Tag Archives: the wheel of time

My Love Hate Relationship With Dora the Explorer – Role Models For Girls

Dora the Explorer

Polgara the Sorceress

I hate Dora.

There’s the mind-numbing, repetitive songs – ‘I’m a map, I’m a map’ and ‘We did it, we did it’, for those who are blessed enough to not know. These things will drill their way into your mind like a bad advertising jingle and lodge there at 2am in the morning while you are desperately praying for sleep.

There’s the annoying fact that Dora keeps getting lost, even going to places she – should know, like her cousin’s house. I’m down with dragons and unicorns, but there’s, you know, a talking monkey, a blue bull, and the weird insectoid orchestra.

My husband and I are convinced she’s smuggling drugs across the border and sampling the wares, which would account for the way she roams around the countryside, her poor memory and the hallucinations.  

On the other hand, it was recently pointed out to me that once little girls outgrow Dora, they are stuck with role models like Miley Cyrus and Bratz. I have two little girls, and the thought mortifies me.
Dora, whatever else you say about her, is a good role model (provided, of course, that her drug-taking habits aren’t evident to the average child…). She’s bold, brave, curious, generous, independent, a leader, and a thinker. Everything many of us would like our little girls to be. On the other hand, the only values Miley Cyrus and Bratz appear to be advocating is a disturbing lack of clothes and an obsession with physical appearance.

Kahlan Amnell, the Mother Confessor
Don’t get me wrong, I take pride in my appearance. But I value many other characteristics much more than my appearance, such as my brain and my independence, and those things have gotten me a lot further in life than the way I look.

This revelation got me thinking about who the female role models in my life were. I spent the vast majority of my childhood with my nose in a book, so my role models (apart from my mother)were almost certainly there as well. 

Here are the ones I think were probably most influential:

  • At age ten, Polgara the Sorceress from The Belgariad by David Eddings – almost the very definition of a poised, powerful and above all indomitable woman;
  • At age twelve, Lessa of Pern (from Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight), who was nothing if not strong, determined, and single-minded. What Lessa wanted, she generally got, and through her own efforts, not because someone handed it to her on a platter;
  • At age fourteen:
    • Kahlan Amnell, from Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth, a woman who would lead men into battle at risk of her own life for justice, who fought for the freedom of people who reviled her for what she was, who stood for the weak, and the voiceless, and who above all stood for truth and justice.
    • Nynaeve al’meara, Egwene al’Vere, Elayne Trakand, and Aviendha from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, all women who faced their fears and fought against terrible odds and dreadful evil at great personal expense to do what they thought was right.
Far more inspiring than the average fare available to young girls and teenagers these days. Some of these books I was considering giving away or donating. Now I think I should go and pack them away and hope that I can get my daughters to read them when they are a little older, because if there is one thing I hope for my girls right now, it’s strong female role models. 

What do you think of today’s role models, for girls and boys? Who were your role models? 

Aviendha, Elayne Trakand, and Min

Discovery Writers and A Memory of Light


So often a writer is asked if they are a plotter or a pantser. But what about someone in-between?

Apparently there is a name for this in the industry and it is ‘discovery writer’. This is a writer who plots a basic outline, but then isn’t afraid to follow the characters and the story wherever it might lead.

I came across the concept when I attended a Brandon Sanderson book-signing. As those of us who are Wheel of Time fans know, Brandon is responsible for finishing the saga following Robert Jordan’s untimely demise, and Brandon spoke to us a little bit about Robert Jordan, and used the term ‘discovery writer’ to describe him.

The story goes that when Robert Jordan first pitched The Wheel of Time to his publisher, he had a planned trilogy. His publisher said he loved the idea, but knew Robert Jordan tended to let his stories get away from him, and suggested a six-book deal, thinking that would be enough to get him the whole series even if it blew out. 

And as we sit here awaiting the fourteenth and final book in the series, we all laugh.

Evidently Robert Jordan was a discovery writer to the extreme, taking what was originally only a planned three book series and turning it into the epic saga we all know and love. The ideas must have flowed thick and fast as he wrote, and kept flowing for a good long time.

I don’t think a writer needs to turn a three book series into a fourteen book series to be a discovery writer, though. All it requires is a balance between plotting and pantsing, a need to outline the basic bones of the story, and then the desire and the willingness to follow where the characters lead.

I admit to being rather enamoured of the concept, because it seemed a fairly accurate description of my own writing process. I always outline my books these days, but the finished product may only bear a passing resemblance to that original outline at the most basic level.

