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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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No, it's a product of growing up with strong women. All of the women I knew growing up were quite strong. All of the men I knew growing up were quite strong because any of the weak men got shredded and thrown aside. So it made for a certain viewpoint, a certain outlook in life.
Aside from that, the basic premise of the books, that 3000 years before the time of the books the world was essentially destroyed. The details don't really matter in the context of this interview, except for the fact that that destruction was caused by men, members of the male sex. A world that has grown out of that has to have a great deal of power for women, especially when the world has spent the last 3000 years being afraid of any man who has the ability to channel the One Power. You have to have a world where women have power. That's the way it's going to evolve. It can't go any other way. It's only a question of how much power they have.
Not really. What I do is have certain main points that I know I'm going to touch on. But I am flexible in the order that I touch them, and I'm flexible in how to get from one to the next. Think of it as traveling cross country, and you know that you're going to go to mountain A, mountain B, mountain C, and mountain D. But maybe you'll go to mountain D first and mountain A second, and then you'll slide back to C. And in traveling from one mountain to another, you can take a lot of different paths.
It becomes a little bit more complex because you have to imagine this whole piece of terrain is only one layer, and you have another piece of terrain stacked above it, and another stacked above it, and another stacked above it, and another stacked above that. And which path is taken on the first level influences which path can be taken on the second level, which influences which path can be taken and which can't on the third level, and so forth on down the line. But still, the main points are fixed. It's only the paths between that flex.
For Corin Ashaman, I've never changed anything because of a post. I did think of doing so when I first discovered the online community. I'd see someone who had figured out where I was going with something and think that I should change it just to keep the surprise factor. But there was always somebody else, often a lot of somebodies, who would post explaining why the first post just had to be wrong. So I went ahead and did what I had planned to do. Now, when somebody figures out what's what, I just think that's somebody who's on the ball and go on with my writing.
For Anonymous—not George, I think—when I started writing, I knew the beginning, the end, and the major events I wanted to happen along the way. Some of those major, to me, events were as simple as two people meet and the courses of their lives being diverted in different directions by that meeting, but others were as large as Rand being kidnapped and his rescue/escape at Dumai's Wells. How to get from one major event to another I have always left until I was actually writing. I would pick out the major events I wanted to put into a book, start figuring out how I could get from one to the next—without their order necessarily being fixed—and see what I could some up with. Usually, I had to leave a few of the major events out of the book I originally thought I could put them into, one reason what I had thought would be five or six books turned into twelve. And thank you for realizing that I don't think my readers are idiots. I've never thought I had to tell the reader every last detail for them to figure out what was going on.
I mentioned before that I see things differently as I read these books through for the sixth or seventh time. I'm a writer myself now, and I look at the books from that standpoint. I can still enjoy them as a reader, but I think I enjoy different things as well. For instance, I love the sheer weight of conflict Mr. Jordan gave to his characters. I often say that stories are about conflict—characters are made interesting by conflict and a setting comes alive via the pressure points where different aspects of culture grind against each other. If you're an aspiring author, take note of the excellent variety of conflicts Rand has shown during the first book and a half:
1) Servants of the Dark One chasing him.
2) The Dark One himself (kind of) appearing in Rand's dreams.
3) Rand's worry about his identity and whether or not Tam is really his father.
4) Rand's worry about his relationship and love for Egwene
5) His tension between Mat and Perrin in Book Two.
6) His worry about everyone calling him a lord.
7) His frustration that the White Tower is trying to control him.
8) The danger of channeling and his place as the Dragon Reborn
And that's just a few of them. There's a reason why this story has been so successful and has been able to carry so many books. Conflict. There's no shortage of it here. Anyway, I'm still enjoying Nynaeve's character, though I wish she'd get over her anger at Moiraine. In most things, Nynaeve is clever, but she's got a hole in her vision when it comes to Moiraine.
I had a bit of a challenge in this book because—and you may want to put a spoiler warning on this interview—at the end of the first Mistborn trilogy, one of the characters became the god of this world. He became a god figure, an almost omnipotent figure. I had planned this from the beginning, but it also offers a challenge, because in this world you have a real deity that is interacting, that is a character—not to say that in our world God doesn't interact with us, because as you know I am a faithful, religious person. However, I think there is a different interaction going here where the reader has spent time with this person as a character, and now he is a deity figure. So how to deal with this is one of the big challenges in worldbuilding this next several hundred years.
I wanted Sazed to be involved—I didn't want to just have him vanish and not be part of things. I wanted to acknowledge what happened with him and make it part of the mythology of the story. But at the same time, having one of your characters turn into God runs you right into the trouble of literal deus ex machina, once one of your characters has all of this power. So walking that line was both exciting and also very challenging.
I like to deal with religion in my books. I like to look at all aspects of it, and in this book I wanted to look at what it would be like if someone like Sazed had been put in this position and people started worshiping him—what do you do with that?
How "bad" are your first drafts? Many authors say their first draft of a novel is always terrible.
They're pretty bad. In a first draft, I focus on character arcs and laying down dialogue.
So the descriptions are sparse, and often they're overly wordy to a huge fault. Drafts streamline.
I know you plan your plot beforehand, but do you ever find yourself changing parts of your plot in rewrites?
Frequently. Even a heavy outliner can't be afraid to change the story at any point in the process.
