Highlights from A Crown of Swords

This is approximately the seventh in my series of posts where I share the highlights I made in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. This post covers book 7, A Crown Of Swords. Given the lengths of the books, this selection is ‘the best’ highlights; otherwise there’d be several thousand words worth of quotes. As it is, this post is longer than intended…

Serious Matters: Dealt with First

It seems odd to start my ‘highlights’ post by talking about something which I found genuinely disturbing. But it needs to be discussed. Matt Cauthon, who frequently seduce any willing woman, finds himself aggressively pursued by Queen Tylin. No, I’m going to call a spade a spade: she rapes him. I’ll post the encounter here in full and then discuss it.

It was too much. The woman hounded him, tried to starve him; now she locked them in together like . . . like he did not know what. Lambkin! Those bloody dice were bouncing around in his skull. Besides, he had important business to see to. The dice had never had anything to do with finding something, but . . . He reached her in two long strides, seized her arm, and began fumbling in her belt for the keys. “I don’t have bloody time for—” His breath froze as the sharp point of her dagger beneath his chin shut his mouth and drove him right up onto his toes. “Remove your hand,” she said coldly. He managed to look down his nose at her face. She was not smiling now. He let go of her arm carefully. She did not lessen the pressure of her blade, though. She shook her head. “Tsk, tsk. I do try to make allowances for you being an outlander, gosling, but since you wish to play roughly . . . Hands at your sides. Move.” The knifepoint gave a direction. He shuffled backward on tiptoe rather than have his neck sliced. “What are you going to do?” he mumbled through his teeth. A stretched neck put a strain in his voice. A stretched neck among other things. “Well?” He could try grabbing her wrist; he was quick with his hands. “What are you going to do?” Quick enough, with the knife already at his throat? That was the question. That, and the one he asked her. If she intended to kill him, a shove of her wrist right there would drive the dagger straight up into his brain. “Will you answer me!” That was not panic in his voice. He was not in a panic. “Majesty? Tylin?” Well, maybe he was in a bit of a panic, to use her name. You could call any woman in Ebou Dar “duckling” or “pudding” all day, and she would smile, but use her name before she said you could, and you found a hotter reception than you would for goosing a strange woman on the street anywhere else. A few kisses exchanged were never enough for permission, either. Tylin did not answer, only kept him tiptoeing backward, until suddenly his shoulders bumped against something that stopped him. With that flaming dagger never easing a hair, he could not move his head, but eyes that had been focused on her face darted. They were in the bedchamber, a flower-carved red bedpost hard between his shoulder blades. Why would she bring him . . .? His face was suddenly as crimson as the bedpost. No. She could not mean to . . . It was not decent! It was not possible! “You can’t do this to me,” he mumbled at her, and if his voice was a touch breathy and shrill, he surely had cause. “Watch and learn, my kitten,” Tylin said, and drew her marriage knife. Afterward, a considerable time later, he irritably pulled the sheet up to his chest. A silk sheet; Nalesean had been right. The Queen of Altara hummed happily beside the bed, arms twisted behind her to do up the buttons of her dress. All he had on was the foxhead medallion on its cord – much good that had done – and the black scarf tied around his neck. A ribbon on her present, the bloody woman called it. He rolled over and snatched his silver-mounted pipe and tabac pouch from the small table on the other side from her. Golden tongs and a hot coal in a golden bowl of sand provided the means for lighting. Folding his arms, he puffed away as fiercely as he frowned. “You should not flounce, duckling, and you shouldn’t pout.” She yanked her dagger from where it was driven into a bedpost beside her marriage knife, examining the point before sheathing it. “What is the matter? You know you enjoyed yourself as much as I did, and I . . .” She laughed suddenly, and oh so richly, resheathing the marriage knife as well. “If that is part of what being ta’veren means, you must be very popular.” Mat flushed like fire. (page 515-517)

It is such a tricky situation. Matt does complain about it, clearly uncomfortable. It is culturally appropriate in the city of Ebou Dar for women to do the pursuing. Matt doesn’t entirely hate the situation or Tylin. But he does feel so uncomfortable that he seeks his friends out for help…