So with Robert Jordan’s ‘discovery writer’ tendencies in mind, do you think Rand will die in A Memory of Light

Here’s what I think:
  • Maybe Rand was originally intended to die, but somewhere along the way that plan (if it ever existed) changed;
  • Sure, we know Rand has to bleed all over the rocks of Shayol Ghul, but that doesn’t mean death. Hey, a paper cut bleeds like hell;
  • Rand thinks he’s going to die – therefore it’s too obvious for him to do so;
  • You’d have to be one son of a b*tch to keep your readers waiting twenty years only to kill off the hero.
OK, you might say some of that is more wishful thinking than hard evidence, but that’s my line, and I’m sticking to it. Earlier in the series I was far more convinced Rand would die, but after The Towers of Midnight, I started to think he had a real chance. 

So what do you think? Is Rand going to live happily ever after, or do you think he’s going to get the sword?


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Using Prologues: A Case Study With Brandon Sanderson

Prologues

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard the advice ‘don’t use a prologue unless you really need one’. If you write fantasy, you have probably broken this rule at least once (most likely before you ever heard it) and may have been tempted to break it since you did learn it. If you’re a reader of fantasy you have almost certainly ploughed your way through many prologues of varying calibre.  

There are many reasons for not using prologues. The key one for me is they are nearly always an infodump of backstory. That’s two sins right there:
  • Infodump – a massive dump of information that makes the reader’s eyes water and their brain desperately desire to be elsewhere; and
  • Backstory – which should always be trickled to the reader in the exact amount they need as they need it. Kind of like Goldilocks – not too much and not too little, not too early and not too late, just right!
First off, why tell your reader all the backstory in a lump at the beginning when you can keep them guessing? Secrets can drive plot, create suspense and keep the reader turning pages. I am guilty of this one in my manuscript The Fires of Madness. Did I mention it needs a complete rewrite? Yep. Total. Bulldoze it flat and build it up from scratch type rewrite. And there won’t be a prologue. Why would I reveal the reason for my character’s self-inflicted emotional torment and borderline insanity when I can get so much mileage out of teasing the reader with it? I mean, really, when you look at it that way, it’s a no-brainer, right?

So we all know that prologues are almost always a big no-no. But what about the other question? The one that you don’t see answered as much?

When should you use a prologue?

I don’t claim to be an expert on this, but I can point you to one person I believe has done it right. 

Brandon Sanderson in The Way of Kings.

I have nothing but respect for Brandon Sanderson. My favourite editor told me I should read some Dickens because my weakness is at the sentence structure level. When this was pointed out to me, I was reading The Way of Kings. Thinking about what she’d said, I noticed that Sanderson’s writing is very economical and effective. In fact, I have done so much writing and critiquing these days, it’s hard for me not to mentally rewrite the book I am reading. 

But I couldn’t rewrite The Way of Kings. Not for love or money. I suppose there is a reason he was hand-picked and personally invited to complete The Wheel of Time after Robert Jordan’s lamentable premature death. 

I asked my favourite editor and she said yes, Sanderson’s writing is technically near perfect. Of course, there is more to writing than technical perfection, but I’m not going to complain about technical perfection in addition to compelling stories – would you?

The Way of Kings is interesting because it breaks the prologue rule. 

Twice.

I kid you not, this book has a prologue, but beforethe prologue, you read a prelude. 

I know what you’re thinking. In this day and age, when prologues are frowned upon, why would you write a prologue and a prelude? And how would you get it published? Well, the answer to the latter could be because publishing houses do have favourite sons and daughters who get to break the rules, and while a certain amount of this is going on here (The Way of Kings is so long it’s been broken into two parts) I don’t believe that is the reason the prelude and prologue slipped through.

No, I believe they are there for good reasons. So what arethose good reasons?

The prologue and the prelude contain information the reader needs to know. This information cannot be dribbled to the reader throughout the book because the viewpoint characters don’t know it.

The prelude is ancient history. So ancient it has been lost in the mists of time. If I didn’t have this information, I believe a decent amount of the rest of the book would be confusing to me in the context of the bigger picture. Some of the foreshadowing I have identified would be meaningless. Also, one of the main characters has visions of the past. I only know they are true visions of the past because I know some of the past. Everyone in the book believes he is mad. I think it’s important the reader believes he isn’t mad, otherwise the visions would have no meaning. And believe me, even with the prelude, my faith did waver at one point and I began to wonder if the poor guy really was mad. Without that prelude, I’d be almost convinced of it.