Three things make a fantasy epic work for me. 1) A complex plot with plenty of twists and turns that comes to an explosive climax. 2) An imaginative magic system and setting that feels both real and wondrous at the same time. 3) Deeply personal characters dealing with issues that transcend genre. (This is the most important one.)
I approach my writing from that above philosophy. I am probably best known for my magic and my settings, where I try very hard to give the reader a unique and different experience, one they haven't gotten from other fantasy books. I am also known for my endings, where I try very hard for well-foreshadowed—yet still surprising—twists and climaxes.
However, magic is only as interesting as the characters who use it. A plot is only gripping for me if I care about the characters. Danger and action sequences mean nothing if we don't CARE about the people who might be hurt or killed.
Robert Jordan, through his writing, taught me that. Characters first, everything else second.
Actually, no. This one was finished off back before I knew anything of A Memory of Light or before I'd read Name of the Wind. Hopefully, the smoothing is a result of me trying to work out kinks in my storytelling ability. I'm learning to distance out my climax chapters, for instance. (I think I've I'd have written this book years ago, I'd have tried to overlay Spook's climactic sequence with the ending ones, for instance, which would have been a mistake.)
Also, of the three books, I worked the hardest on this one. Choosing that ending—even though I'd planned it for some time—was very difficult. I knew that it would anger some readers. I also knew that it was the right ending for the series.
I'm glad it worked for you.
I have to admit, I am one of those angered. I will be so glad when this cliché of killing off the heroes will finally pass. I escape to fantasy for the happy ending. If I wanted to be depressed I'd grab a 3-dollar bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 and drink it all and contemplate my mundane life. I can't spend much time reflecting on the book because of the mental picture of Vin and Elend dead in a field keeps popping up instead. They didn't even get a chance to reproduce.
Now outside of the horrible ending (which wasn't surprising in the least because it is so common to kill the heroes) I enjoyed them. I absolutely cannot wait to read your books written 10 years from now. You can definitely pick up the improvement in transitions and character development in each book I've read from you. I'm quite often reminded of David Eddings although I'm sure plenty would disagree. And while Eddings isn't one of my favorite writers to be at his level (to me) so early in your career leads me to believe great things will be coming.
I would like to ask you one thing to consider when writing endings. Fantasy is an escape, please don't ruin it with such depressing endings. When you have had the opportunity to look upon your dead wife in her coffin, reading about others dying isn't fun at all. It is absolutely terrible. Happily ever after.
I understand your anger. I wrote the ending that felt most appropriate to me for this book and series. I didn't find it depressing at all, personally. But people have reacted this way about every ending I've written.
I won't always do it, I promise. But I have to trust my instincts and write the stories the way they feel right to me. I didn't 'kill off' Vin and Elend in my mind. I simply let them take risks and make the sacrifices they needed to. It wasn't done to avoid cliché or to be part of a cliché, or to be shocking or surprising, or to be interesting or poetic—it was done because that was the story as I saw it.
I will keep this in mind, though. I know it's not what a lot of people want to read. Know that I didn't do it to try to shock you or prove anything. And because of that, if a more traditionally happy ending is something that a story requires, I'll do that—even if it means the people on the other side of the fence from you will point fingers at me for being clichéd in that regard as well.
If it helps, realize that one of the reasons I added the lines in Sazed's note was to let the characters live on for those who wanted them to live on. I ALMOST didn't have Spook even discover the bodies, leaving it more ambiguous.
Moshe and I agreed on just about every edit or change made to ELANTRIS. There is one small thing, however, that we kind of went the rounds about. The word Kolo.
Galladon's 'Kolo's are, in my mind, an integral part of his personality. I characterize him a great deal through his dialogue—he doesn't really get viewpoints of his own, so everything I do for him at least until the ending
I either have to do through Raoden's thoughts or through Galladon's own words. When I was coming up with Galladon's character, I realized I would need a set of linguistic features that would reinforce his culture's relaxed nature. So, I went with smooth-sounds, and gave their dialect a very 'chatty' feel. The Dula habit of calling everyone 'friend' came from this—as did their habit of softening everything they say with a question tag. Linguistically, questions are less antagonistic than statements, and I figured a culture like the Dula one would be all about not antagonizing people.
A number of languages in our own world make frequent use of similar tags. Korean, the foreign language I'm most familiar with, has a language construction like this. Closer to home, people often make fun of the Canadian propensity for adding a similar tag to their own statements. I hear that Spanish often uses these tags. In many of these languages, a large percentage of statements made will actually end in a softening interrogative tag.
Anyway, enough linguistics. I'm probably using the standard 'literary' posture of falling back on facts and explanations to make myself sound more authoritative. Either way, I liked having Galladon say 'Kolo' a lot. In the original draft, the tags were added onto the ends of sentences, much like we might ask 'eh?' or 'understand?' in English. "It's hot today, kolo?"
Moshe, however, found the excessive use of Kolo confusing—especially in connection with Sule. He thought that people might get the two words confused, since they're used similarly in the sentences. Simply put, he found the kolos distracting, and started to cut them right and left. I, in turn, fought to keep in as many as I could. It actually grew rather amusing—in each successive draft, he'd try to cut more and more, and I'd try to keep ahold of as many as possible. (I was half tempted to throw a 'kolo' into the draft of MISTBORN, just to amuse him.)
