Monday, 30 April 2012

Lord of Chaos - Chapters 5-7

In this section, more deceit is underway.
Mat knows that his role is to be the decoy, the feint that keeps Sammael focussed on the massive force of Aiel, Cairhienin and Tairens marching towards Illian. Sammael sees the direct threat, and in both Rand’s hopes and in Graendal’s estimation, he will not see the subtle trap they are laying for him. Rand has a sneak attack in mind while Sammael is distracted; Graendal wants Sammael to engage Rand directly, and assumes that Sammael will have the edge in that contest, despite Rand’s victories against other Forsaken.
Graendal has been to the Pit of Doom, and been all but promised to be made Nae’blis. Her part is to sow chaos. Secretly she hopes her manipulation of Sammael will remove Rand. Whatever she thinks, she is undoubtedly part of the Dark One’s master plan if he gave her orders, as is Semirhage. Semirhage has been secretly torturing an Aes Sedai at Shaidar Haran’s orders. Shaidar Haran is to be obeyed as if he were the Dark One.
Information about the current plots of Demandred, Mesaana and Semirhage is scarce. Graendal learned about Mesaana’s presence in the White Tower because she was angry at Semirhage and in her rage commented on the threat of binding with the Oath Rod that first drove Semirhage to the Dark. Whatever dribbles of insight are given to the reader are revealed slowly, to maintain the sense of being kept in the dark, not knowing what plots are secretly unfolding. The reader is privy to some details, and is effectively walled off from others.
Semirhage was told to send Trollocs to the Stone of Tear to counter those sent by Sammael. Rand knows the Forsaken are using the Ways to move Shadowspawn, but that type of movement requires days of advance planning. So Sammael mobilized enough Trollocs to try taking the Stone by sending them through the Ways, which should have taken days, and right behind them, Semirhage is moving her own force of Trollocs and Myrddraal? The Dark One knew enough to give Semirhage her task that far ahead? The only reason we know they move through the Ways is because at some later point we will learn that Shadowspawn cannot use Gateways. Convenient, yet Sammael’s ability to throw not only this attack at Rand, but two more in remote parts of the Aiel Waste would be better explained if he had some other means of transporting them. Skimming? That would limit the number of Trollocs in a given attack force yet still allow some ability to plan an attack on short notice without the need for days of orchestrating movements through the Ways.
Elayne has been crafting dream ter’angreal that sometimes turn out as intended. That is the only thing she and Nynaeve have come up with that is their own, all the rest is extracted grudgingly from Moghedien. Moghedien’s captivity must be kept from the Salidar Aes Sedai. Siuan and Leane aren’t really fighting, another secret to be kept from the Aes Sedai. The Aes Sedai aren’t telling anyone what their plan is. Salidar is a nest of secrets upon secrets, keeping in line with the theme.
The nightmare in Tel’aran’rhiod provides an exciting example of how battles in Tel’aran’rhiod can be conducted. Force of will and belief can change the reality around the dreamer. I note strong similarities between nightmares in Tel’aran’rhiod and bubbles of evil in the waking world, in terms of the randomness of their occurrence and the strange ways in which the unimaginable suddenly becomes real. Some readers point out the impossible things which our heroes somehow achieve in the story. An impossible thing defined here yet again is that the waking world cannot be affected by what is done in Tel’aran’rhiod.  
The Elayne section could have been started in Tel’aran’rhiod, in the Amyrlin’s study. Why have so many uneventful things take place before we get to that scene? It is to establish certain behaviours and facts directly instead of through flashbacks or other less interesting ways. (Yes, there are less interesting ways) Let’s analyze!
To establish that the Aes Sedai have more than just the original dream ter’angreal and the two recovered from the Black Ajah, it must be established how they acquired more. So, right away, the text describes Elayne’s attempts to make more. This is also a good starting point because it brings something new and interesting to the reader’s attention. One hundred strokes of the hairbrush and attempts to heal songbirds establish Elayne’s character: methodical, and experimenting. These are characteristics of a researcher. The danger of stilling herself if she makes an error reinforces the finality of stilling, setting up Nynaeve’s storyline. A brief discussion of Egwene touches on Lan, Nynaeve’s other major ongoing plotline. The descriptive paragraphs serve to establish Elayne’s relationship to the Aes Sedai: she is Accepted, given certain freedoms, but not indulged. Knowing this before the Aes Sedai walk into the dream helps readers understand the context while keeping the pace when they meet.
Entering Tel’aran’rhiod allows for some descriptive text about its look, feel and properties. Having the small council finish the tail end of a conversation allows the reader to learn something about their plans which could not easily be done in a scene taking place in the waking world short of having a point of view from one of the six, or having Elayne or Nynaeve eavesdrop. Camouflaged in with all the Aes Sedai comments, Myrelle drops enough clues in her treatment of Nynaeve to remind us that she is carrying Lan’s bond. Finally, there is an opportunity to make an info-dump as Nynaeve reminds the Aes Sedai of certain dangers which they will unfortunately run afoul of anyway.
It took eight pages, but all that info would have been clunky if forced into the Amyrlin’s study passages.
Writing Lessons:
Even if you are trying to jump to the action, choose a starting point for your scenes that allows logical and natural exposition.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Lord of Chaos - Chapters 1-4

