Friday, 31 August 2012

Crossroads of Twilight - Chapters 2-4

In this section, Mat tries to re-establish command.
Mat has an awful time trying to earn respect. His own men know all he is capable of, and Thom and Juilin know enough to respect him. The Seanchan he has picked up only know him as Tylin’s Toy, and treat him accordingly. Even the Seeker searching for Tuon considers Mat a pawn being moved by Thom Merrilin. Earlier scenes with Gawyn, Logain, and Samitsu established that having two captains is terribly inefficient. Mat is in a similar plight, with both he and Egeanin fighting for dominance among their followers.
Mat is finally able to throw Egeanin off balance by mentioning Tuon’s name. This gains him a precious advantage over her, for the time being. He has no such hold on Tuon herself however.
Tuon is angered over being called a servant as part of the cover story Mat has cobbled together. She hurls a cup at him, and Setalle presents her with another one to throw should she desire it. Mat promises to set her free once he figures out how to do so safely. After some intense seemingly random questions directed at each other, Tuon makes a promise herself. She will not betray Mat or try to escape.
Mat learns that the search for Tuon is being carried out secretly and that Tylin has been killed by the gholam, which Tuon calls superstition. Importantly, Joline senses the cleansing of saidin, far to the north, which frightens her so much she wants Mat to get the circus move as far from it as possible. The cleansing is a convenient marker for establishing the timing of these chapters, but it isn’t necessary unless there is some chance of these separate storylines being brought together.
Noal takes too long to reach Mat’s Wagon, which Mat thinks is due to him dropping off his fish, but it comes so close after the last clue that Noal is not what he seems that the reader should be distrusting him. This is a very deliberate attempt by the author to introduce doubt about Noal. The first clue was Noal finding a dark-skinned man with blue eyes familiar, and the second is that he vanished for a few minutes. It’s not much, and it’s not menacing, but it does have the desired effect, and the reader should be watching Noal very closely, even if Mat is not.
The chapter featuring Karede allows a glimpse into the most secretive parts of Seanchan society. The supposed conspiracy around Tuon’s disappearance prompts the Seeker and Karede to establish their own conspiracy, so secret only they know of it. Their persistence is played up, and builds up some tension as they set out to find Tuon. Mat never had a chance to fight Seanchan, and this could be building up towards a great battle.
Let’s take a closer look at how new ideas are introduced in the text.
In chapter 2, we first learn Valan Luca has a circus.  We next see that attendance is down, so the bouncers are playing dice. Next, the strongman and his wife are engrossed in the dicing, which is atypical for them. Any behaviour out of the ordinary catches the reader’s attention. The flow from the first idea to the next, and the next after is smooth and logical.
The circus folk react to Mat and Egeanin’s arrival, giving an opportunity to describe Mat and Egeanin’s cover story. The strongman warns Mat about Seanchan speaking with Luca. Egeanin interrupts. Noal is ready to flee. The strongman’s wife tells Egeanin the Seanchan are just talking. The strongman adds to Mat that he doesn’t think there’ll be any trouble. The bouncer adds that they’ll protect Egeanin, admitting her gold is a factor in that loyalty.  Egeanin lays down the law and renews the promise of gold. Mat is angry because it’s actually his gold. He launches into all the other things that Egeanin does wrong, and then, out of nowhere, asks himself the original question again: why are the Seanchan there?
These pages allowed the introduction of a danger to reveal aspects of Mat and Egeanin’s relationship. They jostle for control, and each of them is seen as the leader by some of the circus folk. After a short while, the author brings the reader’s attention back to a previously raised point. The fact that the Seanchan’s presence had been revealed and discussed earlier allows the sudden shift in Mat’s thinking back to that topic. By placing that sudden shift in the middle of a paragraph, the author makes it feel even more like a sudden thought interrupting Mat’s other thoughts.
Considering the danger, Mat doesn’t even think of making a run. He tells everyone he’s confident it will work out, and they are mostly surprised he even spoke since Egeanin had done such an effective job of presenting herself as leader. Mat says he’ll slip near Luca’s wagon. Noal implies they will all die. Mat searches for signs he may be right by listening for dice rolling in his head. Egeanin catches up to him. Mat worries she will be recognized by one of the Seanchan. Egeanin dismisses the idea. Mat warns her not to glare at everyone. She angrily agrees.
Now the control has shifted back to Mat. Note how Egeanin ruins his plan by showing up immediately after he has dismissed the danger. Mat is not given any time to find solid footing, and it is not done through physical inconveniences, but through relationships. There is no time pressure, no imminent threat, just a chance of impending doom if he can’t regain control of his followers.
They traverse the circus grounds, spotting Aludra on the way. Egeanin berates Mat for blowing their cover by staring at her. Mat gives a snide comment, winning that particular skirmish. They see the Seanchan, as well as a number of their followers who are also watching the Seanchan. Mat worries about the clues they are giving away to the Seanchan. Egeanin recognizes the officer as he leaves. Mat realizes his luck is all that kept him from recognizing Egeanin.
The Seanchan wanted horses, but Luca’s warrant was enough to send them on. Luca worries about them returning and insists they should have left Ebou Dar earlier. Mat says leaving that night would have drawn attention. He says not to worry, they can leave right after Thom returns from the city. Luca dances a happy dance. Egeanin is angry her orders were not followed. Luca points out that Mat has the gold so he gives the orders.
As each event unfolds, it allows the strained competition between Mat and Egeanin to be revealed. Every other danger is subordinate to that one. Except the one that Mat eventually uses to finally beat her out: the danger posed by Mat’s relationship with Tuon.  
Writing Lessons:
Allow the solution to a problem to pose its own problems to the heroes.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Crossroads of Twilight - Prologue part 2 to Chapter 1

