Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Eye of the World - Chapters 20-24

For the first time, we get new points of view: Perrin and Nynaeve. Each is told in a third person limited narrative voice, common in fantasy novels, which has the advantage of familiarity and letting us get to know these characters better.
When your party splits into different groups or a character peels off from the main group, you can leave what happens to one group mysterious by not following up on them at all. This allows you to focus on the story elements you want, and continue telling your story linearly. But you run the risk of a reunion like this: “Rand you’re alive! Guess what? I learned I can talk to wolves!”  “Just in time Perrin, we need some wolves right about now!” The alternative is to split the narrative, following one group, then another, in whatever proportion you see fit. You’ll be better able to make the reunion realistic to the reader, but at the possible cost of slowing the story down. You have to balance what the split narrative brings to your story with what it takes away from the story. Many readers felt Robert Jordan took the splitting of narrative to an excessive level in later books, but he said it had to be done to make the story believable.
One thing a split narrative allows you to do is hide clues or secrets in plain sight. My first example is how Moiraine describes in excruciating step by step detail how a natural-born channeler begins to use the One Power and the accompanying symptoms. In the preceding chapter, a tied-down ship’s boom is mysteriously undone, saving Rand from a Trolloc. Three chapters later in another narrative, Rand is giddy and reckless atop the ship’s mast. Rand has been shown doing all the things that a channeler would do if learning to use the One Power on their own. But since it is not shown in the same context, and is in a different narrative, readers may not immediately realize it is the same thing that Nynaeve went through. Moiraine’s explanation to Nynaeve may have been the only means available to explain in-story how men begin to channel. I suppose they could have met Logain, but that would have quickly resolved any mystery around Rand’s erratic behavior.
Another example is a particular burnished steel tower noticed on the flight down the Arinelle aboard Spray. Had this been the first and only strange thing pointed out, it would stick in the reader’s memory. But first, we had Shadar Logoth, then Perrin and Egwene see stone ramparts, then a stone tower, that are both very old and mysterious, before Rand sees a mile of hundred foot tall statues lining the riverbanks, and finally the steel tower. And then we get a handful of even more fantastical structures described by Bayle Domon. The idea of old structures, even magical structures, had been placed in the reader’s mind earlier. When the characters are shown another old structure in a series of them, it doesn’t draw special attention, but it adds consistency to the world, and makes it more believable. If there’s a place it didn’t work so well, it was at Shadar Logoth itself. I doubt there are very many cursed abandoned cities in the world, so when one just happens to be close when you need it not ten days out of your village, it is difficult to lay a foundation for that ahead of time. Not wasting a chance to prepare us for the future long before we need it, Bayle’s descriptions introduce heartstone, the museum in the Panarch’s palace, and a sa’angreal on Tremalking.
Rand’s dreams fall in some weird category where it’s not clear who started the dream, whether it’s in the World of Dreams proper, and how Ba’alzamon finds his dreams. Was Moiraine’s coin providing dream protection?
Up until now, we’ve been led to believe that the full complement of Aes Sedai at Tar Valon, and the Amyrlin Seat, are strong enough to fix any problem. Elyas then hints that the Aes Sedai are not as powerful as thought, and there are things that make them nervous. He eluded them after all. And they don’t understand what Elyas is. He also is the first to name the Black Ajah, before we’re even clear on what Ajahs are (if you didn’t read New Spring, that is).
Funny how Moiraine vastly underestimates what Forsaken can and cannot do. Moving a thousand Trollocs? Ridiculous. She offers no alternate possibilities.  Also, aside from brief descriptions of Forsaken as channelers serving the Dark One, Dreadlords, we’ve been told little about them.
Notice how Rand and Mat make the mistake of giving away their coins from Moiraine before we are told it is a mistake. Do you think it would work better if Moiraine had revealed to Nynaeve how she tracks the boys before we see the boys hand their coins away? Do you think the reader feels exactly the same emotions in either case? Is one way more horrific? Does the other way create more tension?
Similarly, when they get separated, the character the reader is supposed to worry about is Egwene. Rand wishes he could have helped her, Perrin loses track of her, Moiraine can’t find her. Was this the right choice of character to have the reader focus on? Would you have cared as much had it been one of the others?  
Writing Lessons:
Suggest what is possible, so that when you pull it out of your hat, it is plausible to the reader. Know what you want to accomplish when you split your characters up.

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