Regardless, we ended up moving kolo to its own sentence to try and make it more understandable. "It's hot today. Kolo?" We also ended up cutting between a third and a half of the uses of the word, and losing each one was a great pain for me. (Well, not really. But I'm paid to be melodramatic.) So, if you feel like it, you can add them back in your mind as your read Galladon's lines.
Other than that massive tangent, I don't know that I have much to say about this chapter. I thought that it was necessary to set Raoden up with a firm set of goals to accomplish—hence the three distinct gangs he has to overcome. Since Sarene and Hrathen's storylines were going to be a little more ambiguous plot-wise, I wanted a conflict for Raoden that could show distinct and consistent progress.
I knew from the beginning that I wanted him to set up a new society for Elantris, and the gangs represented a way for him to approach this goal in an incremental manner.
The cliffhanger at the end of this chapter, by the way, is one of my favorites. The chapter-triad system gave me some amazing opportunities for cliffhangers—as we'll see later.
This is easily one of my favorite chapters in the book. This chapter really shows off the core of Raoden's character—lets him be the hero that he is. I've never written another character like Raoden. In a way, he's not as rounded as some other characters (characters like Hrathen.) He doesn't have the flaws or internal battles of some of the more complex characters I've designed.
That doesn't, however, make him any worse a character in this particular book. Raoden is something of a superman—he does the right thing at almost every turn, and his internal struggles only serve to make him more noble. You can't often get away with this in fiction. However, I do think that there are really people like him in the world—I've known a few of them. By including him in a book with Hrathen and Sarene, each of whom have their foibles and internal problems, I think I avoid making the characters of the book feel too shallow.
And, there is a certain. . .beauty to a character who is simply noble. Often times, we as authors think that making a character 'rounded' or 'realistic' means corrupting them somehow. I think Raoden defies this concept. He probably wouldn't be a very compelling character outside of an extreme situation like Elantris. However, confronted by the almost overwhelming problems and tasks associated with the city, his strength only serves to make him feel more realistic to me. A weaker character would have broken beneath Elantris. Raoden can struggle on.
In this chapter, I do begin to introduce what will become Raoden's main character struggle—that of his burden of leadership. He's taking a lot upon himself, and I think a man of his sincerity couldn't help but pause and wonder if he's worth all of the loyalty he is receiving.
Also, in this chapter we begin to get a few pay-offs from the building I've done in previous chapters. The foreshadowing with the well, the foreshadowing with Karata's escapes into the city, and the foreshadowing with the child Elantrians all come to head in this chapter. At the same time, I give foreshadowing for Iadon's paranoia, and foreshadowing regarding the passage out of his palace.
These are the sorts of little plotting events that make writing exciting for me. When they pay off—when the reader has that moment of 'oh, I get it'—is when I'm the happiest as a novelist.
My favorite moment in this chapter? Probably a tie. One moment is when Raoden draws the Aon to stop the guard. A truly clever character doesn't need a fireball or a blast of power to defeat his enemies—he simply needs a wit quick enough to manipulate the resources he has. The other moment is when Raoden arrives back at the chapel and gives the sword to Seolin. This is the story's first big victory moment, and after this many chapters dealing with the pains and dirtiness of Elantris, I think Raoden and co. deserved it.
One of the major post-sale revisions I did to ELANTRIS came at the suggestion of my agent, Joshua Bilmes. He noted that I had several chapters where Hrathen just walked about, thinking to himself. He worried that these sections made the middle of the book drag a bit, and also feared that they would weaken Hrathen's character. So, instead, he suggested that I add Telrii to the book some more, and therefore give Hrathen opportunities to be clever in the way he achieved his goals.
This is the first chapter that shows any major revision in this direction. In the original, Hrathen simply walked along, thinking to himself. I added Telrii to the second half of the chapter, putting some of Hrathen's internal musings into their discussion. I cut some of the more repetitive sections, and then left the others interspersed between lines of dialogue.
The result is, I think, a very strong new section.
So, here we get the payoff for several hundred pages worth of hinting at Iadon's insecurity and paranoia. Plotting is all about payoffs, in my estimation. You have to earn your plot. You do that by putting the pieces together in the right places, so when you finally get to a climax (even a smaller one) your readers accept what is happening.
The build-up doesn't have to always be subtle—and it doesn't even have to be done through traditional foreshadowing. For instance, if you want a character to be able to defeat a small group of bandits, you have to have earned the payoff that says that he/she is competent with a weapon. It's like an chemical equation—you balance all of your pieces on the one side, and they should equal what comes out on the other end.
In order for Sarene's speech in this chapter to work, I needed to do several things. I needed to build up that she'd be both capable enough to make it and brash enough to go through with it. I also needed to build up that Iadon would crack beneath this kind of external pressure, which I hope I did.
Yes, all this time Hrathen was under the effects of the potion. It was a little bit contrived not to tell the reader that Hrathen had asked for the effects to be temporary, but I figured the drama was worth it. You should have been able to figure it out anyway—it was the only logical reason Hrathen would drink the potion.
Of all the politickings, maneuverings, and plannings in this book, I think this is the best one. In a single brilliant gamble, Hrathen managed to make himself into a saint who is seen to have power over Elantris. He out-witted Sarene and Dilaf at the same time, gaining back everything he'd lost during his arguments and self-questioning. This isn't really a 'twist,' in my mind—it's something better. It's something that makes logical sense, something that carries the plot forward without having to trick the reader, yet still earning wonder and appreciation.