In this section, old and new characters converge in Cairhien, and Mat resumes his slow escape from the Seanchan.
Samitsu has been running the Sun Palace in Cairhien since Cadsuane’s departure. She helped heal Rand after Fain scratched him with his ruby dagger, and she is considered the most skilled healer in the White Tower. However the emergence of Sashalle from her time as a Wise One apprentice derails Samitsu’s control.  Sashalle is ranked higher due to her strength in the Power, strength that has been re-established by her healing from stilling by one of the Asha’man. The two of them clash over who will take control of a handful of situations, from rebels, to Loial’s return, to Dobraine’s attempted assassination, to Logain’s appearance at the Sun Palace. 
Jordan uses a rapid series of unrelated events happening at the same time frequently, usually as a means of cramming as many conversations between characters in the same locale into as short a text as possible. Over these fifteen pages, Ailil, Loial, Dobraine, Sashalle, and Logain are handled, as well as even smaller tidbits passed quickly over so the reader can get a sense of what has happened in Cairhien since Cadsuane was last there. In this case, as it has been in the past, each interaction is introduced by someone entering the room with important news.
Mat has hidden at Valan Luca’s circus, and is still within sight of Ebou Dar nearly a week after he set the Windfinders free and abducted Tuon. He is trying to tally the losses to the Sea Folk as they made their escape to sea, measuring the cost of the choice he made to free them. Mat is surprised the Seanchan aren’t tearing the countryside apart looking for their missing heiress. There is also significant mention of the fact that the Seanchan are here to stay. There are too few ships to take them anywhere else, and the steady disgorgement of settlers means they will soon be setting down roots throughout the land. The entire Seanchan invasion may be a sort of metaphor about how one cannot be rid of the worst part of themselves. Later discussions of a truce being needed in order to concentrate on fighting the Last Battle seem to bear out this idea.
Noal is fishing near Mat, and a few clues are meant to have the reader question what they know about the gnarled old man. Astute minds may recall an old man in Graendal’s palace and note Noal’s foggy memory. Others may have noticed a family name shared between Noal and another notable figure. Whether or not they do, does it matter that he’s seen dark-skinned people with blue eyes before? By drawing attention to this mystery, the author is hinting that the reader should spend some time thinking about this. I still don’t know what it means, which is frustrating because if readers are going to spend time thinking about it at the author’s direction, they expect an answer at some point.
Writing Lessons:
If you draw attention to something, you are expected to make it worth the reader’s time.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Crossroads of Twilight - Prologue part 1

In this section, a host of secondary characters are introduced.
Prologues are usually intended to give the reader information that can’t otherwise be shown in the story. When information is given in a prologue, it creates the expectation that the information will be of some necessity in building mood, explaining events, or driving the plot forward. In this case it only works if we consider Crossroads of Twilight as the first part of a larger book which includes the following volume or two. It might be best to think of it that way since this prologue spans eighty pages, almost one eighth of the entire book. At that point, the only reason to call it prologue instead of chapters is in order to lump various shorter bits together and pretend that the story actually only starts when the central characters are presented in Chapter one.
The first part of the prologue covers General Ituralde in Arad Doman, Eamon Valda leading the Children of the Light, Gabrelle at the Black Tower, Yukiri in the White Tower, Gawyn outside Tar Valon, and General Davram Bashere near Caemlyn. Four of these are battle leaders, indicating that war preparations are beginning. Four of these are completely new perspectives, though the sections previously granted to Gawyn or Valda were short, and parts of prologues themselves.
Ituralde has been mentioned by name before, but has never been seen on-page. His behaviour is consistent with Cadsuane’s, in that he seems to have been already anointed by the Light. He carries the favour of the disparate factions, and the only rules he follows are those ingrained by his morals. In comparison, Valda contemplates murder of his peers. Gawyn merely contemplates betraying his fellows, and he will act as a proxy for Rand for the next few books, looking down two divergent roads and deciding which to follow.
Gabrelle and Yukiri fail to attract any interest aside from the circumstances in their respective locales. Gabrelle’s seduction of Logain overshadows all other aspects of her personality, which is completely typical of her Ajah. As previously discussed, the Black Ajah hunters are more identifiable by their quest than by their individual personalities. As a result, each of them is interchangeable with the others, all the more so when Yukiri has a bland personality that fails to elevate her to the status of her co-conspirators Seaine and Pevara.
The mystery of the too-young Sitters is reintroduced here, and more discussion will follow in later chapters. We’ll check in to see if it warrants the attention.
In Bashere’s section, the attempted theft of the Seals on the Dark One’s Prison provides the first direct menace. All the other threats have been veiled and insinuated, none have been directly shown.
Let’s examine how the author handles the introduction of new characters, with a closer look at Ituralde’s first appearance.
Bashere is introduced as a seasoned soldier; the first two paragraphs give examples.
Jaalam is introduced in paragraph three, and his close relationship to Ituralde is demonstrated in the next two paragraphs.
The next two pages describe King Alsalam, an old friend whose erratic behaviour brought Ituralde to concoct his mad plan. Four other Lords and Ladies are named, who unswervingly obeyed the King’s orders, never to be seen again.
The next page introduces Donjel, a scout with severe facial injuries. He is trusted with carrying a packet to Ituralde’s wife should he die.
Jaalam is called to follow to Lady Osana’s hunting lodge. She too will never be heard from again. Jaalam opens doors and takes the lead to offer Ituralde some small protection as they enter the lodge.
They are met by Lord Shimron, once a trusted advisor to the King, now Dragonsworn. Shimron and Jaalam trade bows, honoring each other.
Three domain lords are named: Rajabi, Wakeda and Ankaer. The Dragonsworn have Shimron, and the Taraboners have no named leader.
Wakeda expresses doubt, taunting Ituralde. They trade verbal jabs as they discuss the Seanchan invasion.
Shimron acts as peacemaker, turning the talk to the Aiel on Almoth Plain. Ituralde points out that the Aiel have slowed the Seanchan, but can’t stop them. He reveals his latest orders from the King. He offers a truce in the King’s name to the assembled battle leaders. Now the earlier focus on the relationship between Ituralde and King is justified. All of these relationships and the choice to face the Seanchan depend on trust, which is why all the characters shown have had some element of their trustworthiness described.
Rajabi and Wakeda get one-line physical reactions. Shimron asks whether the Seanchan can be defeated, effectively deferring to Ituralde’s wisdom.
Ituralde answers yes, and Shimron, Rajabi and Wakeda agree to follow him. Their responses are given in order from he with the closest links to Ituralde to the most hostile.
The nameless Taraboners express doubt, and Ituralde offers to lead them himself. Wakeda wails at this aspect of the plan, still acting as the most vocal doubter of the group. But having already given his word, there is nothing to be done, and the Taraboner leader accepts Ituralde’s offer to put his own skin on the line.
In summary, a handful of named characters are used to establish the role of trust in relationships in this part of the world. Jaalam and Donjel offer direct examples, and the description of the other Domani’s dedication to follow orders reinforces them. Three named Lords are presented to show a range of attitudes towards Ituralde, and the domino-like fashion in which they fall into line precedes the Taraboner reaction, which represents the attitude of the everyman.
Writing Lessons:
Use a variety of characters in short speaking roles or shorter non-speaking roles to portray behaviours that will give believability to the situation.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Wheel of Time - Act 2 - Books 4-9