In this section, Rand is plotting so many things, he must delegate to his followers.
Bashere points out that the first task Rand should delegate to others is the fighting. While Rand’s training under Lan and the Aiel have made him a warrior with few equals, that task can still be taken up by others. Nothing a warrior can threaten him with can hurt Rand so long as he can channel. Bashere says Rand’s task is to deal with the One Power menaces, and the soldiering should be left to soldiers. Learning how to fight five men at once is of no utility, but Rand understands that his remaining foes are likely to work together, now that he’s cut their number in half. After reading the prologue, and this section, readers will see the story being set-up as two opposing teams, one led by Rand, the other by the Dark One, each trying to outmanoeuvre each other.
No one knows Rand’s true plans, so much of what he does is subterfuge to confuse or convince his enemies of his objectives. The plan to attack Sammael with the largest army in the world is a feint, the biggest joke in the world, revealed in a chapter all about humour.  But with the meaning of the Dark One’s orders to let the Lord of Chaos rule still unexplained, readers should be wondering whether the joke is on Rand. The intent is to leave the reader with curiosity as to what is really going on, how the myriad plots will play out, and who will get the upper hand. The last book, The Fires of Heaven, began setting up mysteries that would remain unexplained for a long time. Is it any wonder that when this book was released, coincident with the emergence of the internet, that speculation and theorizing about the series took off?
Taim presents himself to Rand to seek amnesty. He is handed a task that Rand has no time or ability for: teaching the men who want to channel. Rand places significantly more importance on the immediate objective of killing Sammael than the long-term objective of building an army for the Last Battle. Lews Therin’s voice rants in Rand’s head, and can hear Rand speak to it as well, giving an example of the risk to any man who follows Rand. Taim offers hope that the madness can be held at bay. Rand has channelled large amounts of the One Power in the two short years he has had the ability, drawing oceans of it through Callandor and his other sa’angreal, the Choedan Kal. Could Taim have drawn less than that in his fifteen years? Has he been granted protection by the Dark One because he is a Darkfriend, or a Forsaken in disguise? Can he be trusted even if he is not evil and is not mad? In the end, necessity and hope push Rand to give Taim a free hand with the male channelers. However, Rand is clear that he wants weapons, even though he expresses a desire to build something, not destroy.
Regarding trust, Rand says he can never trust Aes Sedai, but he can try to use them. Bashere says in the end he will have no choice, he must trust them, or conquer all without them. Rand leans toward conquest, as one expects from the leader of the greatest armed forces in the world. The rebels need Rand as much as he needs them, and while his allies work to tie them to each other, even those efforts are mired in layers of deception. The theme of intricate intertwined plots is everywhere.
While the world overheats in an overlong summer, due to the Dark One’s touch, I wonder about the prophecy describing the Dragon being one with the land, which is relevant to the later books in the series. Once Rand chose to acknowledge he was the Dragon by drawing Callandor, did any link to the land get created? Can the weather patterns be due to Rand’s mistrusting attitude, a reflection of his innermost feelings? Does letting the Lord of Chaos rule mean trying to crush Rand under the burdens of leadership, so that he himself becomes responsible for what afflicts the world?
One of Rand’s answers from the Eelfinn is revealed: To live, you must die, a confirmation of other prophecies. Keeping his questions and answers secret allows Rand to act on the advice without giving away to the reader what his objective is. Curiosity builds, and each answer can later act as an interesting and powerful revelation.
More personal background on the Forsaken is revealed here than in any other part of the story to date. With brief thumbnail sketches, their sins are laid bare. This creates excellent tension between the good and evil teams, making the grudges between them personal. This was sadly lacking from the earliest appearances of the Forsaken. It is good to finally have the intensity of their mutual dislike exposed as well as explaining the stakes of Forsaken victory.
Jordan expresses madness or volatility with a few simple techniques. Rand never quite finishes a conversation, he will make abrupt changes in the topic of discussion, making his interlocutors distinctly uncomfortable. Their negative reactions, no matter their rank, age, or sex, provide consistent reinforcement to the reader that something is off with Rand’s behaviour. Taim is unflappable, hardly caring for swords aimed at his throat or Rand’s anger, but Rand’s illogical actions finally make him react, implying that Rand’s behaviour is quite abnormal.
Writing Lessons:
Use the reactions of other characters to reinforce the characteristics of another character.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Lord of Chaos - Prologue

In this section, many villainous forces are arrayed against the heroes, and so many secrets are kept.
The prologue shows 11 different points of view, each of them with some threat to the heroes. The objective is to set the stage for the rest of the novel, displaying the main plotline which bookends this section and relates to Demandred and the Dark One’s message. Other sections are tangentially related.
The overarching theme is that there are plots within plots, and no one knows the full plan. Demandred worries that the Dark One is withholding information, then makes the other Forsaken worry that he is doing the same to them. The Dark One is keeping secrets, in particular related to two resurrected Forsaken, whose existence is secret from everyone but Shaidar Haran.
Nynaeve worries about what Moghedien is withholding, even as she and her friends keep Moghedien’s captivity secret form the Rebel Aes Sedai. Nynaeve and Elayne and Siuan and Leane lie and lie about everything, and strangely, the need to talk with each other forces them to reveal all of it in Moghedien’s presence.
Min and Elayne have to keep Min’s Viewings from Rand, lest he try to escape them for the women’s own good. Even as they tally Rand’s past victories, the oppressive and unnatural heat makes them wonder about whether he is truly winning so far.
Faile cannot stop Perrin from leaving the Two Rivers. His departure provides a necessary explanation for his later arrival at Caemlyn, but also introduces the concept that Rand is in a terrible danger that only Perrin can stop.   
Gawyn leads the Younglings as they accompany an Embassy from the White Tower. When he learns that Rand may have killed his mother and sister, he vows to kill Rand, displaying the trademark disregard for authority that had Elaida arrange for their removal from the White Tower.
The Embassy itself has instructions to deliver Rand into Elaida’s hands, which fits with orders the Black Ajah has received. At least two of the Aes Sedai in the Embassy are Black Ajah.
The Shaido are temporarily and loosely allied with Elaida’s Embassy. Sevanna considers betraying that alliance to get her hands on Rand, so she can make him obedient. She has also been contacted by a funny man who must be a Forsaken…
Morgase is in a predicament that may force her to cede rights in Andor for the Children of the Light to do as they will. Her only way out is with the help of a Darkfriend.
Pedron Niall moves soldiers around a lot, but prefers playing the Game of Houses. Even if not a single Whitecloak makes it to Andor, in the meantime he will spread rumours and cause strife in neighbouring kingdoms such that no man would be comfortable declaring for Rand.
 Altogether, there are too many substantial threats to Rand to say which ones will be predominant in the story. So why show so many? In this case, the idea is to have the reader as confused as the characters as to which plots are relevant, what the villains are up to, and who is really in charge. The effect is dizzying, yet it’s only Demandred’s appearances in the first and second-last sections that tie it together, implying that all the intermediate sections are in some way part of the plans he, the Forsaken, and the Dark One have been carrying out. The unnatural heat, Elaida’s Embassy to Rand, the Shaido’s mysterious visitor certainly all fit that implication. Other lesser plotlines with Morgase and Perrin show where other pertinent actors are and how they will fit in to the villain’s schemes. The whole proposition that Demandred is the next Nae’blis is turned upside down when it is revealed that two Forsaken have been resurrected without any of the other’s knowledge, and that one of them is now in a woman’s body. Clearly, the Lord of Chaos rules.
An important element of building excitement is creating the feeling of discovery, of showing something new. The forgers, the descent into the Bore, and Shaidar Haran’s appearance do this, but seeing the Dark One speak tops that. Importantly, reality near the Bore is the Dark One’s to control. Lightning shoots up, stalactites have variable lengths depending who walks under them, and the sky in the Bore is not the sky of Thakan’dar. Physically, this place is no closer to the Bore than any other in the World. Another place like that is the ‘palace’ where the Forsaken meet, which is ‘far from anywhere, in any way that most humans would understand’.
At this point, there are only 6 Forsaken left alive: Demandred, Semirhage, Graendal, Mesaana, Sammael, and Moghedien. Amongst the dead: Ishamael, Be’lal, Aginor, Balthamel, Lanfear, Rahvin, Asmodean. The plan appears to involve Demandred using balefire, letting the Lord of Chaos rule (The Lord of Chaos is Rand, if it is considered that there are still orders to keep Rand alive), killing some people and letting others live, or perhaps to live again. Whatever the plan may entail, it surely involves minimal risk to the Forsaken, who are so cautious they will not risk being caught by modern weak Aes Sedai while trying to steal angreal. Therefore, Mesaana’s insistence that the plan will require luck to work means only that its success is no sure thing.
Does the plan depend on Osan’gar and Aran’gar? Since their existence is supposedly secret, at first glance it seems not. However, Aran’gar is told that her refusal will result in another taking her place. Since we’ll soon learn that she is to be placed amongst the rebel Aes Sedai, and strife between the factions is the desired outcome, it seems likely that another Forsaken would have been given orders meant for her. This implies that the other Forsaken do already know, or will soon be told of their existence, and the role they will play.
Writing Lessons:
Build excitement by letting the reader discover something new.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Fires of Heaven - Summary