In my mind, this sort of plot twist is superior to gimmick surprises. I don't often pull it off, but there's something. . .majestic about a plotting device that is obvious, rational, yet still surprising.
Okay, first of all I’d like to say I love reading the annotations, and kind of finding out what was going on in your mind, kind of behind the scenes, like the Director’s Commentary
Oh, thank you
So thank you for doing those. And my question is: I’ve noticed in a lot of the books—Mistborn, Warbreaker, even Elantris—that the characters are working so hard towards a goal, and then once they did it or when they get close, all the sudden they realize that it’s doing the complete opposite of what they were expecting, or just was kind of a distraction for them or whatever, and so my question is:
Is that just a good way to kind of throw in a plot twist that’s unexpected, or is that a reflection of kind of how you see our lives and what we’re doing, or something else?
I would say it’s both of those things, certainly. I was going to say as you were saying that “that’s just how life is,” but, plot wise, plot twists are tough, because—okay, how should I say it—bad plot twists are easy, right, you can just do anything, you can be like “alright, and then ninja’s attack.” (Aside: this is a regency romance, I don’t know where those ninjas came from…(That’s actually a story, if you’ve read that)).
Bad plot twists are easy. Good plot twists, I use a phrase that they use in Hollywood, which is “surprising, yet inevitable.” This is an age-old term in Hollywood where you want it, when it happens everyone to be surprised, and yet, as it happens, then they say “oooh, I should have seen that coming.” Those are the best plot twists. You can’t always pull those off—they’re really hard—but when you can they’re great, and that’s what I’m shooting for. I don’t necessarily twist my plot just to twist my plot; I try to find a story that is engaging and interesting and then the further we go along in it, the more you learn about the characters and the world and what’s actually going on and hopefully that reveals a hidden depth.
It’s like life. Everyone that you meet, you’re going to make a snap judgment on them. The longer you know them, the more depth you will see to this person. I want you to have that feeling about a book. You’ll make a snap judgment, “okay, this is an action-adventure story.” You’ll read it more and hopefully you’ll see those levels, of world-building, the hidden depth of the characters, the things you can’t get across in one page; that’s why I like writing big epic fantasies because it gives me a lot of time to explore all that depth. And I do the same thing with the plot. Everything is about more than one thing, and I think that that just makes for interesting stories that I like to read.
What was the hardest to write?
The most challenging part of that book was to keep a strong enough focus on the characters while writing a faster, shorter plot. That’s a balance I haven’t practiced nearly as much as I have with the epic fantasies, where I have basically as much time as I want with any given character. So that was a challenge.
On the origins of the Mistborn series and his writing process:
"I'm always searching for ideas that I can connect into a larger story. I feel that a book is more than just one idea. A good book is a collection of ideas, a good idea for each character, something that forms the core of their conflict. Some ideas come from the setting, or something that's going to drive the economy, something that's going to, for me, drive the magic [system]."
Brandon continued to explain his process by demonstrating how the Mistborn series came together. "I was watching the Harry Potter movies and I was thinking about The Lord of the Rings and while I like the idea of the hero's journey, I began thinking about how the dark lord in these stories gets the raw end of the deal. So I wanted to write a book where the dark lord wins. Although that's kind of a downer."
Brandon explained that he shelved that idea until he could figure out how to make a story where the villain wins not be so bleak. "It took me a little while to figure out what to with that idea. Then I was watching one of my favorite movies, Sneakers, and started thinking about how I hadn't seen an amazing heist story in fantasy ever. Little did I know Scott Lynch was going to release a great one only a year later!"
The two ideas combined, Brandon continued, "like atoms that combine to create a molecule that's something different." The magic system in Mistborn was the same way, according to the author. Allomancy and Feruchemy were magic that had been designed for different worlds but worked really well together with the story of Mistborn.
So Brandon set to work, filling out the gaps in the story by brainstorming along the way.
One audience member noted that Brandon has a pattern of having his characters working towards a goal only to have that goal turn out to be the incorrect one, which prompted the author to discuss how he thinks of plot twists. "To figure out a good plot twist you want the reader or viewer to be surprised that it happened and then, as it's happening, realize they should have seen it coming. You can't always pull that off but when you can they're really great and that's what I'm shooting for."
"I don't twist my plot just to twist it. My hope is that the more that is revealed, the more that you experience a hidden depth to the characters and their journeys. It's like life. Everyone you meet you make a snap judgment but then the more you get to know them the more depth they reveal. I want readers to experience that with my books. Part of why I like writing epic fantasies is because the story gives you the room to develop and explore that depth. Everything is about more than one thing."
Harriet wins. Harriet always wins. Usually what happens is that there'll be...if Harriet says something, we just do it. The only time when there's questioning is when I disagree with Maria or Alan, and we both kind of make our arguments. We do these in-line edits with track changes in Microsoft Word; we'll have whole conversations there, where I'll say "This is why I think this character would do what they're doing," and Maria would come in and say, "This is why I think you're wrong and they wouldn't do this," and we'll have big discussions, and Harriet'll make the call, and then I'll do it as Harriet says, 'cause Harriet knows the characters better than anyone.