Treating The Wheel of Time as one long novel, the Books from The Shadow Rising to Winter’s Heart make up Act 2. This is the middle of the story, where we expect to find conflict and a growing problem that the heroes can’t solve, leading into the conclusion of the story in which victory is achieved.
The Shadow Rising picks up with Rand having accepted that he is mankind’s saviour. He sets out determined to act out his role, only if he can do it without guidance or prodding. He rejects help from Moiraine, preferring to set out where his parentage leads: to the Aiel waste. With the help of Lanfear, he gains leadership over the Aiel and captures a Forsaken to teach him. Lanfear later strikes out at Rand in jealousy, and he loses his mentors.
Rand becomes a leader, and builds an army of soldiers and male channelers. He learns that followers have more say over the leader than the other way around. His arrogance leads him to make a mistake that gets him kidnapped. His treatment hardens him, and he grows ever more protective of his emotions. He resolves to firmly impose his will over both enemies and followers. For a time he appears to succeed, leaving dead Forsaken and wrecked armies wherever he goes. Eventually, the people he constrains wiggle free or fight back, reinforcing his attitude. Rand is well on his way to becoming a tyrant.
At this late juncture new potential mentors appear, Cadsuane and Sorilea, who see that a saviour who imposes his will is not much better than the Dark One. Their challenge is to save Rand from himself, before it is too late. At the last, Rand stumbles into a trap of his own making, yet recovers enough to gain Cadsuane’s help. He cleanses the taint, metaphorically erasing his past mistakes, but the question remains what path will he follow?
The villain Ishamael has returned in a new body, naming himself Moridin. He reveals his plan to be not to try control Rand yet. A board game serves as a metaphor for controlling Rand. It can be as dangerous to hold Rand as to let your opponent hold him. Moridin has cast doubt in Rand’s mind, now he plans to sit back while the heroes fulfill those doubts and set Rand’s path towards the Shadow. The only hitch so far is Rand’s cleansing of saidin, a danger so great to the Dark One that all the Forsaken were commanded to stop it even if Rand is killed in the doing.
The cleansing of the taint is the single most important event to happen in the world, opening up the possibility of men and women working together to defeat the Dark One, and acting as the opening blow of the Last Battle. As a pivotal moment, it makes a logical place to end Act 2.
Robert Jordan deftly creates obstacles of character, making the heroes’ choices directly responsible for how events play out. Nowhere is this clearer than with the battle for Rand’s identity, where his most personal defining choices dictate the fate of the world.
Supporting characters have been propelled into positions of leadership throughout Act 2. Elayne, Egwene, Mat and Perrin have assumed the responsibilities of leadership without going through the difficulties that Rand has created for himself. Notably absent is Nynaeve, who acts as Rand’s protector and conscience, disposing of threats to him, and she therefore has no leadership duties to assume.
All of the characters have had romantic interests identified and the majority have cemented them. Where stories frequently are resolved by acquiring the romantic interest, the fact that this story has tied most of them up this early may signify that the most important role of the relationship is to make men and women work together, like saidar and saidin. Resolving the romance at the end of the story would be counterproductive in achieving this goal.
The World of Dreams, Tel’aran’rhiod, is a place where identity and force of will shape reality. The early part of Act 2 had a heavy focus on this realm which was conspicuously absent in later books. This is distraction on the author’s part, diverting the reader’s attention from the possibilities of its powers until their eventual use in the final act.
Several of the books made use of a magical item or spell in the climax of a plotline, such as the Bowl of the Winds, balefire, a’dam, or the Choedan Kal, but these are far less obvious quests than in the earlier books of the series.
The broadened cast of characters and more frequent use of minor characters’ viewpoints greatly expand the world. Readers understand that the whole world is at stake, because they are exposed to the entire world and its myriad cultures. This wider tapestry has the side effect of bogging down the story a bit; most often when the readers can’t see how a scene affects the characters they have been following for so long.
The story carries the best pacing and enjoyment when readers are treated to several chapters in a row featuring the same locale before jumping to a different one.
Continuing the theme of American fantasy, the books of Act 2 reflect a far less certain time, reminiscent of the Vietnam era and its outcome, and the internal conflict it created.  Rand and America have stepped forward to claim the privileges of adulthood, and then made an apparent bungle of things with hardened arrogance and ego, the type of errors in judgment such as any young man might make. These events are part of the modern American mythology, along with the self-questioning that comes with it. These books are about the search not only for what outcomes are right, but what actions are right to reach them.

Winter's Heart - Summary

Winter’s Heart shows Rand reacting to an attempt on his life at the conclusion of the previous book. As with the pair of books before them, The Path of Daggers and Winter’s Heart are like halves of a book dealing with Rand’s ego and the vipers he has brought to nest at his side. The assassins who hid among his followers are symbolic of the choices he is making, which are leading him astray from where he must go. His attempt to destroy them for their betrayal only aggravates the situation, leaving him with fewer and fewer people to trust.
Rand’s eventual apology and plea to Cadsuane provide him the help he needs when he needs it most. A highly symbolic series of events in Far Madding represent his life without the Light, and with it. As soon as he embraces the Light, in the stern form of Cadsuane, he is able to cleanse saidin, representing his own cleansing.
Nynaeve nearly gets Rand and Lan killed through a mistake that is also symbolic of her role as protector. She left Emond’s Field to save Rand and to gain Lan’s love, and she fails them both. This is the first time we see Nynaeve end a book in disgrace instead of victory. She is pardoned, via Rand’s control of the link they form when they cleanse saidin.
Padan Fain surprisingly returns for the first time since cutting Rand with his knife. Fain uses the Shadow’s own tactics against it, and he represents Rand’s potential to do the same.
The Forsaken collectively attack Rand but are repelled by people with a common goal, including one who shares that goal despite being Black Ajah. Verin’s compulsion of Elza and her subsequent destruction of Osan’gar represent the Shadow’s own tactics turning on itself, just as happened in Aridhol. Evil simply cannot get out of its own way.
This battle was the first to show men and women linked together. Enough has been made of the need for cooperation in the Last Battle that this development is exciting, though lacking in some insight as to the possibilities and limitations. The author doesn’t want to give too much away yet.
Other sections of the book jump from established characters to newcomers. These newcomers act as very subtle symbols of greater events occurring in the story and Rand’s conflict. So subtle, the reader must ask what the point of them was. Approximately 6000 pages into the story, readers have significantly less interest in characters that have never featured before and appear unlikely to again. Even knowing what future books hold, I struggle to find why these characters needed such a strong presence in the story.
Several romantic angles are covered, with Perrin, Mat, and Rand each finding difficulties in their relationships. Perrin’s identity is centered on his wife, Mat’s identity is contingent on not having a wife, and Rand’s identity will depend on the romance with his three loves. Each of these relationships is somewhat symbolic of faith. Perrin is accused of losing faith or betraying it, Mat rejects it, and Rand feels he cannot afford to have faith, seeing it as a weakness.
Elayne begins her quest for the crown, but it feels like her quest to become the ideal ruler. If Rand represented the Light when he was bonded to the three women, and Cadsuane represents it later, then Elayne is attempting to become the embodiment of the Light, searching for that perfect balance between strength and compassion.
Several Seanchan points of view emphasize the direction the series will take from here on. The Seanchan are ingrained and cannot be removed or repelled.
This was the first book to skip a full calendar year in the publication schedule. Readers can forgive delays when they get what they want in the end. Adding to the sense of delay is the virtual absence of Egwene, whose storyline jumped ahead a month at the end of the previous book, and the unfinished plotlines involving Perrin, and Elayne. Although each of these reaches a turning point, they are in no way as complete as Rand’s plotline was. Readers expect to wrap them up a year later, when the next book is published.
Overall the book offers a baffling mix of new and old characters and a few dangling plotlines, which are overcome by potent scenes in Ebou Dar, Far Madding and Shadar Logoth.
Writing Lessons:
Introducing new pivotal characters late in the story can frustrate your longtime readers.  