The Fires of Heaven introduces the almost insurmountable obstacle that the male and female heroes cannot work together.
In the series as a whole, the middle act is where a variety of obstacles are encountered. There are always external threats like villains and monsters which can be vanquished. In the previous book The Shadow Rising the heroes overcame a lack of resources to accomplish their goals, ending with Rand acquiring a teacher and an army. More insidious, and far more difficult to overcome is an obstacle that comes from within, where the Heroes very character traits work against them.
To establish the danger, there have been frequent mentions of how men and women working together in the Age of Legends performed tasks that neither could have done on their own. Since the series follows the heroines as much as the heroes, readers reasonably expect the ultimate victory over the villains to be the result of cooperation between men and women.
The Fires of Heaven effectively drives a wedge between the sexes, firming their misgivings into mistrust. Whereas differences between the sexes may have been remarked upon in a candid or humourous manner in previous books, now the criticisms are biting, intended to show chasms between them that are far greater than those between any cultures. Tension between the sexes reaches its climax when Lanfear’s jealousy exposes Rand’s unyielding patronizing sexism.
Rand can’t let women be what they want to be. Rand can’t understand the motivations of women. Rand can’t trust the powerful women in the White Tower or amongst the Wise Ones. Following Lanfear’s attack, Rand decides the only way to free himself of the burdens that he feels women place on him is to drive them away. He does this even though Nynaeve just showed him that separately they will be beaten, but together they defeated his enemies.
Several other characters also exemplify this rift. Elayne takes a female warder when they have always been male.  Siuan proves that women can’t be trusted to keep their word to men in authority. Gareth Bryne puts a metaphorical noose around his neck because he pursued a woman. Leane actively sets out to play with men’s expectations.  Poor communication between Nynaeve and various men leads to riots in Samara. Mat’s lover was hiding a dark secret. Lews Therin makes his first appearance and reminds Rand that he killed the woman he loved. Perrin is not in this book because the cooperative behaviour of the Two Rivers folk does not fit the theme of poor relations between the sexes.
The other big shift in the series is the deliberate move to mystify events, motivations, and objects. Secrets have always been present in the story, but in The Fires of Heaven the tone is different. In the previous book, readers were introduced to a host of new fantastic places and enemies. In this book, the revelations are more mundane, less magical, and are given up grudgingly. For example, Rand wonders about Aviendha’s necklace several times, even though readers know it is a friendship gift from Egwene. Asmodean’s existence is kept from everyone, and what he reveals mostly happens off-page, with hardly any emotional importance. Lews Therin’s brief appearances offered better insight than Asmodean’s. Asmodean’s murder would set off a decade of internet speculation, but the author could just as easily have named the killer on the spot since it was a detail of little plot significance. It shows a change in the tenor of the series, where information is now compartmentalized, and the author has a stronger desire to keep the reader wondering and frustrated by the lack of answers, for plotlines both big and small, relevant to the plot or not, perhaps to mirror the characters’ own emotions.
Writing Lessons:
Subtly or blatantly, every detail and event in the story can be made to fit the theme.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Fires of Heaven - Chapters 53-56