And so there are times when I've been overruled—it happens on every book—and there are times where Harriet said, "No, I think Brandon's right," and Maria and Alan—her superfans—disagree, but the way that fandom works, we all disagree on things. You'll find this, and I disagree with some people on how character interpretations will happen, and things like that. Some people, for instance, don't think my Talmanes is true to Jim's Talmanes. Things like that. That's the sort of thing we're arguing over. It's very rarely over main characters, but it's like, "Is Talmanes acting like Talmanes would?" And I read the character one way, and some people read the character another way, and I just have to go with my interpretation, and if Harriet says, "No, this isn't right," I revise it. If Harriet says, "No, this feels right to me," then we just go with it.
Was there ever a case where you and Maria and Alan had a difference of opinion and Harriet had a completely different take?
That all four of us had a different take? Yeah, that's happened; that's very rare but it has happened. We're trying to piece together something that's...there's always this consideration of "What would Jim do?" But there's also a consideration of Brandon as author, not knowing what Jim would do, what does Brandon think needs to happen narratively? And there are some things where I, reading the books as an author, say "This is where he was going." "No, he didn't say it in the notes." "No, it's nowhere in there; he doesn't make mention of it." "This is where he was going; my understanding of story structure, plotting and things, and I can say, you know, as sure as I can say anything, that this is what he was going to do." And, you know, sometimes Maria and Alan, they look at the notes and say, "No, that's not at all what he was going to do; look what the notes say." And I say, "No, that's not what they're saying," and we have arguments about that too.
There's lots of discussing going on. We're all very passionate about the Wheel of Time. It'd be like getting Jenn and Jason from Dragonmount and Matt from Theoryland together and hashing out what they think about where Demandred is, or something like that. There are gonna be lots of passionate discussions. I think, at the end of the day, that makes the book better, and the fact that we have kind of...Harriet tends to just...if she has a feeling, she lets us argue about it, and then she says, like...you know, 'cause she's the one that would sit at dinner and discuss the characters with Jim. None of us did that, and she did that for twenty years, so...yeah.
I had two questions for him. The first was if we were going to be moving to more of a "short timespan, lotsa action" format, since the past couple of books seemed to have fit this format (disclaimer: it's been a couple of years since I've read A Crown of Swords, much less Lord of Chaos, so my sense of book-time may be off slightly), at which point he replied that he didn't deliberately plan the book to be in that format, but if he continued the book would be another 600 pages in length.
Joshua, by the way, also pushed for an action scene here—where Kelsier grabs the Inquisitor's attention and runs. I do take most of Joshua's suggestions. In fact, his desire to have an action scene earlier in this book is the biggest bit of advice by him I can think of that I haven't taken. I just really felt that I needed more time to ease into Allomancy before I could do justice to an action scene. Actually, I think a fast scene like that would actually slow the book down, since I'd have to spend so much time explaining. Better to let the next few scenes play out, where we get some good explanations in dialogue.
In this chapter we also have the first mention of the Eleventh Metal. I kind of wish that I'd found another place for this, since the chapter is already filled with a long discussion scene. Yet, it proved to be the best place for it in the drafting process.
If you think that what Kelsier is saying here is a little fishy, then you're not alone. Most of the crew doesn't believe him either. I'll certainly admit that there is more going on here—far more—than anyone suspects.
Hopefully, you noticed Clubs's little 'hooks through our throats' line here. That one pops up again, certainly, and it has a nice little relation to the next time we see Camon's lair.
Okay, so I lied. I thought the fight scene came in chapter six, but it came in five. I'm better at pacing than I thought!The truth is, this is one of my least favorite fights in the book. I put it in primarily because it gave a good, quick showing of the basic concepts in Allomancy. You got to see Kelsier enhance his strength with pewter, his senses with tin (including using it to help him focus), and then use both steel and iron in a variety of different Pushes and Pulls. The thing is, it wasn't that exciting because it wasn't really a fair fight. As soon as Kelsier got ahold of that ingot, those soldiers were toast. I did spice up the fight a bit by giving them shields—something that was missing from the original draft of the fight. Even still, this seems like a kind of brutal combat, not the more poetic and flowing battles I generally envision for Allomancy. (This is, by the way, the only fight I ported over from MISTBORN PRIME. There was a similar scene in that book where the protagonist took down a group of men with only an ingot. Again, I decided to grab it because of how well it introduced the concepts of Allomancy. It was quick and dirty.)
This chapter is where, in my opinion, the book starts to get good. These kinds of chapters are part of what I write for—good, solid character interaction with some intellectual problem-solving going on. I really like the way that the crew works through their challenges here. The items presented really do sound quite daunting as they're listed; yet, by the end, I hope that the reader feels as the crew does—that this plan could actually work, if they pull it off right.
I had to rewrite this scene several times, bringing the focus away from simply stealing the atium. By the last draft, I had something I was very pleased with. It outlines things simply enough, yet doesn't make everything sound TOO easy. At least, that is my hope.
All of that considered, I know the beginning is kind of slow. That's how my books are—while I can often start with a bang in the first few chapters, I then need to go into building mode so that I can earn my climaxes in the later third. We need to have some scenes explaining Allomancy in detail, for instance, before we can have scenes like happen in the next chapter.
Still, I like a lot about the introduction to this book. Vin's character comes off very strongly, and the plot is established quickly—something I sometimes have trouble doing.