Winter's Heart - Chapters 33-35

In this section, Rand recovers from a horrible blunder, and his allies prevail in an epic battle.
Rand is on shaky ground as he leaves to assassinate the Asha’man. Ignoring his recent understanding that killing the Asha’man changes nothing in the long run, he rushes off to play at killing, leaving the duty of keeping him on a moral trajectory to his friends. Min implores him to see the danger to himself, while Alivia thinks killing is a game, thinking of it as cavalierly as Rand does. Nynaeve is the last one to have a say in Rand’s actions, her access to the One Power is the only means by which Rand can gain entry to the villains’ apartment.
Nynaeve belatedly realizes what she has involved herself in. She didn’t think before; she thought of it as an adventure, confronting Darkfriends, renegade Asha’man. But Rand and her husband are going in to execute the men, to kill them before they know someone is in the room with them. Nynaeve left the Two Rivers to protect the boys from the wicked world and the ways of Aes Sedai, and at the last she utterly fails to act as Rand’s conscience. Kill them in their sleep, if you can, she says, giving her blessing to their actions.
As is the author’s habit, the actions which immediately follow Nynaeve’s capitulation are a metaphor for Rand’s moral situation: Something unseen wrapped snugly around Rand’s chest beneath his arms, and slowly he rose into the air, floating higher until he drifted over the edge of the overhanging eave. The invisible harness vanished, and his boots dropped to the sloping roof, sliding a little on the damp gray slates. Crouching, he moved back on all fours.
There is almost no foreshadowing of Fain’s appearance, which can frustrate a reader. At this point Jordan assumes readers are familiar with characters from several books back and haven’t started with this one. It’s a fair assumption, yet the sudden appearance of a returning character can confuse as easily as excite the reader.
Fain represents the evil of Aridhol, a nation that fought the Shadow using the Shadow’s own tactics, eventually destroying itself and tainting every pebble of the capital. Fain’s appearance at this juncture is highly symbolic. No sooner has Rand’s conscience abandoned him than Fain appears, dancing out of reach, goading Rand down the wrong path; the path Mordeth followed. The scene is prophetic, showing Rand’s eventual fate with a twin of sorts who has already succumbed.
Rand instinctively reacts to the illusion, striking Fain and driving him away. Lan is hurt. Rand cracks a joke and Lan does not laugh. He only laughs for Nynaeve, a reminder of her role as conscience and soul for both Rand and Lan.
Cadsuane, representing the Light itself, whisks to the scene and berates Nynaeve. If the guards have them, it is because of you. What can Cadsuane do? First, she has heard Rand’s plea to help her, delivered by Verin. Cadsuane and the Light follow strict rules, and keep their promises.
Rand’s prison is a metaphor for the one constructed by himself and Nynaeve. He dwells in darkness, confined in a tight space, a result of his arrogance and abandonment of morals. He remains trapped there until Cadsuane frees him, the fortunate result of his momentary hesitation the day before. Once in that prison, only the Light can free him. Once freed, he can even cleanse the taint. Many of the metaphors and symbolism in the series are subtle, and this feels like a hammer blow in comparison.
The battle at Shadar Logoth is somewhat unconventional. Readers know every single participant in the battle, and have a clear understanding of the battleground, handily described before battle begins. This allows the author to shift viewpoints continually, covering the entire battle hardly ever coming back to any one character.
Elza’s perspective gives the stakes and paints a picture of strong desperation.
Barmellin and Timna show that the battle has far-reaching consequences, greater than even the battle’s participants know.
Cyndane demonstrates sudden motion, conveying surprise, perhaps enough to catch the heroes off guard. She also confirms she is Lanfear reincarnated.
Cadsuane shows how effortlessly the first attack of lightning strikes has been repelled, and counterattacks with devastating force. Holding the opponents at bay is not the problem, Rand and Nynaeve’s stamina is.
Rand’s perspective casts doubt on the effort to cleanse saidin. He has made no progress.
Demandred finds his skulking ineffective, and must flee before a string of barrages erupts the forest into flame. He encounters some opponents face to face and underestimates them. He also offers the third clue of the book that he truly is not Mazrim Taim. Sigh.
Cyndane has figured out how to avoid the sheets of flame that are launched in her direction. This represents the turning point in the battle, the first time the villains are making progress.
Osan’gar reveals he is Dashiva, and mirrors Cyndane’s tactic. The villains are closing in.
Verin underestimates Graendal, and is in a fight for her life.
Eben has been walking and little else, demonstrating that the heroes can’t see the villains approaching. Aran’gar deceives them long enough to get in close.
Cyndane faces Alivia, who is stronger but lacking other advantages. This scene represents the heroes fighting back against these closer incursions, and maybe being on even footing. Maybe.
Moghedien sees a black dome and decides to sit back and let events unfold.
Rand struggles to control the flow of Power. He is succeeding, but can he hold on? His struggle is presented here, just as the other battles have been joined and have uncertain outcome.
Cadsuane’s perspective tells us that Rand’s effort to cleanse the taint is working, and that the villains have vanished for now. She takes advantage of the opportunity to heal Nynaeve, leaving an opening for Osan’gar.
Osan’gar spies the heroes sitting idly and prepares a fatal strike.
Elza is revealed to be Black Ajah, but the compulsion Verin laid lets her rationalize killing Dashiva. This represents the defeat of the villains.
Moghedien sees the black dome vanish. A vacuum is created into which she is pulled. Readers should know she is dead. When there is a threat to a character’s identity, they must overcome it or be destroyed. Moghedien’s character changed forever when she thinks that if she survived this, she would never feel fear again. She is metaphorically dead anyway, so the lack of a body shouldn’t be troubling, and it should be clear that she won’t be resurrected either. If she was, she wouldn’t be Moghedien any more.
Cadsuane surveys the battlefield and tallies the cost of victory.
The battle was filled with revelations, with several secret identities exposed, almost as though their lies could not hold up to the Light represented by the continent-smashing levels of the One Power being used. Stripping away the taint also stripped away their secrets, for the reader at least. Each small focused scene of the battle represented the battle as a whole.
Writing Lessons:
In conflicts, make each scene represent the emotional progression you want the reader to feel as the battle unfolds.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Winter's Heart - Chapters 29-32