In this section, Nynaeve comes to Rand’s aid.
Coming off the emotional peak of the book, Rand barely has time to register Moiraine’s loss before Lan is gone too. With characteristic machismo, Lan makes a final statement about duty and life and not trusting love, which Rand takes seriously. Lan has inflicted his last damage on Rand. Although none of the women they love have inflicted any pain on them, Lanfear’s jealous display which cost Moiraine her life has had the effect of both men swearing off women for good.  
Moiraine’s letter states that all paths led to the docks, yet she herself is the one who directs Rand there. This is not a case of her creating her own future, since all paths led there. Rather, she is trying to control how events will play out at the docks by establishing who will be there, and where the wagons will be placed. Throughout the book, there were many reminders about how Moiraine fussed to place the ter’angreal just so in the wagons, though the rationale given by those who observed her turned out to have been wrong.
The Wise Ones tell Rand he is a fool about this and many other things. Many readers took this as a sign Moiraine yet lived. With Lan’s bond broken, she was stilled at the least. As I read it now, it is more of an accusatory statement, referring to how Rand’s stupid man-behaviour is the reason she is dead, and so many other things are going wrong, such as the Maidens’ sudden disappearance. Having lost Moiraine and understanding the price will be paid one way or another, Rand decides to accept the Maidens right to choose how they will serve him, and to die in the doing if it so happens.
Rahvin has somehow smuggled a few thousand Trollocs into the inner city and palace, as a defense against an attack by Rand or the other Forsaken. Lightning strikes down Mat, Aviendha and Asmodean. That is a significant surprise, yet having just lost Moiraine, how else can you raise the stakes for the climax of the book? Killing not one but three important characters is disorienting, and after all the talk about the mistake of seeking personal retribution, Rand stupidly sets out after Rahvin.
Mystifyingly, the story moves away from life or death action to Nynaeve teaching Siuan in Tel’aran’rhiod.  The only way to pull this off without irritating the reader is if the change is vital to the story, engaging, or short, but preferably all three. There are two pages of scene-setting and explaining or refreshing the rules of Tel’aran’rhiod before Siuan and Nynaeve begin pulling each other’s hair and kicking and rolling in the dirt, which is funny. Nynaeve has hit a low point in respectable behaviour. By page 4, Moghedien has been sighted, and the action is back on. Had a lesser threat than a Forsaken been the reason to shift to Nynaeve, reader reaction would be unenthused. If you leave off one major enemy, you should be moving to something equally as menacing.
Moghedien easily bests Nynaeve. Birgitte arrives in time to distract her giving Nynaeve the chance to try whatever she can think of. And that is the key to battling in Tel’aran’rhiod, you can do anything you think of.  Nynaeve crafts an a’dam and captures Moghedien in a heartbeat. Rand has just finished acknowledging that the women around him can make decisions about their own fate, and risk death or worse as they see fit, and then Nynaeve does exactly that. Both character arcs are wrapped up together. Rand cannot win without Nynaeve’s timely aid, and she can’t come to his aid unless she rediscovers her own desire to take the risks that he would rather she avoid.
For the first time, Rand has trouble remembering his identity, as Lews Therin’s memories are now a distinct voice.
The rules for the a’dam in Tel’aran’rhiod need some explaining. When sleeping, only Spirit can be channeled in the waking world, allowing a ter’angreal to be kept working. Once in Tel’aran’rhiod, any of the powers can be used, as in the waking world. Entering Tel’aran’rhiod in the flesh is a sensible move for one who is not experienced with it, especially if you don’t like leaving your sleeping body behind for your opponent to find unprotected. Someone in the flesh can draw significantly more of the One Power than someone who is merely sleeping, according to Moghedien. I suppose it means the amount is limited by the fact that you are sleeping, and it is not that in the flesh you can draw more of the One Power than you could waking. Based on Birgitte’s earlier transformation into a child, an opponent can change the reality of what you are. If you are sleeping, it will only be true when you visit Tel’aran’rhiod; if you are there in the flesh, it will be true forever, in which lies the danger. Rahvin tries this on Rand twice, once to unmake him, once to turn him into an animal. It seems this was Rahvin’s big plan, perhaps because he feared Rand would be as strong as or stronger than him. What affects you in Tel’aran’rhiod affects you in the real world, whether wounds, death, or Forkroot.
What happens as the balefire undoes actions? Memories remain, but actions were not carried out.
Rand never saw Rahvin make a portal to Tel’aran’rhiod. Rand believes he saw the residues, but no such portal ever existed. Rand simply chased a figment of his imagination through Tel’aran’rhiod. Rand believed Rahvin made a bubble of water and piranhas, but Rahvin wasn’t there so he did no such thing. However, Rand believed he did, and in Tel’aran’rhiod, that is enough to have created it himself, so the injuries remained even after Rahvin was balefired. Every attack Rahvin carried out was actually carried out by Rand on himself, since Rand’s belief it was happening was enough to make it actually happen. Had Rahvin had time to blast Nynaeve, she would have remained injured because she would have believed a blast of flame was coming down on her, which would have the effect of creating it even if Rahvin hadn’t.
Mat, Aviendha, and Asmodean, and other Aiel and Trollocs killed by Rahvin’s lightning all fell to the ground believing themselves dead. If the lightning flung them, they weren’t actually flung anywhere. Others walked past them, or over them, also certain that they were dead. At the moment of Rahvin’s death, they suddenly wake and hurriedly get up, realizing that there is a battle going on around them. They hold out until Rand arrives.
The key thing to remember is that balefire may not always undo actions in Tel’aran’rhiod, since the imagining of them keeps them real. Balefire damage to objects in Tel’aran’rhiod seems to be permanent. We didn’t see whether Rahvin’s balefire damage caused by his weaving the One Power was reversed. I think it would be. If Rahvin balefired a walnut with a thin stream of balefire, then Rand balefired Rahvin with a larger stream, undoing his original weaving of balefire, the walnut should be restored.
The mystery of who killed Asmodean was the holy grail of theorizing. Hindsight is 20/20, but on a reread, it does seem intuitively obvious that it was someone from this book, and only two Forsaken are unaccounted for.
Writing Lessons:
Give your multiple storylines plot, emotional, and thematic reasons to cross each other.

The Fires of Heaven - Chapters 50-52

In this section, it’s the big payoff to the pent up tension in the battle of the sexes.
The animosity between the sexes isn’t as strong here, but Elayne still gets angry at Gareth and considers the reason is something to do with his scornful treatment at Morgase’s hands. Nynaeve deals with other women, so has no men to complain about, except for when her followers all frustrate her one last time before taking jobs with Bryne’s army. Mat is set upon by Melindhra who tries to drive a knife through his heart, because some oaths are stronger than others. Min and Elayne decide they are willing to share Rand’s affection. This decision somehow convinced some fans of the sordid minds of male authors. The point of the young women’s attitude is to show they freely choose to find a solution to their relationships, and to contrast it with someone who can’t or won’t do that.
Sharing Rand is a big deal, because the emotional payoff of the book, and the battle between the sexes, comes about when Lanfear dramatically refuses to share him. Lanfear had fully intended to be the one who took his virginity, to become his carneira as the Malkieri say. Rand’s shy and honorable demeanor implied she could trust that he wouldn’t tumble any woman into a bed, and she was right. Rand believed his duty was to marry Aviendha. Lanfear wanted him to say that to her, and tie him to her forever. She really blew it.
In the end, it might not have mattered if Aviendha had in fact slept with Rand, because sharing a room and cavorting before him naked should have started sufficient rumours to reach Lanfear’s ears in any case. Given Kadere’s methods, it is likely that he correctly recognized the meaningful subtle hints between Rand and Aviendha, but there is enough circumstantial evidence he could just as easily convinced himself of it even if it weren’t true.
All of the grudging remarks on the opposite sex, all of the spiteful comments, and jokes at each other’s expense, so much more strongly displayed in this book than in any of the previous ones, is designed to lead up to this incident. Lanfear is a woman scorned, and she will kill the other woman who laid a hand on her man. This is as fierce and furious a rift between a man and a woman as is possible. Since Lanfear couldn’t be around stalking Rand through the whole book, other means had to be used to build up the expectation for the reader that men and women just can’t get along. Men will perceive Lanfear as a crazy stalker bitch, women will see her as a poacher trying to claim a man who is taken, but may sympathize with the emotions caused by infidelity.
It is the most memorable scene of the book, because it has a greater emotional punch than the later battle with Rahvin. It plays on the emotions of Rand, Aviendha, Elayne and Lanfear. Adding extra gravity to the scene, Moiraine dies to do what Rand could not, and causes Lan to be lost as well. Rand has fully matured now: he has led men, he has no mentors left, and he has had a lover.
A lot of setup for the next book is established; a new status quo: Nynaeve and Siuan are blackmailing each other, the Tower in Exile has begun preparations to resist Elaida, emissaries are on their way to meet Rand, and Rand is a ruler of nations. It is a far cry from the status quo at the beginning of this book where everyone was slowly marching somewhere.
The process of teaching people to use Tel’aran’rhiod has begun. First it was Nynaeve and Elayne, now Siuan and the Salidar rebel leaders. The Aes Sedai hardly believe the World of Dreams exists, but they are eager to exploit its possibilities.
With foreknowledge of later events, the entire question of why the rebels even exist comes to mind. In a panic, many Aes Sedai fled the Tower, and the Blues let it be known that they would gather in Salidar. Once any sister from another Ajah learned this, if they weren’t actually told outright, the word would have spread through the networks of eyes and ears. The Ajah heads hatch a plan to let the rebels enough time to cool their emotions. They send ‘Sitters’ to guide the rebels to a reunification within a few months while they guide Elaida. Elaida learns of Salidar through the Reds’ own network of spies, or from an ambitious ass-kisser, or from the Blacks who are aiming for the opposite of the Ajah Heads, which is to keep the division deep and lasting. Elaida sends her own agents to bend the rebels into submission, one of whom is in the small council overseeing Salidar. Thom and Juilin describe pulling down Elaida as madness, so how does the rebellion get off the ground?
Into the seemingly sensible Ajah head plans entered Siuan, with her own plan to overthrow Elaida. The Blacks in Salidar latch onto her claims, hoping to keep the rebels rebellious. Readers know next to none of any of this, and will learn most of it in 4-6 books from now. Yet it was conceived and planned by the author at about this time. First, he had to establish a familiar structure, so he introduced the council, with one member from each Ajah, and Sheriam who is the link to the deposed regime, and currently has no Ajah of her own since she is Mistress of Novices. This is the only important detail to convey to readers: it is a mirror of the White Tower, with all the same structure and relationships.
The question of how to break cuendillar is raised again, and even though I have the answer, I am saving it for an epic theory, coming soon.
Writing Lessons:
Guide the reader into an unfamiliar situation by establishing some familiar touchstones they can use as reference points.

