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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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Interestingly, one of the noblemen most important to the plot didn't appear very often in the original draft. Telrii was a much more minor character in the first versions of the book. As you'll see later, however, he has an important role to play.
Some of you who read the very early drafts of the book might remember the Mad Prince. This is a character my agent successfully convinced me to cut—I'll talk about it more later on. However, the need for beefing up Telrii's character came from the loss of the Mad Prince. Telrii now does most of what Eton used to do.
So, this addition of Telrii in the party scene was one of the more later revisions to the book. He showed up in draft eight or nine, and I'm glad to have him. He finally has a character—in the first drafts of the book, he was a non-entity. Spoken of occasionally, but really only in the book to show how much money Hrathen was willing to spend on overthrowing Arelon.
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.
As you can probably deduce from what I've said before, this Telrii scene is a late addition. It's not one of my favorites between Hrathen and Telrii—re-reading it, it makes me feel like Telrii is simply there to be persuaded. While the intention of these scenes is, indeed, so show Hrathen as a stronger character, their secondary purpose is simply to let him voice outloud some of the thoughts he's been mulling over. If you have trouble characterizing or motivating one of your characters in a book you're writing, try giving them someone—either friend or foe—to talk to.
Anyway, this particular scene is a little weak, and I suppose I could cut it without too much loss. It is a good idea to keep people thinking about Telrii, however, since he will be important later in the story. Also, there is his warning to Hrathen about not being a pawn, which is some good foreshadowing for what happens later, when he casts Hrathen off and tries to become a Gyorn himself.
The only other thing to say about this chapter is that it's about where the Mad Prince subplot began in the original drafts of the book.
Though this is explained other places on the site, I should probably note it here. The Mad Prince, a character who has been cut from the book, dominated about three or four chapters in the last quarter of the manuscript. Originally, Raoden wasn't an only child—he had a brother who was something of a madman. Eton—the Mad Prince—was sent away by his father to live in seclusion. He was mentioned several places in the text, foreshadowing the time when Hrathen decided to pull him back into Arelish politics to try and use him as a pawn.
In this chapter, the Mad Prince arrives in the area—though we don't know it. Hrathen finds out that Eton has arrived, and goes to meet with him off stage. The reader doesn't know what's going on yet—you only know that Hrathen has some other little scheme he's been cooking up since Sarene's fall. (Remember, in the original draft of the book, Telrii was far less of a character. Hrathen gave up on him early in the book, after the plan to sink Iadon's ships ended up being a wash.)
You get a couple nice foreshadowing hints here. First, there's the scene that reminds us that—for some reason—Kiin's family knows an awful lot about Elantrians. We've gotten other hints, but they were back a long time ago. The one I remember best is when Sarene was with the twins on the wall. Kaise and Daorn had some things to say about Elantrians that surprised Sarene, I think. Also, notice that Ahan is with Telrii. Though it's presented that the group decided that he should go see Telrii, the actual backstory is that Ahan manipulated himself into the position. It's just another small clue as to what he's planning to do.
Now we're getting into the most heavily-edited chapters of the book. From here, if you're curious about the Mad Prince version of the book, look in the 'Deleted scenes' section. For the rest of the annotations, just realize that what the Mad Prince once did, Telrii now does. There is, of course, a lot of cut material—however, all of the essential elements of the plot still occur.
Basically, the Mad Prince gave aggravation and problems to Hrathen in these late chapters. He'd had so much success with his Elantris-poison plots that I knew I had to give him a few more wrinkles during these chapters. In the original draft, he instigated the arrival of the Mad Prince, then realized that he couldn't control what he'd unleashed.
These were all difficult edits. I still think the Mad Prince worked better in the role than Telrii does—however, the book as a whole works better without the Mad Prince in it. Sometimes you have to cut something good in order to achieve a better over-all effect.
So, all of Telrii's characterization through the novel has been pushing toward this chapter. I knew I wanted him to throw a huge wrinkle into Hrathen's plans, and so the basic thing I had to decide was what Telrii could possibly do that would be as disastrous as the Mad Prince's uncontrollability. In the rewrite, then, I made certain to make Telrii a more unpredictable character. He's not just wasteful, he's arrogantly wasteful. At the same time, however, he's not as much a fool as people assume. He likes his spending, but he also likes how that luxury makes him look. It makes other people underestimate him, and makes them assume that he's predictable. That lets him pull little coups like the on he throws at Hrathen in this chapter.
Hrathen is, of course, right. Telrii doesn't have any clue how great a misjudgment he just made. The idea is not that Telrii is brilliant—he's just smart enough, just wily enough, to be surprising. He's just dangerous enough to do something disastrous like this.