The prologue deals with more recent events – who was behind the assassination of the Alethi king. The Alethi know a little bit, but they don’t know the full details. The POV character of this prologue also gets his own POV scenes later in the book, but not many. Arguably these details could be dribbled in there, but since he only has two or three scenes, I personally believe those scenes would be getting into the realm of information overload if you tried. The reader just wouldn’t grasp all the important information. 

The full details of the situation are important because it lets the reader know there is more going on than the war with the Parshendi, the Parshendi are not the unrefined brutes the Alethi think they are, and there is some kind of villain out there who is carefully orchestrating events for his own advantage and things are so much worse than the protagonists think it is. 

The villain is revealed at the end of book one – but of course you can’t build suspense and tension for a big reveal unless the reader knows there is something to be revealed. The prologue is the first step in building this tension and suspense, and of course the tension increases afterthe reveal because the identity of the villain is someone the protagonists trust – and they still don’t know he’s working against them. 

So the two key reasons for a prologue?
  • It contains information the reader needs to know; and
  •  There is no other real way to give it to the reader because, for example, the primary viewpoint characters don’t have this information.
The prelude/prologue were written in limited third person, which for me made it more engaging than using omniscient. That said, even though there is a good reason for including both the prologue and the prelude in The Way of Kings, I must warn you, they didstill make it hard for me to get into this book. Inevitably, they will slow the introduction down, and I found myself wondering ‘when am I going to get to the realprotagonist?’. So even if you need a prologue, be cautious in its use. 

And unless you are Brandon Sanderson, I really don’t recommend you opt for the prelude/prologue double whammy. 

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Worldbuilding 101 as Taught by Robert Jordan

Worldbuilding

A month or so ago I attended the Speculative Fiction Festival in Sydney. One of the key things the publishers said they were looking for was a ‘fully-realised world’. What does this mean? Worldbuilding! It’s imperative we get it right. I touched on the issue of world-building again this week in my Six Sentence Sunday post, particularly in relation to slang. 

And the week before last I did a tribute to Robert Jordan, discussing the genius that was Robert Jordan and what a loss the fantasy writing community suffered when he passed away. 

What is the connection between worldbuilding and Robert Jordan?

He got it right

Whatever quibbles you might have with Robert Jordan’s technical writing, his creative genius cannot be denied. His world is rich and varied. It is, in my opinion, a fully realised world. 

Wheel of Time Map
It comes with a map. A pretty coloured map in later volumes. A map, in my opinion, is a vital tool. I can’t work out where the characters are going without a map. That’s your characters and my characters. When I write, I need a map (drawn by yours truly in pencil and Artline with squiggly trees) so I can work out in which direction my characters are travelling and how long it will take them to get there by chosen mode of transport. Yes I can read a map. This kind, anyway. But I amdirectionally challenged. I can’t imagine where things are in relation to others without a map. I can Google how to get to New York. I cannot Google how to get to Saldaea (top left in the map).

More importantly, though, Robert Jordan’s countries are easily distinguishable. They have different political structures, different appearances, different accents, different clothing, different attitudes to magic… Funny, just like the real world. OK, except the magic part. Moving right along….

There is no good reason why all your countries should be feudal kingdoms who oppress women, who wear the same clothes and speak the same language, and are all white. Different religions are nice, too, but in fantasy there can be good reasons why everyone worships the same gods – for example, their gods regularly visit them. Yeah even I might convert for that trick. 

