Swan Tower

Feb. 26th, 2013

02:39 pm - How to write a long fantasy series

It took three years and two months rather than the two years I initially planned, but I have, at very long last, finished the Wheel of Time re-read and analysis. And as I promised quite some time ago, we’ll end with what I’ve learned.

This post, unlike the others, is not WoT-specific. I’ll be referencing the series, because it’s the primary source of my thoughts on this topic, but the point here is to talk about the specific challenges of writing a long epic fantasy series -- here defining “long” as “more than a trilogy, and telling one ongoing story.” (So something like Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books wouldn’t count, since they’re a conglomeration of multiple trilogies.) My points probably also apply to non-fantasy series, but other genres are much less likely to attempt multi-volume epics on this scale, so I’m mostly speaking to my fellow fantasists.

I do not pretend this is in any way, shape, or form a recipe for commercial success with an epic fantasy series. After all, most of this is a checklist of errors I feel Jordan made, and you could paper the walls of Tor’s offices in fifty-dollar bills with the cash he made for them. Nor am I claiming artistic failure awaits if you fail to heed this advice; you might squeak through on luck, or just really good storytelling instinct. But I do feel that bearing these points in mind can help the would-be writer of an epic series avoid falling off some of the more common and perilous cliffs.

With all of that intro material out of the way, let’s get to it.

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There are many other things I could say about the flaws in the Wheel of Time, or in other long series. But these are the main points, the ones I think are universally applicable, rather than specific to a particular narrative -- along with, of course, the basic lessons of good writing, like not using twenty words where five will do. A story’s quality depends heavily on its shape, on the timing of various twists and revelations, the pacing of its arcs and the rate at which the characters grow; and good shape rarely happens by accident, especially on a large scale. Ergo, I firmly believe that you need some fixed points by which to navigate during your journey. Know how many books you’re going to write, hammer in a couple of pegs to say that certain events will happen at certain points, and then hold to your course. If you stray from the path, you may never find your way out of the woods.

Rumor has it, of course, that Jordan was asked to stretch the series out, because it was making so much money. I have no idea if that’s true. But as I said at the start, my concern here is not the commercial success of a series; I’m addressing the story itself.

I’m speaking, mind you, as someone who has yet to write a series longer than four books (and those structured almost entirely as stand-alones). This is all based on my observations of other people’s efforts, not my own experience. But as I said to Tom Smith in the comments to “Zeno’s Mountains,” there’s not enough time in life to screw it up yourself for a dozen books, and then to do better afterward. If you want to write a long series and not have it collapse in the middle like a badly-made souffle, you have to learn from other people’s mistakes.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/577881.html. Comment here or there.

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Feb. 21st, 2013

04:21 pm - (Re)Visiting the Wheel of Time: A Memory of Light (analysis)

[This is part of a series analyzing Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time novels. Previous installments can be found under the tag. Comments on old posts are welcome.]

I pretty much covered my reactions to this book with the two liveblog posts. So now it's time to set aside the straight-up "Oh my god I can't believe this series is finally done I've been waiting for this for more than half my life"> stream of consciousness, and talk about this in a more sensible fashion.

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There will, of course, be one more post. I set out to do this not just to document my trip down the nostalgia lane of my high school fandom, not just to get the ending of the story, but to learn something about writing a long epic fantasy series. This project has taught me a great deal on that front, and you'll get the results soon.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/576976.html. Comment here or there.

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Jan. 9th, 2013

12:23 pm - A Memory of Light Liveblog, Part 2

Today I continue reading A Memory of Light, and subjecting you all to my stream-of-consciousness reactions as I go. (Where by "all" I mean "those of you who click on the cut tag," which is probably not a lot, since at this point 95% of my audience probably falls into two groups: those who don't care, and those who do care but haven't read the book yet themselves and don't want spoilers.)

First part is here, for those few who care and have read the book/don't mind spoilers.

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And --

-- that's it. I have finished reading The Wheel of Time. Stay tuned for more thoughts eventually, I guess; I'll certainly do an analysis post, which will probably fold in the reactions you didn't get in these play-by-play entries. And then one to talk about what I've learned from this project.