“You listen to me! That woman won’t take no for an answer; I say no, and she laughs at me. She’s starved me, bullied me, chased me down like a stag! She has more hands than any six women I ever met. She threatened to have the serving women undress me if I didn’t let her—” (Page 653)

I suspect the scene was written in a failed attempt to be funny. The gag was probably supposed to be the chaser becomes the chased. Only it isn’t funny. If you swap the genders and have a man forcing a woman into bed at knife-point it’s rape. It doesn’t matter what the individual’s sexual past has been.

It’s important to note in the world-building of WOT, it isn’t rape. Matt never describes it as such himself. It’s in a grey area that has and can be argued over. However the problem is in modern times it equates to rape in the reader’s mind. At least in this reader’s mind.

Not everyone will agree that it was rape, citing plausible arguments. That’s OK. From a writer’s perspective is it a good thing that a significant portion of your readers will be uncomfortable about the scene? (When that isn’t the goal of the scene). I would say not. I found it incredibly jarring when I realised that’s what it was. I was shocked and disturbed.

Now I’ve read other books with rape or similar uncomfortable material. (I think of Rage by Wilbur Smith in which I couldn’t warm to any of the characters due to their despicable and abhorrent natures). Part of the reason why it disturbed me so much was because I wasn’t expecting it – it doesn’t fit the rest of the WOT books. Some author’s have made their careers by making readers squirm, but Jordan wasn’t one of them.

I don’t think Jordan is bad because of the scene; it was a poor choice with unintended ramifications. Who, among us though, hasn’t had a joke which has backfired horribly? It’s just that Jordan’s mis-fired joke was written down and mass-marketed. A good warning.

Onto Better Things

Now onto the good highlights.

“The White Tower will be whole again, except for remnants cast out and scorned, whole and stronger than ever. Rand al’Thor will face the Amyrlin Seat and know her anger. The Black Tower will be rent in blood and fire, and sisters will walk its grounds. This I Foretell.” (Page 16)

What I particularly like about this is it’s a prophecy of the future that is guaranteed to come true. Only, the interpretation that the character puts upon the Foretelling is a different outcome to what will happen in reality. I knew this because it’s not my first time reading the book, but for a new reader it would throw them off-track. A clever manoeuver.

More on the differences between men and women:

  • Standing on the ground, she somehow made it seem that she was looking down at him. Not an Aes Sedai trick, that; he had seen Faile do it. He suspected most women knew how. (Page 71)
  • Only a fool thinks a lion or a woman can truly be tamed. (Page 354)
  • “Women keep promises in their own way,” (Page 646)
  • Usually when a woman was in the wrong, she could find so many things to blame on the nearest man that he wound up thinking maybe he really was at fault. (Page 652)

And some real-life humor, a dig at us authors:

Loial strode up, bubbling with energy despite his obvious weariness. “Rand, they say they’re ready to go, but you promised to talk to me while it’s fresh.” Abruptly his ears twitched with embarrassment, and that booming voice became plaintive. “I am sorry; I know it can’t be enjoyable. But I must know. For the book. For the Ages.” Laughing, Rand got to his feet and tugged at the Ogier’s open coat. “For the Ages? Do writers all talk like that? Don’t worry, Loial. It will still be fresh when I tell you. I won’t forget.” (Page 87)

Other good quotes:

  • The wind shook the banner hard and was gone quickly, as if glad to be away. (Page 50)
  • Defeating Aes Sedai was not easy; making them admit defeat lay on the far side of impossible. (Page 57)
  • Perhaps they would only still them. From the little he had picked up, stilling an Aes Sedai amounted to a killing that just took a few years for the corpse to lie down. (Page 59)
  • “You think I can’t teach them as well as you?” Rand’s voice was soft, the whisper of a blade sliding in its sheath. (Page 82)
  • In Cairhien, maybe in most lands, ordinary folk could be crushed unnoticed where the mighty walked. (Page 116)
  • He floated in the Void, surrounded by emptiness beyond knowing, and saidin filled him, trying to grind him to dust beneath steel-shattering cold and heat where stone would flash to flame, carrying the Dark One’s taint on its flow, forcing corruption into his bones. Into his soul, he feared sometimes. It did not make him feel so sick to his stomach as it once had. He feared that even more. And larded through that torrent of fire, ice and filth – life. That was the best word. Saidin tried to destroy him. Saidin filled him to overflowing with vitality. It threatened to bury him, and it enticed him. The war for survival, the struggle to avoid being consumed, magnified the joy of pure life. So sweet even with the foulness. What would it be like, clean? Beyond imagining. He wanted to draw more, draw all there was. (Page 144)
  • It was always better to know than to be ignorant, but sometimes ignorance was much more comfortable. (Page 269)
  • A yellow-haired woman in red belt and plunging neckline made a faint sound as her eyes rolled up in her head and she slid bonelessly from her red chair. (Page 552)
  • “Yes, but there is the matter of the Bargain.” That word was plainly capitalized in Harine’s tone. (Page 597)
  • Mat crashed into the killer’s back, and they all three hit the floor together. He had no compunctions against stabbing a man in the back when it was necessary, especially a man who could tear somebody’s throat out. (Page 666)
  • Insults to Thom’s flute or his harp were insults to himself. (Page 684)
  • Rand blinked, and snatched one hand from the crown to suck on a pricked finger. Almost buried among the laurel leaves of the crown were the sharp points of swords. …  Gingerly he set the circle of laurel leaves on his head. Half those swords pointed up, half down. No head would wear this crown casually or easily. (Page 739)
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Highlights from ‘Lord of Chaos’

Here are some of my highlights from book 6 of the Wheel of Time series, Lord of Chaos. After having so many quotes for the last book I had to split the post in two, I’ve really chosen only the best-of-the-best this time.

I want to make a special note of this recap on who the primary protagonist is.

Despite his having been raised in the Two Rivers by Tam al’Thor and, until her death when he was five, Tam’s wife, Kari, Rand’s true mother had been a Maiden of Spear who died giving birth to him on the slopes of Dragonmount. Not an Aiel, though his father had been, but still a Maiden. Now Aiel customs stronger than law had touched him. No, not touched; enveloped. No Maiden could marry and still carry the spear and unless she gave up the spear any child she bore was given to another woman by the Wise Ones, in such a way that the Maiden never knew who that woman was. Any child born of a Maiden was believed to be lucky, both in itself and to raise, though none but the woman who raised the child and her husband ever knew it was not her own. Yet beyond that, the Aiel Prophecy of Rhuidean said that the Car’a’carn would be such a one, raised by wetlanders. To the Maidens, Rand was all those children come back, the first child of a Maiden ever to be known to everyone. (Page 119)

This passage is good, because it provides a concrete and plausible explanation of why the Maiden’s are so loyal to Rand. It is not only because he declared ‘they carry my honour’ but also because he is a symbol of the children they have given away. Loyalties, thus explained, would be far stronger than to any individual under normal circumstances.

I’d love to know if Jordan had this in mind all along, or if he realised he could knit it together further down the track. In any case, it’s brilliant.

He had abandoned them to this. If he had gone, there might not have been such a long list of the dead, so many names that he knew. But if he had gone, he would not have the Aiel behind him. Cairhien would not be his, as much as it was, and Rahvin would likely be sending a united Andor against him and the Two Rivers. There was a price to be paid for any decision he made. There was a price for who he was. Other people paid it. He had to keep reminding himself that it was a far smaller price than they would pay without him. (Page 283)

Hear the emotional turmoil for Rand. The necessities of events (the plot) are in conflict with what he would choose to do in relationships. The grinding together of tensions of plot and character.

A salient truth:

How people see you first is what they hold hardest in their minds. It is the way of the world. You can step down from a throne, and even if you behave like a farmer in a pigsty, some part in each of them will remember that you did descend from a throne. But if they see only a young man first, a country man, they will resent him stepping up to his throne later, whatever his right, whatever his power. (Page 391)

An intricacy of the sweeping plot explained, how history and past are woven together into a tapestry of the now and into the future.