Robert Jordan was clearly paying attention for the worldbuilding lesson. His people range from fair to dark and everything in between. Light eyes to dark eyes. Blond to black hair. Religion is more or less universal, but yes we have different people putting different spins and interpretations on it (see the Whitecloaks for an extreme interpretation!) We have different political structures – kings, and queens, and councils, and both together. Different attitudes to magic – hate it, outlaw it, secretly embrace it, openly support it. Different trade items, different currency. Different fashions. Facial hair or none. Women’s hair braided or worn loose. The details are endless. Here’s a few examples to drive the point home:
Saldaean woman
  • Hair – Shienaran warriors wear their hair in topknots. Cairhien ladies wear theirs in elaborate piles. Arafellin men have braids with bells. Taraboner men have moustaches. Illianer men have beards but no moustaches;
  • Clothes – Tairen men wear coats and turned down boots. Cairhien dress in dark colours. Taraboners wear veils (both sexes). Domani women are known for dresses so thin they are barely opaque and leave nothing to the imagination. Ebou Dari wear dresses with deep, narrow necklines.
  • Skin colour – Tairens are dark, the Sea Folk are darker. Cairhien are very pale. Domani have coppery skin.
  • Hair – Andorans have dark hair, Taraboners are blond, Aiel are red or fair-haired;
  • Eyes – Saldaeans have dark tilted eyes, Aiel have light eyes, Taraboners are brown-eyed, Cairhien are dark-eyed;
  • Political structure – Andor is ruled by a queen, Illian by a king and a council, Tear by the High Lords, Tar Valon by the Amyrlin Seat, the Sea Folk by the Mistress of the Ships. Some roles are hereditary and some are not;
  • Political attitude – Cairhien are always playing politics, Borderlanders have no time for it because they are fighting off the Blight;
  • Attitude to magic – Andor openly has an Aes Sedai adviser, Mayene has one secretly, Aes Sedai are not permitted in Tear and in Amadicia they are burned as witches;
  •  Trade goods – Andor is known for tabac and steel, Saldaea for furs and ice peppers, Arad Doman for having the best merchants.
  •  Coinage – Andoran coins are the heaviest, Tairen the lightest;
  • Words and language – Myrdraal are also known as Halfmen, the Eyeless, Shadowmen, Lurks (in Tear), Fetches (in Illian) and Fades (in Andor). 
Myrdraal – also know as the Eyeless, Fades, Fetches, Halfmen among others.
A couple of other points:
  • Robert Jordan’s bad guy ‘The Dark One’ is a Sauron-type evil for the sake of evil bad guy. He is essentially the devil (his name is even an obscure name for Satan – you can think that’s lame or clever. I kind of liked it). Often this type of bad guy is not recommended because we can’t understand his motivations. In this case, however, I think it works because the Dark One has a horde of human minions, of varying degrees of power, who are really the key players on the board. And their motivations are very understandable.
  • Magic – Robert Jordan has created an entirely new system of magic. It’s not even called magic, although of course we recognise it is. He calls it ‘channelling’. Both men and women can do it, but in the present time men go mad because the Dark One has tainted the male half of the Power that men channel. I am so jealous. So far, despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to be so creative. Brent Weeks does something similar in his Prism series.
  • Don’t forget slang and profanity! Robert Jordan has created his own profanity (think about what your characters hold sacred, and that’s usually the basis for your profanity) though I don’t believe he has slang (unless you count some of the names for Myrdraal e.g. ‘Fade’ might be slang). A bit of invented slang can add to depth and colour to your world. See my example here.
As you can see, the variety of details you can use are endless. 

You may have come across the concept of ‘character sheets’ where you record key details about each main character. I do something very similar for each of my countries. 

First, I draw a map. I name each of the countries and identify key landmarks. Then I identify key features such as those outlined above. I might never use some of that information, but deciding it in advance means if I need those details I can just refer to my notes and slot in the appropriate specifics to avoid needing to make something up on the spot – or worse, just glossing over it because it’s ‘too hard’. It also helps to keep the details consistent. 

If you have trouble thinking up these details for every country you can use ancient cultures as inspiration. I discovered one ancient culture used square coins! Coins have always been round in my life and it never occurred to me to make them square. Another currency had a hole in the middle. So, by all means, use ancient cultures for inspiration. Why reinvent the wheel?

Details like this will truly bring your world alive.  

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Death Will Not Hold Me Down: A Tribute to Robert Jordan

Robert Jordan

Robert Jordan. Where can I possibly start?

Robert Jordan was the pen nameof James Oliver Rigney, Jr., under which he was best known as the author of the bestselling The Wheel of Time fantasy series. According to the author bio inside his books, he taught himself to read at age three and was reading Mark Twain at five (or something like that – my books are in storage!). That has always impressed me. 

Robert Jordan
I was eleven when I first encountered the work of Robert Jordan. That’s right, eleven. At that time (1992) there were four books available in his Wheel of Time series, with the fifth, The Fires of Heavenreleased around that time or shortly after. Now, in 2011, aged 30, I am still awaiting the conclusion to The Wheel of Time. That makes me a fan of The Wheel of Time for two-thirds of my life. If you’ve been a fan for a greater proportion of your life, please leave a comment to let me know you’re out there!

The Wheel of Time was one of the things I shared with my Dad as I grew up. We read the same books and of course the epic proportions of The Wheel of Time loaned itself to the wasting of many hours discussing the multitudinous possible outcomes, guessing at the identities of villains reborn, villains concealed, the identities of prophesied heroes, and the love lives of the many characters. I still remember wandering down a dirt track on horseback speculating about the revelations to be had in the next book.