Monday, 16 April 2012

The Fires of Heaven - Chapters 47-49

In this section, Nynaeve withdraws from the chaos she induced in Samara.
Nynaeve’s perception of others gets meaner and shriller, and her ability to overlook her own faults is pretty funny since she no longer needs to go more than a sentence beyond her own behaviour before digging at someone for exactly the same behaviour. Readers know Nynaeve is being unreasonable. It’s a character trait that risks irritating readers, and playing it for humour is about the only way to make the character tolerable. The humour is well executed throughout these chapters, largely because there is little time to get irritated, the punchlines are thrown so rapidly.
That sinking feeling Nynaeve gets in the pit of her stomach as she hears that Whitecloaks are fighting the prophet’s men is an echo of what Rand felt after the battle of Cairhien. The destruction and waste can be laid at her feet, since the riots started after the two people she set to finding a ship began fighting over it.
Galad shows just why Elayne insisted they flee him. His predictable unpredictability is a hazard to everyone around him, just as Masema’s is. Both of them make a point of finding consequences for their actions inconsequential. Nynaeve’s brief foray down this path has ended with her paying too high a price for her ship, all to escape some personal discomfort, rationalized by needing to escape Moghedien.
Nynaeve has been after Elayne for her flirtations, but the result of her own semi-unknowing romance with Valan Luca is a proposal to run away and join his circus. Unlike Rand, who twists over who he should choose, Nynaeve quickly puts an end to Valan’s pursuit. Lan is her man, and none of her interactions with Valan count, certainly not the one where he gave her flowers. It’s enough to send her into a fury, and once again the tension between the sexes has risen.
Keeping that tension high, the captain of the ship in question hates women. Nynaeve tries to make some small amends for her actions by bringing refugees with her on board Riverserpent. Somehow, Moghedien manages to get herself included in this group. I still see no possible clue that would let a reader figure out who she is. Was it coincidence that brought her to the docks, or Elayne’s channeling against the mobs?
The visit to Tel’aran’rhiod shows that Nynaeve is still afraid, and ashamed of that fear. Gradually she regains her confidence, and they make frequent use of Elaida’s study to learn about her plans. We learn about being less in the World of Dreams when using certain ter’angreal or when in a shallow sleep. The amount of self that is in Tel’aran’rhiod is related to strengths and weaknesses there.
Writing Lessons:
Use humour to maintain sympathy for a character with irritating traits.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Fires of Heaven - Chapters 43-46

In this section, Rand and Mat go through the biggest battle since Hawkwing’s time, from beginning to end.
The section continues the alternating points of view, from Rand to Mat and back to Rand again. Although Egwene is involved in the battle, the intent was to keep the focus tight on the battle leaders, not the soldiers, which is the role Egwene plays in the battle. As the battle progresses, we get to see the different emotional phases of a battle leader displayed by one or the other of the heroes or their followers:
Rand: Grim preparedness and resolve. Everyone finds their place, including Rand.
Mat: Resignation. Eagerness
Rand: Changing circumstances as battle develops. Difficulty. See the battle as a personal one.
Mat: Surprising circumstances. Take a big gamble.
Rand: Confusion. Exhaustion.
Mat. Celebration. Relief. Recovery. Desire to claim glory.
Rand: Recriminations. Blame. Learn the outcome. Distribution of rewards and spoils. Taking stock of cost. Learn that the battle is larger than you, you are only human.
This was the first major battle fully described not with such a focus on the scale of the battle. Tarwin’s Gap lasted a page or two; the large scale battle in Falme was over in a few pages; The Stone of Tear was taken in a chapter; Perrin’s skirmishes in the Two Rivers ended with a ten-page battle. For the biggest battle since Hawkwing’s time, the author felt that a proportional amount of time should be spent building up to and describing this battle.
 While Rand contrives to meet Couladin in battle, Mat is eventually the one who faces him, and makes it a personal battle even though he never sought it out. Lan points out that he is not the Dragon Reborn, the world does not rest on his shoulders, so he can act with machismo and go into battle and take risks. How can Rand acknowledge that yet still feel he has the respect of men with so much bravado? He is caught in a mental trap of his own making. Elaida, even Moiraine would keep him as far from danger as possible, while Rand is sure the Aiel and Lan will only follow if he puts himself in danger.
Mat’s battle with Couladin is described in a brief one-paragraph flashback. The first time I read it, I felt cheated. Why would this pivotal and exciting battle not be shown? The answer is that it is not pivotal. The outcome of the battle did not turn on Couladin living or dying. The point was to show the scope, drama, and emotion of a large-scale battle. Couladin symbolized nothing of that. His head hanging from a pole does symbolize some sort of futility, the unimportance of one man in such a large conflict, which is more in line with the author’s intent.
The Maidens want the freedom to die in the way they choose. Rand still gets all soft-hearted about women, and maintains his sexism that women should be protected from danger. He cannot even order a woman to her death. It is as realistic a weakness as is possible, and as dangerous to him as can be, since some of the people trying to kill him are women. Mat shares this affliction and he’d prefer to face hordes of Shaido than one disgruntled Melindhra. At least he can fight back against another man.
As Rand changes customs, and breaks bonds, and ‘brings change to everything’, it seems he is giving freedom to everyone. Initially discomfiting, once people give up their former ways of life, they can grow accustomed to new ones, such as when the Aiel join their societies but leave their clans. I’ve pointed out that in several ‘bad’ cultures (Darkfriends, Whitecloaks, Aridhol, and Seanchan), strict adherence to rank or ideals reduces freedom to nothing. The Dragon represents freedom to choose. Ishamael’s philosophical bent reinforced the idea that choice of who to serve is an important theme. In order for people to choose freely in the Last Battle, Rand first has to destroy whatever constrains their choices now.
Mat says something with far greater meaning than his current situation. ‘Each step had seemed so small, so necessary.’ Keeping in mind the constraints characters both good and evil are under, this line covers so many situations. For example, it describes a Darkfriend’s mentality. No one becomes pure evil overnight, it is a process of tiny steps that seem insignificant, but accumulate until there is no way back, and you are trapped, just as Mat is trapped in his new role as general.
A simple sentence explains how Mat acquired a peculiar item, and explains some character traits of him and another: ‘Kin Tovere liked the dice’. Such an elegant explanation for Mat suddenly whipping a spyglass out of his pouch.
Mat feels the dice rolling on his head again, indicating a battle coming, or a gamble to be taken, for he is waiting to see which pips are showing, and whether he will win. This removes a lot of earlier interest in the question of whether his dicing with the Dark One had a more sinister explanation than that revealed in The Dragon Reborn. The dice in his head are merely symbolic of an impending battle or luck-related choice.
If Rand was so exhausted from his use of the Power in battle, did Sammael exhaust himself as well with his strike in the log tower? He had to be within range of Rand’s strikes, right? Similarly, Egwene and Aviendha are very powerful channelers compared to the other Aes Sedai. Moiraine used an angreal against Trolloc hordes but quickly exhausted herself. How useful are channelers likely to be in a battle anyway if they are so weak?  
Writing Lessons:
Is the scene you are building up to the right one? Does it need to be built up to at all? Will it work best as detailed action, or a quick summary?