Everything folded back into itself, in endless circles. Tigraine went to the Waste in secret, which made Laman Damodred cut down Avendoraldera, a gift of the Aiel, to make a throne, an act which brought the Aiel across the Spine of the World to kill him—that had been their only goal, though the nations called it the Aiel War—and with the Aiel came a Maiden named Shaiel, who died giving birth. So many lives changed, lives ended, so she could give birth to him at the proper time and place and die doing it. (Page 397)

A strong line:

“Take this message back to Sammael,” he said coldly. “Every death he has caused since waking, I lay at his feet and call due. Every murder he has ever done or caused, I lay at his feet and call due. […] But I will see justice done now. Tell him, no truce with the Forsaken. No truce with the Shadow.” (Page 400)

I loved the imagery used in this paragraph. To me it just resonated and I could see it playing out in my mind’s eye.

“I sent them [guards] away as you insisted,” Sulin said disgustedly. “Give me a slow count of one hundred.”
“Ten.”
“Fifty.” Rand nodded, and her fingers flashed. Jalani darted away inside, and Sulin’s hands flickered again. Three gai’shain women dropped their armloads of maps looking startled—Aiel never looked that surprised—gathered long white robes and vanished back into the Palace in different directions, but quickly as they moved, Sulin was ahead of them. As Rand reached twenty, Aiel began bounding into the courtyard, hurtling though windows, leaping down from balconies. He almost lost the count. Every one was veiled, and only some Maidens. They stared about in confusion when they found only Rand and three Ogier, who blinked at them curiously. Some lowered their veils. The palace servants huddled together. (Page 467)

The lovable rogue, Mat Cauthon:

  • Mat slipped back and left them to it. The general who leads in the front of battle is a fool. That came from one of those old memories, a quote from somebody whose name was not part of the memory. A man could get killed in there. That was pure Mat Cauthon. (Page 490)
  • “By the look of you, Nynaeve, I could almost think you were angry, but I know you have such a sweet disposition people ask you to dabble your fingers in their tea.” (Page 592)
  • He had four rules concerning action and information. Never make a plan without knowing as much as you can of the enemy. Never be afraid to change your plans when you receive new information. Never believe you know everything. And never wait to know everything. The man who waited to know everything was still sitting in his tent when the enemy burned it over his head. (Page 630)

Here is a highlight I made for the wrong reasons. Read it first and then I’ll explain why.

Then there were the Cairhienin, outside the ring of Aiel. Colavaere, strikingly handsome in her middle years, dark hair an elaborate tower of curls, and horizontal slashes coloring her gown from high gold-embroidered collar to below her knees, more slashes than anyone else present. Solid, square-faced Dobraine, the front of his mostly gray hair shaved soldier-fashion and his coat worn from the straps of a breastplate. Maringil, straight as a blade, white hair touching his shoulders; he had not shaved his forehead, and his dark silk coat, striped like Dobraine’s, nearly to his knees, was fit for a ball. Two dozen or more clustered behind, mostly younger men and women, few wearing horizontal stripes even as low as the waist. “Grace favor the Lord Dragon,” they murmured, bowing hand to heart or curtsying, and, “Grace honors us with the Lord Dragon’s presence.” The Tairens had their contingent as well, High Lords and Ladies without lesser nobles, in peaked velvet hats and silk coats with puffy, satin-striped sleeves, in bright gowns with broad lace ruffs and close-fitting caps of pearls or gems, making their respects with “The Light illumine the Light Dragon.” Meilan stood foremost, of course, lean and hard and expressionless, with his gray pointed beard. Close beside him, Fionnda’s stern expression and iron eyes somehow did not diminish her beauty, while willowy Anaiyella’s simpers lessened hers. There were certainly no smiles of any sort on the faces of Maraconn, a blue-eyed rarity among Tairens, or bald Gueyam, or Aracome, who looked twice as slender alongside Gueyam’s solid width if just as steely. They—and Meilan—had been thick with Hearne and Simaan. (Page 440)

Did you get through it? I’m not sure I did. Way too much detail on the clothes of people who aren’t important. Whilst some of these characters do make a re-appearance – and so possibly become more important – I think this passage is an example of waffling.