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.
Do you still have the "Brandon Avalanches" in the WoT books? I've noticed them scale down considerably in your own books, but I was just wondering if you plotted/paced things differently with the WoT books.
I tried to avoid some of my 'signature' stylistic flourishes, and that was one of them. Overall, I'd say I did a blending. Some things from my style, some more like RJ, trying to do what felt best for the book and for the setting.
The Wheel turns, and the Wheel of Time series has come to an end with your completed final draft of A Memory of Light, due out from Tor Books on January 8, 2013. It must have been exciting yet daunting to be chosen to finish such an acclaimed series. How has the experience affected you as an author and as a fan?
It's been a very interesting experience, both as a writer and as a fan. Picking up something that you've loved for many, many years as a fan and then becoming the writer on it really changes your perspective on the entire process. Suddenly I had to dig into it in a way I didn't as a fan. I'm not one of those fans who always have all their favorite lines memorized or anything like that. I never had to keep track of all the subplots and minor characters, and suddenly I not only have to keep track of them, I have to know them intrinsically, which is quite the challenge.
It's been five years that I've been working on these books, and it has forced me to do a lot of heavy lifting as a writer. Things that I wasn't as good at doing, I needed to become better at doing. It's kind of like suddenly being thrown into a swimming pool and told, "All right, now start swimming. You know how to tread water, but now we need you to swim ten miles." It's forced me to grow a lot as a writer. It's really given me a deeper respect for Robert Jordan and his works, seeing the process and how much goes on in creating these novels.
Speaking of adaptations, of course, you've taken over Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series and sped up the pace of the story considerably, so as a long-time reader there, thank you for that!
Credit needs to be given to Robert Jordan; he started to speed up in Book 11 [Knife of Dreams]. In fact, I've read interviews where he admits that the focus was a little bit wrong in Book 10 [Crossroads of Twilight], which is the one that the fans complain about being the most slow, and he himself changed that for Book 11 and picked up the pacing. And I like spectacular endings. When I build my books, I start from the end and work forward with my outline. I write from beginning to end, but I outline end to beginning, because I always want to know that I have a powerful, explosive ending that I'm working toward. Endings are my deal: if a book or a film doesn't have a great ending, I find it wanting. It's like the last bite, the last morsel on the plate, so I get very annoyed with the standard Hollywood third act, because they seem to play it most safe in Act Three, and that's where I most want to be surprised and awed. That's where it's got to be spectacular. You've got to give the reader something they're not expecting, something they want but don't know it, in that last section.
Does that go for something like your Mistborn Trilogy; did you start with the end of the trilogy or go book-by-book?
I plotted all three backwards and then wrote them all forwards. I had a great advantage writing those books, because I sold my first book, Elantris, in 2003. The nature of how books are 'slotted' into release dates is that a new author doesn't get the best slot. They want to give each author a good launch, but they can't give them in the really prime slots. So we had a two-and-a-half year wait, and usually you have a year between books. That meant I had three-and-a-half years before Mistborn would be out, so I pitched the entire trilogy together and wrote all three before the first one came out.
Is that something you have in common with Robert Jordan, because re-reading the prologue to the first book you think, 'This guy knows how it's going to end'.
He actually wrote the ending that I worked towards. The last pages were written by him before he passed away. He always spoke of knowing the ending, so I think we do share that. He was a bit more of an explorer in his writing than I am. He knew where he was going, but getting there he wove around a lot. You can see that in the notes I've been given; he jumps from scene to scene. So there's a difference there, but he really loved endings. And that ending is really great; I think fans are going to love it.
After Knife of Dreams, there's going to be one more main-sequence Wheel of Time novel, working title A Memory of Light. It may be a 2,000-page hardcover that you'll need a luggage cart and a back brace to get out of the store. (I think I could get Tor to issue them with a shoulder strap embossed with the Tor logo, since I've already forced them to expand the edges of paperback technology to nearly a thousand pages!) Well, it probably won't be that long, but if I'm going to make it a coherent novel it's all got to be in one volume. The major storylines will all be tied up, along with some of the secondary, and even some of the tertiary, but others will be left hanging. I'm doing that deliberately, because I believe it will give the feel of a world that's still out there alive and kicking, with things still going on. I've always hated reaching the end of a trilogy and finding all of the characters', all the country's, all the world's, problems are solved. It's this neat resolution of everything, and that never happens in real life.
I originally thought I was signing up for a 10 or 15K run, and somewhere along the line I found out it was a marathon. So yes, I would like to cross the finish line on this thing and get on to what's next. I'm not that old, and I've got a lot of writing left. There are two more short prequel novels to be done at some point, but aside from that, I have said I would never write again in this universe unless I get a really great idea—which would have to be an idea that would support two or three of what I call "outrigger" novels, not part of the main storyline. Well, I may have had one! But I'll have to set it aside for a year or two because I've already signed contracts for an unrelated trilogy called Infinity of Heaven, which I'm very excited about. I've been poking that idea around in my head for 10 or 12 years.
I've also thought about doing a book set during the Vietnam War, but Jim Rigney will probably never write the Vietnam book. If I did, it would be history now, and I decided a long time ago that Rigney was going to be or contemporary fiction, and my name for historical novels is Reagan O'Neill. Maybe Jim Rigney will never become a writer!