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Fires of Heaven - Chapters 38-42

In this section, one heroine makes some rash decisions while another hero makes carefully planned ones.

One of Nynaeve’s qualities is that she is very decisive. There are many situations in which this turns out well, and she never really led the others astray in Falme or on the road to Tear or in Tanchico. On other occasions, leaping before looking gets one into trouble. It is this angle that is being pursued as Nynaeve meets Uno and makes him take her to this Prophet, which in turn brings her to the attention of Galad. That first spontaneous decision to head into the city begins a fateful chain of events. At this juncture, Nynaeve looks like she’s got in all under control again. An opportunity has arisen that just happens to coincide with her desire not to get shot at with arrows. The Prophet is set to finding a boat. As a back-up plan, since the Prophet seems unreliable, Galad is set the same task. And Uno is looking as well. She has quickly and efficiently gathered up several allies and urged them on due to her private concern over her performance in Luca’s show.
Rand has been planning how to best attack the Shaido surrounding Cairhien. He has acted on the idea of a tower from which to observe enemy movements. He has planned how to get rid of his most troublesome follower, the High Lord Weiramon. He has consulted with the clan chiefs and Lan over the best strategy to save the city and drive the Shaido off. He fantasizes about leading men in battle to engage Couladin and personally killing him. He exploits circumstances to better learn Mat’s abilities so he can better use them in the future.
The burden of responsibility has been building upon Rand’s shoulders, and he shows signs of strain when he thinks “Tears were a luxury he could no longer afford, not even inside.” Lessons and pressure from Moiraine, Lan, Sorilea and the Wise Ones, the clan chiefs, and his followers have led Rand to adopt an outward bravado and solemnity that fits his idea of what these people expect him to be. He is struggling to be a man, and overdoing it, as might be expected of a young man thrust into the role for the first time.
Mat is able to look over the battle formations and divine the optimal strategy in minutes. Aside from displaying Mat’s abilities, this short passage is an effective way to describe how the battle should progress and the geography of the main events such that the reader will easily be able to follow the actual battle in later chapters. An author’s fear is always that they may not have correctly reasoned out the best strategy for the characters to follow, and the readers will easily find the gaps in the plans. Other than relying on their own worth as a military historian or strategist, a few tricks can be employed to give readers more confidence in what is being presented. In this case, Mat’s observations are immediately agreed to by Lan, already known to the reader as a great warrior and leader of men. Shortly thereafter, we are told that the clan chiefs also came up with the same plan, so every character whose input could be trusted agrees with Mat’s view. One alternative plan was presented, and it had obvious glaring flaws. Had a second good plan been shown, the reader may have some hesitation as to which should be followed. By contrasting with a bad plan, the other option looks comparatively good, which in the reader’s mind soon becomes ‘the best plan’. To portray Mat’s insight as something veering on genius, Asmodean’s jaw-dropping reaction is used.
Also noteworthy as the story progresses are the increasing detail of memories that are not Rand’s (or Mat’s for that matter), the near constant barrage of comparisons between male and female perceptions of each other, and continuing keen interest in Rand’s love life.
Writing Lessons:
Give the reader confidence in the ideas presented by contrasting them with other ideas held in either high or low regard.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Writing exercise

I tried to take some of what I've been writing about and apply it. Wasn't able to do much else what with the stream of visitors and other events as you'll see below. Enjoy! Regular posting resumes tomorrow.

West the wind blew, raising lazy dust devils and swirls of grit, carrying sand across trackless barren miles of dry landscape. Funneled between rough stony spires and jumbles of rock that had been piled in heaps during the Breaking and since laid undisturbed, the wind gasped as it struggled to rise the slopes of the all but impassable Spine of the World. Into Jangai Pass the wind beat weakly against a cliff face carved into a serpent twirling about a staff, supposedly a symbol of healing from the Age of Legends.  Further on, ancient stone piers clung to a mountainside, the ocean they served long since dried away along with all other evidence of moisture, as though the land itself had been thoroughly wrung.
The last wheeze of wind lifted a flap of the sweat tent, briefly troubling tent’s lone occupant. Sweat and dim light offered no comfort, his affliction had the whole camp in a furor. Wise Ones were hardly ever patient, less so than ever for this.  The mighty Great Lord of the Dark had a man-cold.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Fires of Heaven - Chaptes 33-37