Yes, Ahan is a traitor. When building this book, I knew that I wanted one of the characters to betray the rest. I also knew that I didn't want it to be the most obvious one in the group. This left me with a problem. I had to provide a character whom nobody would suspect as a traitor, yet at the same time make it believable that he would turn traitor.
The first thing I did was throw in Edan as a diversion. He worked perfectly—virtually all of my alpha readers mentioned that they thought for certain that he would turn traitor. I had Edan run off early because I wanted to lull the readers into a sense of security, thinking that their 'traitor' character had disappeared already. I also didn't want to throw Ahan's betrayal in with Edan still there—I think that would have made Edan's purpose too obvious to those who could see the two contrasted that way.
The next thing I did was begin foreshadowing that Ahan acts, and speaks, without thinking through his actions. I mention this a couple of places, including at the eclipse party. I made his character a bit indifferent, a lot blustery, and tried to indicate that he didn't quite see the treason he was engaging in as being as dangerous as it really was.
Finally, I began having him act suspicious. You can go look through the spoiler annotations if you want notes of where I had him doing things like this. Essentially, he acted odd when Telrii was mentioned, and he was the one who went to visit Telrii when the group wanted one of their party to get in good with the enemy.
These are small things, I realize. However, I think they work well enough. I wanted to get across a sense of shock and surprise at the betrayal. I always hate it when traitors are obviously oily men with shifty eyes. I don't think people trust that kind of man.
Anyway, I think the other thing that lets me get away with Ahan's betrayal is that he doesn't completely change characters with the treason. He isn't a different person—he doesn't suddenly become a 'bad guy,' like happened in some stories. (Ahem. The TV show 24, first season.) Ahan just didn't think hard enough about what he was doing—he took his actions too lightly.
There has been some confusion about Raoden's line "After I left" to Sarene right before they go back into the kitchen. Right here, he's getting ready to tell her that he's really Raoden. He is implying that, after he left Kae (and was thrown into Elantris) he didn't think his group of noblemen would keep meeting. It was supposed to be a subtle hint—Sarene would catch something too obvious, and I didn't want to weaken the drama of Raoden's appearance.
This is a very noble, and a very sorrowful, scene. A lot of emotions fly around in this chapter. Again, if I have done my job and made you sympathetic to the characters and their stories, then these emotions will come off as powerful drama. If I've failed, then all you'll get from this scene is melodrama. I hope it worked for you. I wanted Raoden's final revelation—and return to Kae—to be a dramatic and powerful event.
Originally, this scene happened with the Mad Prince, whom I'd built up as being deathly afraid of spirits and ghosts. When Raoden appears, Eton thought he was a ghost, and ran away. (Ha ha. Another pun off the original title of the book. I felt so clever—then cut it all out.) Anyway, on consideration—and in rewriting these scenes to use Telrii instead—I realized that Telrii's soldiers would never strike down Raoden. His nature as the true king of Arelon would be enough to send them all fleeing in surprise and worry.
Some people are very surprised by this chapter. It isn't the most narratively-surprising death I've ever written, but it was one of the more sudden ones. I'm sorry if you really liked Roial.
I wrote this book to be less of a 'violent book than some others I've written or read. However, on reflection, I realize that what I intended by this was to write a novel where the protagonists didn't rely on violence as much as they did on their wits. I didn't mean that I wouldn't let the bad guys be. . .well, bad.
(In addition, by the way, this is part of why Raoden and Sarene are such competent people. They don't have swords or magic to perform flashy fight scenes—so, instead, I gave them competence in relation to their personalities. In part, this is what amuses me by complaints that Raoden and Sarene are too flat as characters. Make a man the most brilliant swordsman ever, but make him emotionally incompetent, and you have a 'deep' character. Make a man incapable with weaponry, but emotionally mature, and he's flat. Go figure.)
Anyway, back to the topic at hand, I don't think I'm particularly brutal with my characters. (I'm no David Gemmel, for instance. I swear, the body counts in that man's books. . . .) I am, however, realistic. People die in my books. Sometimes they're viewpoint characters. It happens. From a storyteller's viewpoint, I think it makes the tension more real. There IS danger for the characters. In a more philosophical bent, I think this makes the characters more heroic—they aren't protected from the consequences of their decisions. Even if those decisions are good. Choosing to try and overthrow a dictator like Telrii is a dangerous decision, and if the heroes are going to be considered 'heroic' for that action, then I have no right to protect them from harm. Doing so would take away the 'will' of my villains.