There have been some computer games and comics, and a movie based on The Eye of the World is still in the works (with contracts that allow me a lot of involvement), but nobody else is ever going to write Wheel of Time books. For after I die, I've purchased an insurance policy with a couple of guys who have a kneecap concession in the southeastern United States, and they have rights to expand this concession should it be desired. For a very small fee, they have guaranteed that they will crack the kneecaps of anybody who writes in my universe, and nail them to the floor!
The Gathering Storm: Writing Process
I attacked the project in earnest in the summer and fall of 2008. I realized early on that there was too much to keep in mind for me to write in a strict chronological fashion, as I had normally done in the past. For this project, I needed to take groups of characters, dump all of the information about them into my mind (like loading a program into RAM), and write for weeks on just that group. This way, I could keep track of the voices of the many characters and maintain the numerous subplots.
The hardest part of this project, I feel, was keeping track of the subplots and the voices of the side characters. This is not surprising; though I'd read the Wheel of Time many times, I was not a superfan. I loved the books, but I was not among the people who made websites, wikis, and the like for the books. I read the books to study the writing and enjoy the story; I did not spend too much time keeping track of which minor Aes Sedai was which.
I could no longer be lax in this area; I had to know every one of them. Part of Robert Jordan's genius was in the individual personalities of all of these side characters. So I began dividing the last book (which was at that time still one novel in my mind) into sections. There were five of them. Four of these—one for Rand, one for Egwene, one for Mat, and one for Perrin—would push these four main plots toward the ending. They would happen roughly simultaneously. The other plotlines leading up to the Last Battle, and then the battle itself, were the fifth section.
When Harriet asked me about splitting the book, she wondered if there was a natural breaking point. I told her breaking it once wouldn't work—but breaking it twice might. I didn't feel A Memory of Light would work as two volumes. Looking at my outline and what I needed to accomplish, two books would either mean one very long book and one normal-sized one, or two books split equally. Both would have been awkward. The former because doing a double-sized Wheel of Time book would have the same problems as just printing the original 2000-page novel. 1400 pages isn't much better in publishing terms. 1000, like some of the Wheel of Time books, already pushes against those limits.
The second option—two 1000-page books—was even more of a problem. If we cut it in the middle like that, we'd get the first half of all four plot sequences I mentioned above—but none of their climaxes. This (writing one book as a setup book, with the payoffs mostly happening in another book) was an experiment that Robert Jordan had already attempted, and he had spoken of the problems it created. He was a better writer than I am, and if he couldn't accomplish such a split, I didn't want to attempt it.
Instead, I felt that splitting the book as three books would allow us to have complete arcs in each one. Two, actually, for each of The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight—followed by the climactic book, A Memory of Light. So I set out to divide the plots and decide what would go where.
I knew fans would be skeptical of me taking over the project in the first place, and I knew they'd be more skeptical when we announced a three-book split. That meant I wanted my most dynamic plots in the first book. (I knew the ending would carry its own book, and was never worried about that one being dynamic enough.) In addition, I wanted to split the four sequences—Rand/Egwene/Mat/Perrin—so that we had at least one in each book that Robert Jordan had done a lot of work on. Rand and Perrin had much less material finished for them than Mat and Egwene. So it was either Rand/Egwene or Perrin/Mat for the first book.
It soon became clear that I needed to lead with Rand/Egwene. They mirrored each other in very interesting ways, with Rand's narrative descent and Egwene's narrative ascent. When Rand was being contemplative, Egwene's plot had action—and vice versa. While my personal favorite of the four is Perrin's arc, I felt his involved a lot of buildup and some less straightforward plotting as we pushed toward his climactic moments. I also decided that the plots would work with shaving off some of what Rand/Egwene were doing to save it for the second book, but I couldn't do the same as easily for Perrin/Mat.
A book was forming in my head. Rand's absolute power driving him toward destruction and Egwene's specific lack of power elevating her toward rebuilding the White Tower. We needed a Mat section—I didn’t want him absent for the book—so Hinderstap was my creation, devised after Harriet asked me to be "more disturbing and horrifying" in regards to the bubbles of evil that were coming into the book.
The Gathering Storm: What did I learn?
The obvious thing I learned has to do with juggling so many side plots. I'd attempted this level of complexity one time before in my life, the first draft of The Way of Kings. (Written in 2002–2003, this was very different from the version I published in 2010, which was rebuilt from the ground up and written from page one a second time.) The book had major problems, and I felt at the time they came from inexpert juggling of its multitude of viewpoints. I've since advised new writers that this is a potential trap—adding complexity by way of many viewpoints, when the book may not need it. Many great epics we love in the genre (The Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire included) start with a small group of characters, many in the same location, before splitting into much larger experiences with expansive numbers of viewpoints.
I couldn't afford to be bad at this any longer. Fortunately, finishing the Mistborn trilogy had taught me a lot about juggling viewpoints. Approaching The Wheel of Time, I was better able to divide viewpoints, arrange them in a novel, and keep them in narrative rhythm with one another—so they complemented one another, rather than distracting or confusing the reader.