I know some people tired of the story, either because it was too big, or too complex, or just dragged on for too long. But I never did. Was it my age? A child’s endless fascination or the ability of my brain at that age to grasp and keep up with the many plots, subplots, tangents and secrets?

I don’t know but I love the books and I don’t see that ever changing. I have lost count of the number of times I have read them. As a general rule, I reread them every time a new book comes out. There are thirteen books and there were four when I started, which means I have read some of these books as many as nine times. It’s probably more, because for a while there I would reread them every year and it was about two years between books. 

As a writer, I am in awe of Robert Jordan’s sweeping epic. To write a story of that complexity on such a grand scale boggles the mind. Although there have been many criticisms of his writing (particularly over-detailed attention to irrelevant scenes), credit is due just for the sheer scale, complexity and genius of the story alone. I could not conceive of imagining a story of such reach and scope. My modest aspirations include only a six book series, which is technically two connected trilogies. Fourteen books? This is the point where I feel I should get down on my knees and worship.

The Wheel of Time turns…
It is true that fourteen books could be fourteen books of crap but it’s not. Robert Jordan gets credit just for keeping his stories straight. And while his technical writing could maybe have done with a brush-up, there are many other elements of genius. Like the moment of awe you get when you realise a revelation in book ten, for example, was foreshadowed four books earlier. There are plot twists and secrets, the foundations for which were laid in the very roots of this story, that aren’t revealed for many books. 

And that’s maybe where my awe really lies. To write a simple, straightforward story that spans fourteen books is one thing. To write a story as complex as this, with so many secrets, plots, misdirections, prophecies, players and vested interests, is something else again. The words even escape me to describe the sheer complexity of this tale. If you’ve read it, you don’t need me to tell you. Love it or hate it, I don’t think you can deny the work that went into keeping the story straight.

Someone once said to me they didn’t believe Robert Jordan knew where his story was headed, that he didn’t know where it would end. 

They were wrong. 

On March 23, 2006, Robert Jordan announced he had been diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis and that with treatment his median life expectancy was four years. Though he said he intended to beat the statistics, he died on September 16, 2007.

He spent the last weeks of his life dictating all the major plot points and twists in the remaining volume (later decided to be split in three) of The Wheel of Time. In other words, he dedicated his last time on this earth to ensuring that someone would have everything they needed to finish The Wheel of Time the way it had always been intended. Clearly he knew exactly where his story was going. 

I also don’t believe a story this complicated could have held together if he didn’t know how it would end and how to get there. I believe, when we learn how it ends, we will discover it was foreshadowed in the very first books. His blood on the rocks of Shayol Ghul… If you’re a reader, you know what I mean. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about how that will turn out. For the record, I don’t believe Rand will die (or at least, not die and stay dead). What do you think?

Did Robert Jordan dedicate his last hours to preserving his story because he couldn’t stand the idea of leaving such an epic work unfinished? Dedication to his fans? I don’t presume to know. Maybe it was a bit of both. But only death could part this writer from his passion. 

I still remember the day of his death, when I learned he had passed away. It was a shock to the system. I don’t presume to say I was as grief-stricken as his family, or as grief-stricken as I would be about my own family. It would presumptuous to say the least if I were to assert that. But I definitely felt that someone I knew was gone and they weren’t coming back. I had shared, at this point, The Wheel of Time journey for fifteen years. It was akin, I suppose, to learning that your local baker, or doctor, someone you had known since you were a child, had died. I even went so far as to shed a tear. 

It was a profound moment. And of course, though many mourned his passing, I am sure the next question on the lips of many was what would happen to The Wheel of Time? 

Fortunately the decision was made to have someone else finish it using the notes and details Robert Jordan had left. The man chosen was Brandon Sanderson and a fine choice it was. Though I can clearly see the difference in the writing styles, the characters have been executed true to themselves. I don’t read the books thinking ‘But if Robert Jordan had written it he would have done this.’ 

Two books have been completed by Brandon Sanderson and he is working on the last book now. I can hardly wait though I wonder what my life will be like without the next Wheel of Time book to anticipate. I have been doing it for so long you see. 

But to the memory of Robert Jordan – a toast. A great mind and a great man have gone, a genius I dare not aspire to match. But it is clear that while he was here he loved his writing and his worlds with a fierce passion. 

Most of all, I thank him for being generous enough to take us along for the ride. He is one of my greatest influences.

Would I be a different person if The Wheel of Time never existed?
A dragon, Wheel of Time style, as depicted on the banner of Lews Therin Telamon
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