More great lines:

  • “‘The right medicine always tastes bitter,’” Lini murmured softly. “Most of all for a child who throws a sulky tantrum.” (Page 60)
  • Any man would have to be aware of them, sudden death in their eyes, their hands. (Page 99)
  • A woman’s eyes cut deeper than a knife, another Two Rivers saying. (Page 121)
  • The simple form of it was this: where a spymaster should doubt his own face in the mirror, Omerna believed anything. (Page 255)
  • If you took risks, sometimes the bill came due when you least expected, in the last way you expected. (Page 292)
  • Elayne’s first wincing instinct was to smooth it over somehow, though how was a question she could not begin to answer. As easy to smooth over a mountain range. (Page 384)
  • “Women do not become exhausted,” Haman said, “they only exhaust others. That is a very old saying among us.” (Page 464)
  • Rumor might cross a hundred miles in a day or take a month, and it birthed ten daughters every day. (Page 506)
  • We are always more afraid than we wish to be, but we can always be braver than we expect. (Page 666)
  • ‘Fools only listen to themselves (Page 733)
  • “If you pursue two hares, both will escape you,” (Page 789)
  • She always touched him. Not blatantly, just fingers on his hand for a moment, on his arm, his shoulder. Hardly worth noticing. The third day a thought occurred that made the hair on the nape of his neck rise. When you were taming a horse that had never been ridden, you began with light touches, until the animal knew your touch would not hurt, until it stood still for your hand. After that came the saddle cloth, and later the saddle. The bridle was always last. (Page 910)
  • Rand let Sulin hold his coat for him to put on, for the simple reason that he would have had to rip it out of her hands physically to do otherwise. As usual, she tried to shove the garment onto him with no regard to details such as where his arms happened to be. (Page 916)

Writing and Coding Update

Coding : Character Point-Of-View Chart

I want to learn how to program in C# to add that arrow to my professional quiver. You never know when you need another arrow.

In light of that goal and also to aid in my writing I’m going to build a small application (“Perspective“) to generate my Character Point-of-View (POV) charts.

The charts display by chapter and scene which character has the point of view. I first described them in Examining Character Balance and shared the Excel file which I use. However the spreadsheet does so much it is complex and I could understand people being scared off by it. And, it’s a great excuse to do some C# and get side-benefits from it.

Draft Cal POV

It is important to note this will be an iterative development. The first version won’t look anything like the final product. I’m not quite ready to share my code, but I will – and the application – in the future.

v0.1 screenshot

I’m using Windows Forms. (I think this is a slightly older technology, but I thought it was a good place to start). The form doesn’t do much, and data entry is simplistic: character names will be separated by commas, and a chapter will be ended by a semi-colon.

I’ll be putting formatting options on the form so you can control what it looks like. Here are the terms I’m using at the moment.

Style design

I’ve also got a few experimental ideas with which I’m keen to include. I think they could really add value to the chart.

Writing

One of my goals in this revision was to reduce the amount of head-hopping. So how am I going so far? I’m glad you asked, because here are some outputs from my Perspective application that demonstrates the progress so far.

Original manuscript. Without the benefit (yet) of labels, I’ll explain it. Below shows the first 4 chapters.

  • Chapter 1 = 6 scenes
  • Chapter 2 = 5 scenes
  • Chapter 3 = 8 scenes
  • Chapter 4 = 8 scenes

VWC - Old Version

Revised manuscript. It’s a bit hard to see the difference because the image comes out a different size…. *scratches head*

  • Chapter 1 = 3 scenes
  • Chapter 2 = 4 scenes
  • Chapter 3 = 5 scenes
  • Chapter 4 = 6 scenes

VWC - New Version

With less scenes there is less head-jumping, which should result in less fragmentation for the reader. I’ve also expanded the word count (in those four chapters) by 2,000 words.

