.