Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Eye of the World Prologue - Ravens

The Young adult version of The Eye of the World had a bonus chapter and several new illustrations that are sure to make it some kind of collector’s item. I’d love to get it. My library’s copy is dog-eared and missing half the back cover. It was released in 2002, which in my mind corresponds to the beginning/middle of the young adult craze. The book was split in two, presumably to make it less intimidating to younger readers. Part One was named From the Two Rivers, and Part Two was named To the Blight. Color versions of most of the new illustrations ended up in the Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game book, using the D20 system. There’s also an ad for a Wheel of Time soundtrack at the back, music by Robert Berry. Like I say, collector’s items, bound to have limited print runs, and all with material not found elsewhere.
On top of Prologue: Dragonmount, we have an extra prologue placed before it titled Earlier: Ravens.
Ravens had to have the feel of the beginning of the book, not give away anything ahead of time, while giving the backstory in immediate and simple terms to new readers. This is done by having 9 year old Egwene criss-cross the sheep shearing fields looking for Rand, and ends with Tam telling the young men the story of the Dragon in epic fashion. Tam’s story is much better than flipping to the Glossary. Many ravens watch the whole time, then fly off, obviously to report to the Dark One.
There are 39 named characters in Ravens, over a 25 page length. This is more than the entire cast of Emond’s fielders in the rest of The Eye of the World. What are the costs and benefits of so many characters on page? For one, the village of Emond’s Field is a vibrant community. We see wives, husbands, old men, young girls, babies, sisters, cousins, thatcher, farmer, shepherds, mayor, smith, bakers, rascals, lazybones, wisdoms, apprentices and the all-important sheep watchers, sheep shearers, sheep washers and sheep counters. We know how and when the people of the area work and play together, and even some of the internal politics. A benefit might be that when the heroes leave town, you understand what they are giving up.  
With all these characters running around, you can hide one or two special characters in plain sight. Darkfriends and Forsaken are often hidden this way, tucked in a clump of mass introductions. If you only ever describe principal characters, readers then know that any speaking character plays a key role.
With scant space to devote to each character, a bare outline has to do, so they are tagged with fairly familiar stereotypes: portly mayor, crotchety old man, tired old man, know-it-all sister, handsome boy down the lane, drunkard, diligent farmer. None of the characters are very surprising. If they were, we might want to spend more time learning about them, and drawing too much attention to them is not the author’s objective here. If anyone catches the eye, it is Tam, whose Court-Bard level storytelling and familiarity with little-known facts clearly set him out from the other backwater villagers. Was he enough of a standout to cause Padan Fain to start directing his attention to this area after the Ravens report? No dice. Fain’s been coming every spring since Rand can remember. 
The obvious disadvantage to all these characters is that you have to maintain the reader’s interest for a long time. The more critical readers will feel 25 pages of sheep shearing is more than they can take. It is a matter of balance between what you’re trying to convey to the reader, and the speed at which you move things along.
Writing Lessons:
Incidental characters have a role to play in a story, which is to create the feelings you want and move the plot where you want. Use them as sparingly or frequently as serves your needs.

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