In this section, Mat escapes with a wife in tow, and Rand promises to accept an advisor.
Mat and his allies lack insight that other characters already have, notably that sul’dam are women who can learn how to channel. Watching him experiment with the a’dam is necessary to maintain belief in his ingenuity and allows a chance to prove earlier information or add detail to it with concrete examples. Once he’s done experimenting however, the author throws a lifeline, providing sul’dam, a High Blood, and everything else Mat needs. Giving these things to Mat too early would have reduced the credibility of the situation.
A potential rift between the uneasy allies will appear if Mat’s side learns about Egeanin turning the male a’dam over to Suroth.
Mat makes some changes to his plan, but this is revealed only at the last second. First, the author builds up concern about the things that can go wrong. Mat analyzes it, and concludes his plan has as few flaws as can be expected. Because of this analysis and Mat’s dread, the reader is primed to think something will go wrong. Mat reminds everyone of their tasks, and of the cost of making a mistake or exposing them. He makes plans for what to do if something goes awry. It all seems to be going well. The first sign of trouble comes when Mat worries about Teslyn cracking. Night falls, and riders approach. Egeanin has adapted the plan to keep the warders and others close by her rather than lose them in the rain. Mat initially expresses anger, but lets it drop because, surprise, surprise, he has made changes to the plan as well! After all that worry, Mat himself turns out to be the source of the threat he was worried about! With a tense set-up like that, this down-to-the-last-word surprise revelation adds humour and excitement: After all, lying on that bed in Tylin’s apartments, he had decided to risk a change or two himself.
Mat reluctantly kidnaps Tuon after learning that she is the Daughter of the Nine Moons he is foretold to marry. She is physically opposite to everything he likes in a woman, and so culturally different from him they could be called opposites, yet he must marry her. This is similar to Rand’s situation, in which he has an ideal path in mind, but destiny requires him to embrace something strange and alien to him.
Far Madding symbolizes a life without the True Source, without the Light. Lews Therin rails against the city, calling it madness to live in such a place. In this place both physically and spiritually, Rand casually intends to murder his opponents. His feelings are non-existent; he might as well be a stone for all Min can feel through the bond. He is losing touch with his humanity, the very thing Cadsuane seeks to prevent.
Cadsuane represents the Light. She has strict rules that must be adhered to, like Commandments, or she will not offer help. She is never wrong, she is demanding, but those who travel with her are happy, enlightened and empowered.
Rand has the idea that he has to be harder than his opponents. He knows his opponents will exploit weakness, so he has cut ties with friends and family, excising feeling sand emotion from his life. Rand is despondent as he walks the cold, rainy streets of Far Madding. Then he bumps into Verin, fresh from the previous evening’s heart-to-heart with Cadsuane.
Verin tells him that Cadsuane did not send her; she is out riding with Nynaeve. Verin brings news that his war on the Seanchan has been for naught. They have refortified their positions and are marching into Illian as though he never drove them back. Verin dismisses battles as irrelevant in the long run, recognizing there are stronger forces that shape history. Realizing his efforts have been wasted, Rand asks whether Cadsuane might help him.
Verin says he can apologize, stop being a fool, and she should listen to him. Rand asks Verin to carry his apology and promise to Cadsuane. He is leaving Far Madding, having realized that the world won’t wait for him to do dawdle while important things await him, such as cleansing saidin.  Rand’s allies agree that Cadsuane can give him what he wants, and even have sacrificed to make their meeting possible.
Nynaeve takes pride in Cadsuane’s fallibility since she didn’t know everything about her ter’angreal. Rand starts to have doubts, uncomfortable knowing Cadsuane will be able to channel when they meet. Then a letter is delivered. Padan Fain’s letter presents a path away from Cadsuane. He represents war against the Shadow, with no moral questions bogging him down. He has pledged to destroy Rand, and the choice presented in the letter will destroy him if he takes it. Cadsuane still represents the Light, morality trumping all other considerations, uniquely powerful in a city where no one else can sense the True Source.
Hours of daylight remained before he had to meet Cadsuane. One last chance to act outside of her rules. A possibility of deferring the actions he must take in favour of the ones he wants to take.
Writing Lessons:
 A choice to be made is a powerful means of establishing identity, creating tension and excitement, and clarifying the theme.