Highlights from the ‘Fire of Heaven’ (2)

This is my second post about Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, book 5 in the series, ‘Fire of Heaven‘. I hadn’t intended on making it a multi-part post but I had too much highlighted to fit into the first post. I still have too much for two-posts, but I have decided it only gets two posts: whatever doesn’t fit, misses out.

(After reading so many books (and so many pages) in such a short timeframe it does all blend into a quagmire. I couldn’t tell you the main plot line of any book – it’s all one continuum in my mind. And I’m currently reading book 7, so forgive me if my thoughts and comments stray across lines. Unintentional spoiler alert).

In book 5 I definitely noticed the different journey of the characters. Matt, Rand, Perrin, Nynaeve and Egwene all started out in the same Two Rivers village. There were slight differences between them: Nynaeve was older and in a position of authority as the Village Wisdom, and Egwene had a tiny bit of status as the Mayor’s daughter. Excluding personality, gender and occupational differences they essentially shared the same world-view.

Now, after all going on separate journey’s, they are all radically different. This gives me one (or is it two?) insights on how to treat and understand characters:

  • a different journey produces different results
  • if you want different results, you must send characters on different journeys

It’s cause and effect from both angles. A characters growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum. No two characters should go through the same event and come out exactly the same. Personality and individual resilience should at least create some differences, but for radical change I’d recommend radical diverging paths to make it believable. Egwene is destined for greatness – in her own way – and so her path leads her to be a Wise One’s apprentice among the Aiel. This radical diversion forces her to grow up much more rapidly, and have a different worldview from those she grew up with.

The same is true for Rand, forced by circumstance and prophecy to become a ruthless leader for the sake of the future. There just isn’t enough time before the Last Battle and everything he must do. Nestled amongst the writing is a class on plotting, I suspect tongue-in-cheek by Jordan, as described by Rand:

He could trace the steps that led to them, each necessary as it seemed at the time and seeming an end in itself, yet each leading inevitably to the next. (Page 663)

Which is exactly how plotting should be: surprising, yet inevitable developments. And the protagonist should not be master of their own domain. They must struggle – internally and externally, with deadly foe, lover and compromises in which no answer is perfect. They must be forced to choose, pushed and pulled like the wind and rocked by the waves. (And I’ve slipped back into Siuan’s fishing references). The protagonist who is in control is either a mistaken, or weakly written.

It would be easier if this was a story, he thought. In stories, there were only so many surprises before the hero knew everything he needed; he himself never seemed to know a quarter of everything. (Page 671)

There were always limits and rules, and he did not know them here. (Page 865)

Also present in this book is a great deal of emotional turmoil for the characters. Rand’s self-loathing over the fact that women were dying for him and worry that Elayne would believe the rumours that he killed her mother.

A Maiden or a Stone Dog, a spear is a spear. Only, thinking it could not make it so. I will be hard! He would let the Maidens dance the spears where they wished. He would. And he knew he would search out the name of every one who died, that every name would be another knife-cut on his soul. I will be hard. The Light help me, I will. The Light help me. (Page 843)

There are many different kinds of emotional strain that a character can face – visible threats from enemies, but also angst over love, friends and family. There are internal fears of failure or faults of success. A good story milks all of the human emotions in their varied forms.

And to finish up, some more noteworthy lines:

The hill valley twisted and forked as he angled north, but he had a good sense of direction. For instance, he knew exactly which way lay south and safety, and it was not the way he was heading. (Page 633)

Only a battle lost is sadder than a battle won. (Page 655)