The other primary thing I feel I gained working on this book is a better understanding of my outlining process. Robert Jordan, as I said in previous installments, seems to have been more of a discovery writer than an outline writer—I'm the opposite. Working with The Gathering Storm forced me to take all of these notes and fragments of scenes and build a cohesive story from them. It worked surprisingly well. Somehow, my own process melded perfectly with the challenge of building a book from all of these parts. (That's not to say that the book itself was perfect—just that my process adapted very naturally to the challenge of outlining these novels.)
There are a lot of little things. Harriet's careful line edits taught me to be more specific in my word choice. The invaluable contributions of Alan and Maria taught me the importance of having assistants to help with projects this large, and showed me how to make the best use of that help. (It was something I started out bad at doing—my first few requests of Alan and Maria were to collect things I never ended up needing, for example.) I gained a new awe for the passion of Wheel of Time fandom, and feel I grew to understand them—particularly the very enthusiastic fans—a little better. This, in turn, has informed my interactions with my own readers.
I also learned that the way I do characters (which is the one part of the process I do more like a discovery writer) can betray me. As evidenced below.
Towers of Midnight: What did I learn?
Set Your Sights High
I've never been one to dodge a challenge. However, after failing to do The Way of Kings right in 2002, I was timid about tackling complex narratives across many, many viewpoints. Towers of Midnight marked the largest-scale book I'd ever attempted, with the most complexity of viewpoints, the greatest number of distinct and different scenes to balance, and the most ambitious forms of storytelling. Aviendha's trip through the glass pillars was the most audacious thing I believe I pitched at Team Jordan, and was one of the things about which they were the most skeptical. Perrin's balance between action and inaction risked having him descend into passiveness.
I worked on the new version of The Way of Kings during this time, in 2009–10, when I was also working on Towers of Midnight. I doubt I will ever be more busy than I was in those two years, tackling two of the biggest books of my career at the same time. However, during this time I entered a place in my writing where something clicked, dealing with the next stage of my writing career. I'd always wanted to master the complex epic—my favorite stories of all time fit this mold. Before this, however, I'd done very few sequels—and Towers of Midnight was the most complicated sequel I'm ever likely to do.
I learned a great deal about myself during this period, and the results are on the pages of these two books, Towers of Midnight and The Way of Kings.
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.
Androl and Pevara
In working on the Black Tower plot, one thing I realized early on was that I wanted a new viewpoint character to be involved. One reason was that we didn't have anyone to really show the lives of the everyday members of the Black Tower. It felt like a hole in the viewpoint mosaic for the series. In addition, each Wheel of Time book—almost without exception—has either introduced a new viewpoint character or added a great deal of depth to a character who had only seen minimal use before. As we were drawing near to the end of the series, I didn't want to expand this very far. However, I did want to add at least one character across the three books I was doing.
I went to Team Jordan with the suggestion that I could fulfill both of these purposes by using one of the rank-and-file members of the Black Tower, preferably someone who wasn't a full Asha'man and was something of a blank slate. They suggested Androl. The notes were silent regarding him, and while he had been around, he so far hadn't had the spotlight on him. He seemed the perfect character to dig into.
A few more things got spun into this sequence. One was my desire to expand the usage of gateways in the series. For years, as an aspiring writer, I imagined how I would use gateways if writing a book that included them. I went so far as to include in the Stormlight Archive a magic system built around a similar teleportation mechanic. Being able to work on the Wheel of Time was a thrill for many reasons, but one big one was that it let me play with one of my favorite magic systems and nudge it in a few new directions. I've said that I didn't want to make a large number of new weaves, but instead find ways to use established weaves in new ways. I also liked the idea of expanding on the system for people who have a specific talent in certain areas of the One Power.
Androl became my gateway expert. Another vital key in building him came from Harriet, who mailed me a long article about a leatherworker she found in Mr. Jordan's notes. She said, "He was planning to use this somewhere, but we don't know where."
One final piece for his storyline came during my rereads of the series, where I felt that at times the fandom had been too down on the Red Ajah. True, they had some serious problems with their leadership in the books, but their purpose was noble. I feel that many readers wanted to treat them as the Wheel of Time equivalent of Slytherin—the house of no-goods, with every member a various form of nasty. Robert Jordan himself worked to counteract this, adding a great deal of depth to the Ajah by introducing Pevara. She had long been one of my favorite side characters, and I wanted her to have a strong plot in the last books. Building a relationship between her and Androl felt very natural to me, as it not only allowed me to explore the bonding process, but also let me work a small romance into the last three books—another thing that was present in most Wheel of Time books. The ways I pushed the Androl/Pevara bond was also something of an exploration and experiment. Though this was suggested by the things Robert Jordan wrote, I did have some freedom in how to adapt it. I felt that paralleling the wolf bond made sense, with (of course) its own distinctions.
Finding a place to put the Pevara/Androl sequence into the books, however, proved difficult. Towers of Midnight was the book where we suffered the biggest time crunch. That was the novel where I'd plotted to put most of the Black Tower sequence, but in the end it didn't fit—partially because we just didn't have time for me to write it. So, while I did finish some chapters to put there, the soul of the sequence got pushed off to A Memory of Light, if I managed to find time for it.
I did find time—in part because of cutting the Perrin sequence. Losing those 17,000 words left an imbalance to the pacing of the final book. It needed a plot sequence with more specific tension to balance out the more sweeping sequences early in the book where characters plan, plot, and argue. I was able to expand Androl/Pevara to fit this hole, and to show a lot of things I really wanted to show in the books.