Winter's Heart - Chapters 26-28

In this section, Elayne and Mat are under pressure.
The clock is ticking down on both Mat and Elayne. Mat needs to escape Ebou Dar in ten days, while Elayne has to act to address an immediate threat from a Borderlander army, and a longer term one from her rivals. In both of their sections, there is an example of compressed time. Let’s take a closer look.
In Elayne’s case, she receives an invitation of sorts from the Borderlanders, and hastily departs to meet with them. The author chooses to focus on certain discussions and preparations she makes, and the reactions of a large number of supporting characters; a scene readers are familiar with which turns up fairly often now that the heroes travel with large groups of companions.
Elayne wants to go now, but it is not so simple. Aviendha and Birgitte try to talk her out of it.
Elayne explains why she has to go now, deciding she will present herself as an Aes Sedai. Birgitte tries to force her into the role of the Daughter-Heir. Elayne asserts herself. Birgitte says she can’t go running off to have adventures. Elayne asserts herself again.
Mellar stays back, which should help Elayne present the fa├žade of an Aes Sedai instead of Andoran noble.  The Guardswoman are not so accommodating. Birgitte sets them straight, complaining the whole while.
Essande lays out clothing, and helpfully brings Elayne her special pregnant meal. Mistress Harfor is tasked with handling the delegations who had hoped to see Elayne, and announces she has acquired goats to milk for Elayne’s special pregnant diet. The Aes Sedai Careane and Vandene accept their assigned tasks and give advice, none of which has to do with pregnancy.  Reanne is summoned to weave the Gateway. Elayne emphasizes the need for speed. The Sea Folk are aware of this bustle, but are not told where Elayne is going.
Marking the passage of time, we read: Making haste seemed beyond Essande’s ability, yet everyone else flew, and by the time the sun stood straight overhead, Elayne found herself riding Fireheart slowly through the snows of Braem Wood.
Birgitte and Aviendha take one last stab at convincing Elayne that Braem wood is no place for her. Then Elayne realizes what is going on.
Elayne dismantles the all-too-common assumption that once a woman is pregnant, that is all she is. She puts Birgitte and Aviendha in their places by threatening to make them wet nurses and reminds them she does not need a wet nurse, she is the same woman she always has been, and she needs to take these actions to accomplish her goals. In stories, pregnancy almost always relegates the mother to becoming a sidekick to the new arrival, often because the female character is not well enough developed to be more than a brood mare. This passage is an announcement that Elayne will not be depicted in that fashion. She will continue to have adventures and fight for the throne. The pregnancy has become a threat to her identity, one which she hopes to overcome by establishing her own rules early on.
The Borderlanders decision to move on makes sense given they’ve expended what their current location can offer as food. However, they latch onto the wisp of guidance Elayne gives them too easily, and the reader will probably find the solution overly simple. This could have been remedied by emphasizing that the Borderlanders must move, giving Elayne’s arguments more weight.
In Mat’s chapter, once he assigns Juilin the task of stealing some clothing and a’dam, events are told out of chronological order, instead following topics of the steps of Mat’s preparations.
First, the servants’ reaction to Mat’s change of clothing is covered. Then the sul’dam’s reaction is noted while Mat builds his horse’s stamina. He sees Aes Sedai occasionally and wants to reassure them, but can’t go near the kennels for fear of meeting Tuon again. Mat notes which high-ranking Seanchan are in the palace and which aren’t. He worries about what Tylin will do if she catches him. Noal tells him daily about the gholam’s murders, and Mat changes sleeping quarters every night.
Then we move on to Mat’s allies: Thom was told of Mat’s desire to free Teslyn before the chapter began though it is only announced now. He develops a plan to get out the gates, and they plot with Juilin how to carry out the plan. Beslan learns of their plans and tries to insert his own uprising into the plan. Mat dissuades him. Beslan stops coming to meetings.
Juilin’s efforts at spying and chasing Thera are described, and he learns important things about the sul’dam’s schedule. They know they’ll have to make their move at night, and risk being seen by Deathwatch guards in the streets. Getting the items isn’t as easy, but there are no significant hitches in the plan yet.
Through Riselle, they learn they’ll need an order, or one of the Blood, to get damane out of the gates. Options for women to pretend to be sul’dam are rejected. Six days have elapsed, more than half their time, and the lack of order, sul’dam and a’dam ramps up the tension. The last bit goes back to chronological order, covering the seventh day.
Reading through those first six days chronologically would have resulted in much lengthier descriptions, covering Mat’s wanderings and explaining every time he changes location. By combining several days’ worth of events that happen in the same location, the author is able to compress the information into easier to read chunks. The pacing and flow are much smoother with this thematic and locational approach than by forcing the reader to follow a chronological description of mundane and repetitive motions.
Writing Lessons:
Don’t describe events chronologically if it bogs down the flow of your story.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Winter's Heart - Chapters 23-25

In this section, a minor character observes the action in Far Madding.
Continuing the recent trend of giving new characters the point of view, Shalon, a Sea Folk Windfinder has two chapters told from her perspective. The author chose not to give either of these chapters to Rand, Min, Verin, Cadsuane, Nynaeve, Lan, Alivia, Corele, Merise, Daigian, Damer, Eben, Jahar, Beldeine, Elza, Harine, Moad, Alanna, Tomas, Kumira, Ihvon, Erian, Sarene or Nesune. That is four of the original heroes from the Eye of the World, three major allies found since, and many other secondary characters that were passed over. What advantages are gained with Shalon, or disadvantages avoided by not using the others?
The intent of these chapters is to establish the status quo in Far Madding, including explaining how the Guardian works. When explanations need to be given, authors often use an unknowledgeable character’s presence as a reason to elaborate the explanation, sometimes giving an info-dump. Out of the list above, only the Sea Folk and Asha’man qualify. To best capture the Guardian’s effect, a channeler is preferred, eliminating Harine and her Swordmaster. Not wanting to portray another male channeler yet who could give insight into the madness, only Shalon is left from the group traveling with Cadsuane.  An upside is that it offers a way to explain more about Sea Folk culture, one of the major cultures we have learned little about from anyone with firsthand knowledge from living in it. This adds a little to that alien feeling from earlier chapters.  
Entering Far Madding is described as like losing the sun, which is better prose than the last time Rand entered a stedding. Yet it is not simply the ability to channel that is lost. The loss of the True Source represents the loss of the Light. Shalon has been feeling disoriented and confused from her blackmail, her shame, the risk to her marriage and rank, and to her identity, until her sister offers her unexpected comfort. With her sister’s potential acceptance, Shalon is almost ready to risk confessing. This is a clue as to what Rand should do, and what risks he faces. It is really not obvious at all that Shalon’s personal crisis is setting the stage and the expectations for what happens to Rand later.
Rand and Cadsuane continue playing at not needing each other when they both desperately need each other. After talking with Alanna, Rand realizes he is ready to trust some of the Aes Sedai with some tasks, particularly Cadsuane if he can convince her. For her part, Cadsuane recognizes that Rand’s determination to act alone, with no help, is a danger to himself and to the world. But she waits for him to make the offer, for she fears that being too eager will put his back up.
Verin continues to half-reveal her secrets. She was exiled from Far Madding, which implies bad behaviour. She comes close to poisoning Cadsuane. She is a two-faced and not very nice person. It is quite a balancing act revealing just enough background or motivation for her actions to keep the reader guessing as to her loyalties. It makes fertile ground for all manner of ridiculous theories.
Writing Lessons:
Examine the pros and cons of each potential point of view character before choosing one.