In this section, Nynaeve’s mistakes add to her guilt.
Nynaeve is competent and powerful, so the way to bring her down is by hitting her pride. She always thinks she knows best, and is quite ready to tell every other character how they should act and behave. Steps have been taken to bring her down a notch with Egwene asserting herself against her and the Wise Ones telling her she acts like a child. There was the Forkroot incident in which her impulsive actions led to their near capture.
Now, she has recruited Birgitte into the hunt for Moghedien, and Moghedien has somehow pulled a sting on Birgitte, so that she can lead to Nynaeve. Nynaeve escapes, but Birgitte is ripped out of Tel’aran’rhiod. She nearly dies, and Nynaeve thinks it is all her fault.
Birgitte asserts that any danger she was in, she chose herself. Nynaeve’s attempt to take responsibility removes any attempt by Birgitte to take responsibility herself, and it demeans her. Nynaeve only goes along with that interpretation halfheartedly because she is so desperate to please Birgitte and will do anything to make up to her for what she has lost.
This theme of responsibility turns up often in the series. Each character does their best to be responsible for the people who follow them, or whom they perceive to be under their care. Sometimes they do well, other times not. The characters often feel saddled with duties they cannot ignore, yet continue to fulfill those duties freely.
Birgitte’s point is that people are faced with hard decisions, and they are free to choose as they see fit. There are some parallels with other situations, where some characters choose to serve the Dark One, or choose to break custom or law to accomplish some important goal, or simply in the advice given by the Wise Ones later on: Do what you must, then pay the price.
Nynaeve later berates the people of Samara for putting up with the Prophet’s mobs, all the while acknowledging that it is their own decisions that brought this fate on their heads, and they deserve it for choosing it. I think this philosophy will play a role in the Last Battle. The forces of humanity are being gathered for one stand of their collective will against the will of those who serve the Dark One. People choose a side, and gladly pay a price for that choice. Right now Nynaeve is being tested about the price she is willing to pay.
There are continual references to how men always behave, or how women never act a certain way. Often the supposed fact is untrue but reveals how someone of one sex views itself or the other. A deeper purpose behind this is to set up a later friction between male and female channelers. While there are plot reasons to have such a conflict, it will seem all the more natural by first building up walls between the sexes, regardless of channeling ability. The comparisons also have a more adult tone, with more frequent allusions to sexuality than at any time since Lanfear was around.
Men could not avoid gossiping; it was in them at birth and nothing women could do ever got it out of them.
She was going to kill Thom Merrilin and Valan Luca. And maybe any other man she could get her hands on, on sheer principle.
Burn him too, for a stubborn fool man.
Any man could build a bridge, and leave him to it was what she said.
It was interesting really, having his eyes on her when a woman as pretty as Elayne was there.
For a man like Valan Luca, that coy little flight of yours tonight was only asking him to keep pursuing you.
I know how to take a man out of his miseries. Give him a swift kick, or else get him drunk and find him a pr—
Nynaeve claimed you had to manage men for their own good.
If you are going to wear the dress, why cover up? You are a woman. Why not be proud of it?
Only men and dim-witted girls take blame where there is none, and you are neither.
The number of menageries and other traveling performers in Samara - fourteen! - seems odd given the lack of them seen in other books. In the modern world, there are a number of tours and exhibitions that travel from town to town, so the situation in Samara is plausible, but it stands out as one of the odder coincidences. Plot wise, it incites Luca to take on any advantage he can get by employing the Heroes.
Liandrin makes a choice to attack Moghedien in a moment of weakness, and finds herself shielded and cast away. Satisfying, it also suggests Moghedien will be without mercy when she finds Nynaeve, for Moghedien’s second lessons are exceedingly sharp.
Elayne had many interesting things to teach the reader about links and bonds. The perfect to display such knowledge about links is just before she has to bond Birgitte. That way, the context of bonds and control has been discussed and the reader has information to fall back on when Elayne starts talking about the bond.
Writing Lessons:
Avoid coincidences by giving them solid reasons to occur.

Monday, 2 April 2012

The Fires of Heaven - Chapters 28-32

In this section, several characters find themselves trapped in good circumstances.
Gareth knows he’ll never leave Salidar, but figures he has little to lose now. Gareth’s perspective is entertaining, providing keen insight into the politics and earning respect for the no-nonsense approach while surrounding by schemers. If for some reason readers didn’t take to Siuan, they will take to Gareth in opposition as he makes Siuan clean his boots. Gareth getting the upper hand over the Aes Sedai in his bargaining is fun to watch as well. Gareth has acquired reader’s sympathy by his ill treatment at the hands of Morgase and Rahvin. So long as Morgase, Elayne and Thom remain to remind readers of how things were in Caemlyn before the bad times, Gareth is likely to retain that sympathy.
Min turns the tables on both of them by telling Siuan she must stay near him or they will both die. The most likely reason is that without her cleaning duties to occupy her, her role guiding the rebels would be found out by the villains, and they would put an end to her. Min’s Viewing doesn’t specify a particular occasion, it is a warning against a certain behaviour, -staying away from Gareth for too far or too long- that may create an irreversible situation that ends with her death.
Kadere can’t understand why Isendre can’t seduce Rand. When he learns Isendre’s suspicions that Aviendha got there first, there is nothing left for him but to murder her. Kadere believes that the way to control Rand is through sexual relations with women that Kadere controls.
Rand discovers he is wealthy, possibly as wealthy as any man in the world. Aiel law gives him ownership of 1/50th of everything in the Stone of Tear, and of the kingdom itself since they surrendered to him. Tairen law doesn’t cover the eventual return of the Dragon Reborn, or any other conqueror who takes over the Stone; it has always been assumed the High Lords would rule forevermore. No one was likely to argue against Rand taking anything he wants, so an imposed limit of 1/50th is actually in their favour.
Wealth is a dangerous advantage to give a character. Buying off the opposition can offer a way out of many situations, so there always has to be some means of keeping this advantage in check. In Elayne’s case, she is in a remote location where her wealth cannot be used and her title carries the danger of abduction. Moiraine’s letters of rights can allow spies to track her down. Separating the character from the source of their wealth, often making the leave home, is usually sufficient to remove this advantage. Wealth often provokes resentment or other negative emotions in the reader. Most nobles and wealthy people in the series have had unfavourable portrayals. Rand’s earlier instinct was to feed the refugees in Cairhien, which somewhat removes any negative association with the so-called nobility, so readers might assume that his wealth will be put to that purpose.
Rand’s naiveté mirrors my own when I first read this series, never seeing Aviendha’s attraction to him despite the earlier emphasis, and thinking marriage was the only logical outcome. Rand’s later comment reflects all-too familiar entitlement: She can’t really mean never again. This book, more than any of the previous ones has honed in on male-female relationships, since Rand’s love life plays such a pivotal role. The author skillfully captures the good, bad, and humourous sides of relationships.
The Seanchan make a surprise appearance, and Aviendha demonstrates how enemies should be treated. Rand agrees that he needs to be harder.
I’ll analyze a paragraph relating to desperation, when Rand is hauling Aviendha from cold water. Desperation is tricky to portray, it easily veers towards parodying itself.
Got to pull her out. He crawled backward, hauling at her. She was a dead weight, sliding slowly out of the water. Don’t care if the ice scrapes her. Better that than freezing or drowning. Back. Keep moving. If you quit, she dies. Keep moving, burn you! Crawling. Pulling with his legs, pushing with one hand. The other locked in Aviendha’s hair; no time to get a better grip; she could not feel it anyway. You’ve had it easy for too long. Lords kneeling, and gai’shain running to fetch your wine, and Moiraine doing as she’s told. Back. Time to do something yourself, if you still can. Move, you flaming fatherless son of a spavined goat! Keep moving!
The sentences are clipped short, emphasizing action instead of the lengthy wordy sentences we are used to.  The lack of detail in each short sentence creates fear in the reader as they wonder what is happening. The seriousness is belied by certain words: Got to, dead, don’t care, if you quit, she dies, no time, she could not feel it, keep moving, move! Rand makes several choices between bad and worse outcomes: scrapes vs. drowning; freezing vs. getting a better grip; effort vs. quit. The imagery shows slowness and difficulty of movement: crawled, hauled, dead weight, slowly, back, crawling, pushing with one hand, locked, could not feel it. Rand’s building personal turmoil is revealed as he needs to save her, curses himself for fatigue, admonishes himself for having helpers, taunts himself for laziness, and finally lashes out with a long string of curses.
Writing Lessons:
Build up the emotion to show your character’s desperation.