But the series itself is done.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/570384.html. Comment here or there.

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Jan. 8th, 2013

03:11 pm - oh, why not

Herewith my liveblog of reading A Memory of Light. (Which may replace the "reactions post" in its entirety; we'll see.)

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And that concludes our live-blogging for the evening. I'm 450 pages in, out of 909; I would keep reading, but I have a book of my own to write. Tune in tomorrow for the thrilling continuation and possibly conclusion of this read!

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/569895.html. Comment here or there.

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12:38 pm - Revisiting the Wheel of Time: "The Strike at Shayol Ghul"

As soon as I'm fed and dressed, I'll be wandering down to the bookstore to pick up A Memory of Light, whereupon I will finish what I started in the summer of 1995: the story of the Wheel of Time.

It will take me a few days to read and post about the book, but to mark the occasion itself, I figured I would step back and talk briefly about "The Strike at Shayol Ghul".

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This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/569620.html. Comment here or there.

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Jan. 1st, 2013

10:45 am - Yuletide reveals

A Happy New Year to all. I spent mine with my brother and sister-in-law, just having a quiet evening, which was about my speed this year. I hope yours was pleasant and enjoyable, too.

Since authors on the Yuletide stories have been revealed now, herewith the list of what I wrote:

Nobody guessed right this year, though one person guessed directly wrong!Collapse )

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10:25 am - notes on A Thousand Paths in a Single Step

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Dec. 5th, 2012

11:02 pm - Wheel of Time Index Post

I'm putting this together now rather than after I'm done with the whole shebang because people (myself included) may want to look back at some of the previous entries before the last ones appear.

I will, of course, update it with the final links as they happen. So if you want something to bookmark, this is one to keep.

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10:41 pm - Towers of Midnight (analysis)

[This is part of a series analyzing Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time novels. Previous installments can be found under the tag. Comments on old posts are welcome.]

Side note first: the poll results thus far are coming down pretty firmly on people saying that yes, I should read the Prologue to AMoL, and yes, I should blog about it when I do. I must admit, I’m curious why those of you who voted “no” chose that option. Anyway, decisions on that soon. For now, ToM, and the analysis thereof.

For most of the time I’ve been writing these posts, I’ve been analyzing each volume in the context of the rest of the story: the books that precede it, the books I had previously read that follow it, speculation about the books that were out but I hadn’t read them yet. As we round this final corner, though, I find Towers of Midnight almost more interesting in the context of absence: the unknown events of A Memory of Light, and the void that will follow it, the end of the series.

Of course, we may (probably will) get other books. I’ve heard they’re talking about a companion book -- something more canonical than the White Book of Lies -- and it’s entirely possible that Jordan’s estate will farm out the property the way we’ve seen with Dune. But as far as the series proper is concerned, ToM is the point at which I start thinking, not only about what has happened, but what may never happen.

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And with this, we enter the final stretch. I don’t know yet how I want to handle AMoL -- whether I will do the Prologue, whether I will split it into two posts again, etc. I’d say the odds of both are decent, though the former depends pretty heavily on my spare time in the next few weeks. I do know that I’m going to do a wrap-up post when it’s all over with, discussing what this has taught me about writing such a long and sprawling series -- that one should make for some interesting discussion.

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Dec. 4th, 2012

03:56 pm - To Prologue or Not to Prologue

Tor has a long-standing habit of releasing the Prologue to the next Wheel of Time book in advance of the book's actual pub date, as a teaser for what's to come. I read those from (I think) A Crown of Swords through Crossroads of Twilight, then stopped because I wasn't going to touch the series until the end was in sight. And when I came back, I just read the books themselves; no need to play teaser games with the Prologues.

But now, at last, I'm caught up, and the final book hasn't yet come out. So I put it to you, my blog readership:

Poll #1883074 Prologue, Y/N?

Should I read the prologue to A Memory of Light in advance of the book's release?

I have some *really* creative answer for you in the comments.

Should I blog about the Prologue, before the book comes out?

I have some *even more* creative answer for you in the comments.

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