Winter's Heart - Chapters 20-22

In this section, confusion stems from new point of view characters and missing details from a new location.
Bethamin and Egeanin provide new viewpoints from the Seanchan perspective, which when added to Tuon’s makes 3 chapters from three different Seanchan. The author is clearly pointing to the Seanchan as a major part of the ongoing story with this attention to their citizens, and so many new points of view in this book serves as a signal that the story has reached a turning point. While this is useful to establish the background of the various players, jumping from character to character carries risks. In this instance, unfamiliarity with new characters means the reader may be confused, angry that her favorite characters are absent, or simply too impatient to care about these newcomers.   
The two Seanchan characters are particularly unlikely to have the reader’s acceptance because the Seanchan have been depicted as villains up until now. Their culture is evil by all the standards of our heroes, and it also alien to them, which makes embracing a character from there very difficult.
Bethamin is the Wheel of Time’s equivalent of a slave driver, using an a’dam instead of a whip. This is a behaviour that is particularly unlikeable, but the author uses a few techniques to try to overcome that.
First, Bethamin is performing an inspection, which is a simple duty anyone can identify with. The author is trying to establish common traits with the readers. She cares for the health of her damane, which is slightly admirable given that she is talking about humans. She bullies Renna, who had tried to break Egwene to the a’dam. Anyone who bullies Egwene’s enemies can’t be that bad. She doles out candies. Maybe not all sul’dam are bad.  Maybe Bethamin could switch sides.
Before sympathies develop too much, a reminder of Bethamin’s cruelty is given: how she takes away her charges names and gives them new ones. Three gentle strokes, one slap.
Then it’s back to nice Bethamin. She takes special care of damane having problems; she refuses to lose a damane, even that ugly old Tessi. It’s no accident that Teslyn is used an example. Teslyn stood for Elaida, deposed Siuan, is Red Ajah, and has no compelling physical traits, so Bethamin stands in opposition to all that Teslyn represents. Bethamin distrusts Aes Sedai, as do all the readers by now. She makes a note to be more diligent about breaking Tessi. Three gentle strokes, one slap.
Other things which align the reader’s sympathies with Bethamin: she enjoys shopping, she has a healthy sense of self-preservation, and she knows secrets that could be useful to our heroes. Except for her current station in life, which is at risk, she is incredibly normal.
When someone alien is introduced, you want to highlight the differences. But you also need to establish commonalities, with the reader more than with the other characters.
The Seeker exemplifies the highly paranoid nature of the alien Seanchan culture. He has knitted together moonbeams and happenstance into a strangling cord for Egeanin’s neck. He is recognizable as a police officer, a common character type, but the paranoia and limitless power make him ineffectual. Only by blundering into clues does he make any headway, and that in the wrong direction.
Egeanin continues to be the bridge between cultures, with her potential husband and so’jhin Bayle Domon. She is resigned to the fact that she will never fully induct him into Seanchan culture, and with this danger before her, she realizes it is she who might have to embrace his culture instead.
Egeanin’s loyalties would obviously seem to lie with the mainlanders under the circumstances, and readers would accept her since she has been helpful to the heroines in past books. But to place doubt in the reader’s mind, a crucial action she took, handing the male a’dam over to Suroth herself, will taint that association with goodness. At best she was caught with no way out, at worst she betrayed Rand and Nynaeve. When she says she will stay free “whatever it took”, the example of her quick surrender of the male a’dam should come to mind as an example of how quickly she would throw allies overboard.
Rand has an entire chapter set on Far Madding, and we are told that he can safely confront the Asha’man here, but not how. He has a swordfight with one, but we are not told why neither is using the One Power.   The explanation will come a chapter later, which allows readers to enjoy a fight, an assassination, and a second assassination without the context. Keeping the explanation back from readers is meant to convey a sense of secrecy and frustration, just as Rand is experiencing. Similarly, Kisman is lacking information despite giving much insight to readers. Isam also doesn’t know the whole story, but again reveals exciting details. Assassinations of Kisman and the couple staying in Rand’s old room symbolize that what Rand doesn’t know could kill him. Rand really is lost morally and spiritually, but everything he needs will soon be coming in with Cadsuane, which is symbolized by her readers finally learning about the city when she strolls into town.
Writing Lessons:
When someone alien is introduced, you want to highlight the differences. But you also need to establish commonalities, with the reader more than with the other characters.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Winter's Heart - Chapters 17-19

In this section, Mat fatefully encounters a number of women and decides he must attempt a daring rescue. Again.
Mat meets almost every important woman of the next few months of his life in these chapters: Aludra, Setalle, Tylin, Egeanin, Tuon, Anath, Suroth, Teslyn, Joline, Edesina.
The Mat chapters have a very distinctive voice, so let’s take a look at how Robert Jordan creates that voice so that the reader can tell these sections are from Mat’s point of view.
The words he uses to describe Mat’s actions always have a tone of carelessness or haste or suddenness about them. The foxhead medallion is stuffed into his coat pocket, so he can snatch it out of need be; flinging open the doors; the plan had just occurred to him; he sank into one of the bamboo carved chairs; ignoring the protests of his leg, Mat moved faster than he thought he ever had in his life; he went straight to Tylin’s apartments; he walked to the first and opened the door long enough to peek in; he unconsciously began humming. Mat’s section contained no fights, no action, just walking and meetings with various people, yet it has an intensity that comes from the words that describe Mat’s actions, as well as his description of other people’s actions. Mat’s life is filled with spontaneity, impulsiveness, and unpredictability, even if it involves him doing nothing more than walking across the room.
Mat is fairly obsessed with the opposite sex in comparison to the other men in the story. Other male characters certainly enjoy the sight and company of the women around them, but in Mat point of view chapters, physical observations of the opposite sex are moved to the front: the statue of Queen Nariene has three possible explanations for its pose, one of which involves a bared breast; “Mud?” he said to a pretty, smiling maid spreading her skirts in a curtsy; (Tylin) pale green lace trimmed the oval opening in her gown that half exposed her full breasts;  (Suroth) a pretty enough woman despite her hair being shaved to that long crest; (Anath) imperiously beautiful, she put Tylin and Suroth both in the shade; (servants) the yellow-haired man in his indecent garment was not the only one either. A slim but nicely rounded red-haired woman wearing the same sheer robe was kneeling beside a table; (Selucia) a short woman with half her golden head shaved and a bosom that might outmatch Riselle’s. The author does not hold Mat back from expressing his interests, and that gives Mat a unique voice in the story.
To a lesser extent, Mat’s other interests in horses, gambling, wealth acquisition, and battle (or battle avoidance) crop up regularly. Anything that doesn’t fit those interests is quickly dismissed. This narrow focus allows the author to drop obvious hints to the reader while Mat cheerily skims over these details. Playing into this behaviour allows many humourous situations to be created.
Even without that, a great deal of humour comes from Mat’s exaggerated view of even mundane situations. Mat is prone to exaggerate more than anyone else, making his point of view distinctive: what good it would do if she still swallowed the whole faradiddle; her muscular husband was a fishing –boat captain with more dueling scars than Mat wanted to think about; Light, did the whole city know?; he kept shooting frowns at his workmen as though suspecting they would lie down and go to sleep if he did not maintain a close watch on them. A dead man could not have slept in that heat; the day after he first kissed the Illuminator, the grandmotherly maids disappeared from her chambers, replaced by women white-haired and wizened; No one could be friends with Suroth; With dozens of Seanchan just the other side of a door guarded by a cook with a spoon; her ageless face still looked as if she ate briars three meals a day.
Any one of the elements described above could lend a strong voice to a character, but when you combine several of them the effect is multiplied, and the voice becomes unique and memorable.
Writing Lessons:
Create a distinctive voice for your characters by playing up some aspects of their behaviour and playing down others, in content, word choice, and tone.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Winter's Heart - Chapters 13-16