The Fires of Heaven - Chapters 22-27

In this section, Rand and Siuan each find looming obstacles ahead.
Rand’s camp is attacked by Trollocs, in almost the exact same way as in the last book. This attack was designed by Sammael or someone seeking to implicate him, but was designed to fail. Odds favour that it is meant to draw Rand after him in Illian, as part of the plan hatched between himself, Rahvin, Greendale and Lanfear. The battle provides a bit of traditional action, as opposed to the recent subtler forms of action from Forkroot, discovery by Whitecloaks, or Black Ajah interactions.
Rand also has to commit to his altruistic motives. While he knew for certain that he meant to use the Aiel to peacefully unify the Nations, others did not. They are supposed to save the people they find, not kill them, which is obviously disappointing to a warrior culture. The Aiel who are ready for this radical change are with Rand, those who cannot change from their marauding clan warfare ways go to the Shaido. Despite his best efforts, the Shaido are keeping pace a week ahead of him, burning and pillaging, killing and enslaving.
As with other characters who try to guide Rand, Sorilea starts with the assumption that he must be hard to lead men. Rand is still learning how to be a leader, but he will begin to take such advice all too seriously.
Mat has boundaries given for his new memories: from before the Trolloc Wars to the War of the Hundred Years, a fifteen hundred-year period. Whatever interest this may have for the reader, there has been precious little discussion of centuries-past events in the main text. The Glossary is an important resource for such things, but an author has to weigh the cost of keeping this information outside of the main story. A glossary or other resource saves an info-dump, but now risks the reader flipping away from what they are reading to learn more from the glossary, taking them out of the story and requiring them to get back into it.
Min’s love for Rand provides only a tenuous link to the other storyline, and the main point of using her perspective is to delay the revelation of Siuan’s plan until the last possible moment. Siuan intends to create allies for Rand by influencing the rebel council to choose a new Amyrlin that she can manipulate directly. She has her Amyrlin chosen out already, but that is not yet revealed. Enough of the plan has been revealed that the reader will be interested in what comes next, so details such as that are held in reserve. Siuan implies that she and Logain will be able to lie to convince the rebels that Red Ajah conspired to have Logain proclaim him the Dragon Reborn. Even if Siuan’s plot is exposed, provided word leaks out about Elaida’s supposed role, it will be enough to discredit her and have her pulled down.  
Robert Jordan is reputed to write realistic battle scenes, so I’ll analyze one with Mat and see what I can make of it.
A critical element is to situate the action. The birdcalls tell Mat that the enemy is coming from north and south at the same time. The geography of the camp doesn’t matter so much as the fact that Mat is as far away from Rand as he could be, implying that no help from channelers is forthcoming, and Mat’s tent will be one of the first to be attacked. This is easily understood by the reader.
A short description of the preparation and equipment allows readers to picture the warrior and demonstrate a sense of urgency: Mat has his black spear and takes the time to put on his medallion because he is cautious of Forsaken.  Melindhra went naked into battle.
Before describing the outside scene, a Trolloc attacks Mat. A few words describe unpreparedness: he had no time, before he was completely out, brushed his hair, and threw himself. The paragraph ends with a word describing preparedness: with the spear ready. In three sentences, he has conveyed that although caught off guard, Mat has overcome the situation and is in control.
The enemy Trolloc is described in fearsome detail. It snarls, lunges, howls. Mat spins, knocks, thrusts. Its armor parts, it folds, cries. Mat pulls, dodges. The verbs describing Mat’s actions are packed with visual imagery and motion, telling readers that he is more agile and nimble than his opponents.
The immediate threat gone, the surrounding scene is described, situating Mat. Aiel are winning against Darkfriends and Trollocs.
Mat’s personal stake in the battle is revealed: He wants no part of battles; he wants to gamble and chase women. He blames Rand for his situation.
A third Trolloc, fearsomely described again, is casually dispatched. A Myrddraal faces him, having just killed two Aiel at once. The hierarchy of fighters has been established. Darkfriends are weak. Trollocs are a bit weaker than Aiel. Mat kills a Trolloc at a time with ease. A Myrddraal kills two Aiel at a time with ease. Mat is now faced with a foe that is his match or better.
The Myrddraal’s fear inducing gaze is described, and even Aiel acknowledge its effects. Mat roars and charges towards it.
The Myrddraal’s dark-forged sword deals festering wounds that can kill. Moiraine might be able to heal it, if she were near. Mat launches an all-out offensive.
Defending against it gives the Myrddraal the advantage, so Mat attacks with an intensity to keep the Myrddraal from having a chance to nick him with its blade. Any other random Shadowspawn could stab Mat from behind. Mat’s strategy is succinctly described, so that the reader knows the purpose behind the actions. The order in which it is shown is first to tell what action Mat is taking, and while the reader is surprised and excited at the prospect of the fight, the purpose fills the reader with understanding and a sense that Mat has the upper hand and is in control of the battle.
The battle is a draw, Mat can’t hit it, but it can’t stop defending either. Mat struck. Its hand flew away. Mat sliced, did not stop, thrust, cut, again. Mat steps away. It thrashes, flails, spills its blood. Mat’s verbs are controlled deliberate actions; the Myrddraal’s verbs are uncontrolled, desperate, reactive.
This battle description was structured to give the reader a certain impression of Mat, and to build up towards the battle with the Myrddraal.
Writing Lessons:
Describe where the action is happening as well as the action itself. The location is not simply the geography but is relative to other important things such as allies, healing, objective, or object.