In this section, the villains cement the plot while an old hero returns.
Stories will often have an interlude when readers get to see what the villains have been up to. This is often an opportunity to feed information to the reader they wouldn’t otherwise receive, as well as to throw in plot twists as the villains respond to the hero’s moves and vice versa. Three such moments are presented here, as we peek in on Cadsuane, Demandred, and Tuon.
Cadsuane’s interlude is the least informative. Some background events involving minor characters and politics are revealed. Then Alanna falls unconscious. Odds favour Rand’s triple bonding having some effect on Alanna. Since Cadsuane will show up for the big fight later, establishing that the bond exists, and that she knows about it, and that it still works, are all important. Equally important is that her coterie of sisters and Asha’man will follow her.
With that business aside, the story moves to the more serious interlude featuring Demandred. This is the first time since the early books that the final goal is revealed so bluntly. Rand will try to cleanse the source and the Forsaken will try to stop him. The plots of these later books have jumped from character to character, not all of whom will have a completed story by the end of this book, so it is helpful to the reader to be reminded what the main plot is. Unless the characters are all working towards the same goal, having too many of them fuzzes the plot, and risks losing the reader’s interest.
Moridin has been thinking along the same lines, and has ordered the other Forsaken to follow his plan. This is the first time the Forsaken and the Dark One have been alarmed at one of Rand’s plans, to the point where killing Rand is acceptable when all recent efforts were to keep him alive. The danger they are worried about is that male channelers can be trusted if saidin is cleansed, and the Dark One’s best hope of victory is by dividing humanity, man against woman. Remember that theme from The Fires of Heaven?  
It irks me that after the secret resurrections of Osan’gar and Aran’gar, the other Forsaken all know about them now. What happened to Shaidar Haran’s statement that only he knew they lived again? When a plot point is raised, an expectation is created. Readers might have seen the Forsaken brought to heel by Moridin, all the while two others secretly lurk waiting to take him down on the Dark One’s orders. The irritation would be lessened with any explanation, but there is none to be had, just keep reading between the lines. After a while it sinks in that despite all the plotting and conniving, the Forsaken are being used as typical henchmen. Not quite what was advertised, alas.
Some excitement is conjured up by Demandred’s perception of the battle to come: So they would take al’Thor – while he was trying to use the Choedan Kal, no less, he and some woman drinking enough of the One Power to melt continents! Rand will have the firepower, but for the first time he’ll be facing multiple foes. The steady increase in the scope of battles throughout the series is well carried out. Each conflict makes the last look tame, whether hand-to-hand, with the One Power, or with armies. This battle looks to be epic, which means it has to be, or the reader will get angry.
The last interlude is from a new character, only named by her title before now, and even that is only confirmed in the last paragraph of her appearance. Tuon’s strange superstitious belief in portents and omens, her bland acceptance of slavery and assassination attempts, and her own sidekicks are all designed to make her appear alien. Her customs are strange, yet she thinks of them as the only right way to behave. Using superstition turns out to be an effective way to throw off the reader and make them uncomfortable. Superstitions are familiar and fun, but living one’s life guided by them will make readers shudder. She is dangerous to Rand, and to Mat, yet we know Mat will somehow marry her. She is not depicted as villainous, but nor is she a misguided damsel in distress. Her crazy Seanchan ways are more intimidating and surprising than the armies she commands.
Her appearance also signals the return of the Seanchan in larger numbers than ever. This is the setup of a larger conflict to come, and the author’s intent is to make readers wonder how the heroes will overcome the forces arrayed against them.
The answer is obviously Mat, who is expected to become an insider and undermine the Seanchan from within. Undermining their society has already been mentioned as a viable strategy twice in this book. Mat has no such intentions. He only wants to get out of Ebou Dar, especially after the Gholam tries to kill him again. At this point, readers have had six years to build up ideas about what Mat’s marriage might entail, and to be sure, they expect him to stop the Seanchan singlehandedly.
Writing Lessons:
Used well, interludes can propel your story onward, set expectations, and provide key information. Used poorly, they can confuse and irritate your readers.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Winter's Heart - Chapters 11-12

In this section, Rand and his girlfriends embrace their three-pronged romantic relationship.

An important element of the series is how Rand and three women come to share their affections. Rand is reluctant to accept the love of any woman at all, having gone out of his way to avoid endangering them with his presence. He rightfully knows that his enemies see his love as a weakness to be exploited, and thus avoids feeling any love or warmth towards anyone. Elayne, Aviendha and Min all have to find a way to get Rand to accept and return their love, but also to avoid feeling jealousy towards each other.

Romance is difficult enough to portray, so trying to show a three woman to one man romance requires either establishing the situation and motivations convincingly or using some other tricks to prevent the reader’s disbelief. In this case, Jordan once again opts for humour, using Nynaeve’s distraught reaction to acknowledge the ridiculousness of the situation. The emotional reaction to the humour overrides the immediate logical reaction that the four-way romantic situation is highly unlikely.

But even Nynaeve’s funny reaction isn’t funny enough to simply be thrown into the discussion and distract the reader; the humour is built up prior to that by having Nynaeve in a number of other uncomfortable situations, of which learning about Rand’s live life is the last straw. First she must endure an hour of teaching the Sea Folk, badgering from Alivia and the Kin, and a misunderstanding with Talaan, all of which build up the expectation that events are getting out of Nynaeve’s comfort zone. Subtle phrases set up the distraught reaction later: Having a husband meant that she did not have to share a bed with another woman, or two, and it gained her a sitting room.

An emotional reaction will always trump a logical one, but some readers will have a negative emotional reaction to some topics no matter what tricks or convincing prose are used to try create a different emotional reaction. Sex, love, death and morally difficult topics will always be difficult for some readers, so if your story is going to include such an element, the best you may be able to do is sway readers in the middle into accepting the story element.

When the characters recognize the ridiculous nature of the situation, the reader is complicit, and instead of feeling like they’ve been left out of the story, they feel included. They know their concerns are being addressed, and they will read on to see what happens next.

The women’s willingness to share Rand is an acceptance that Rand does not belong to any of them alone. In this respect he represents the Light itself. When the three women bond him, they feel his love returned. The chapters in Caemlyn opened with a couple of descriptions of the taint, its foulness tainting Rand, Lews Therin’s mad cackling representing his uncertainty about his feelings but it ends with descriptions of warm feelings. The women’s acceptance of Rand’s shared affections, and his acceptance of their affection changes the negative feelings depicted at the beginning of this section into positive feelings.  

Rand’s excitement over the bonding with all three women is presented in metaphor: He spun around, wine sloshing out of his cup, more pouring from his pitcher before he could bring it upright. With a muttered oath, he hastily stepped out of the spreading wetness on the carpet and put the pitcher back on the tray. A large damp spot decorated the front of his rough coat, and droplets of dark wine that he tried to brush away with his free hand. Very satisfactory.

Nynaeve’s training of the windfinders makes excellent use of imagery to describe how she strikes and counters attacks. Were they using swords instead of weaves, the descriptions of parrying and deft manoeuvring of weaves would be just as apt. Piggybacking on existing imagery or concepts that the reader is familiar with makes it easier to explain abstract concepts.

Writing Lessons:

To suspend the reader’s disbelief, build up towards the emotional reaction you want the reader to have when they reach the hard-to-believe element.