The topknotted men, not much less ragged than those they fought, worked their two-handed swords methodically, craftsmen at their craft, and the onslaught went no further than their thin line. … Yet if they held the mob, it was Galad who broke them. He faced their charge as though awaiting the next dance at a ball, arms folded and unconcerned, not even bothering to bare his blade until they were almost on top of him. Then he did dance, all his grace turned in an instant to fluid death. He did not stand against them; he carved a path into their heart, a clear swathe as wide as his sword’s reach. Sometimes five or six men closed in around him with swords and axes and table-legs for clubs, but only for the brief time it took them to die. In the end, all their rage, all their thirst for blood, could not face him. It was from him that the first ran, flinging away weapons, and when the rest fled, they divided around him. As they vanished back the way they had come, he stood twenty paces from anyone else, alone among the dead and the groans of the dying. (Page 723, 724)

 

The Ignition of Revision (2)

This post discusses revisions made to Vengeance Will Come, my first fantasy adventure novel (revisions in progress). In the first part of this blog post I described what I felt was a fatal flaw in my story construction, too-frequent point of view swapping. Reading the manuscript anew, I re-read the first scene. Somehow, only on the 101st time I read it, I could see the scene had to go.

I’ll let you read it first, and then I’ll discuss it – what I was trying to do with it, what I liked, and ultimately why it’s no longer contributing to the word count.

VWC Deleted Ch1Sc2
The deleted scene

What I was trying to do: #1 Surprise the Reader

The first, horribly jarring thing you may have noticed are the references to the two people in the scene, referred to only as ‘the driver’ and ‘the passenger’.

There was a reason for this: I wanted the fact that they were police to be hidden until the very end of the scene. If the reader catches it, it would shock them and re-frame the entire scene in their mind. Two men killing homeless people (and semi-sentient creatures) was bad enough, but then you find out it’s police doing the killing it makes it even worse. It might cause the reader to wonder:

  • Why are the police killing the homeless?
  • What kind of society is does that?
  • Does this happen often, given the policemen are carrying silenced weapons?
  • While one officer has a conscience, the other doesn’t seem to be phased by it – or chooses his employment as more important than the lives he is extinguishing.

I say if the reader catches it, it does those things. But what if they read-on so fast that the last few words at the end of the scene don’t ‘click’? In that case I have made it clunky for very little purpose. Worse, what if the reader only reads that much and decides the writing style is terrible, and assumes it’s like that throughout and gives up? The very first text should be a hook, a sales-pitch to grab the reader and tell them it’s worth investing dozens of hours to read. And that scene was just too risky, a huge gamble; too little gain for way too much risk.

(I could have given the characters names to make it less clunky but I don’t like naming characters – even a first name – if the character isn’t going to be around long, especially at the start of a book).

What I was trying to do #2: Set the Scene

The shock of killers being police is that it also describes the environment in which the scene is set. That is added to be the description of the environment:

“derelict grey warehouse” … “Not in our life time. What the war didn’t destroy outright it comatosed: buildings and people alike, empty shells ageing slowly towards death.”

The economy is bad and the place is run down; the people demoralised.

“…a job that we’re very lucky to have. … Let’s just get this done and get out of the rain.”

The disassociation of the driver in uncaring about what they are doing, in justifying it, shows how brutal life is. They need the job, and are willing to do whatever is required. The passenger seems to have reservations (but not enough to make him refuse the order); the driver justifies his actions. The fact that the passenger grimaces at the incoming rain when he’s about to kill someone is a value statement.

In an earlier draft of the scene the homeless man was shot in the head. This added to the brutality of it and makes it clear that they want him dead not injured. This was cut (probably) to reduce the brutality so early-on. Likewise I considered removing the reference to the silencer. Doing so would signify the police aren’t afraid of the populace knowing about their violence. It normalises it. Keeping the silencer, however, also suggests that police have occasion to secretly kill people; like the CIA ‘wet work’.

Also important in setting the scene was the introduction of the alien lifeform, the slime-spitting, fast-moving Dugar. It was supposed to be a clear (and entirely blunt) hint to the reader that we’re talking other-worldly. I wanted the reader to be able to orient themselves quickly.

So why did I cut the scene? Firstly, because of the clunky referencing which sounded amateurish, but second because it only tangentially applies to the story. The entire scene can be replaced by a few words to describe the fact that the area has been sanitized. Likewise the reference to the Dugar can be placed slightly further back in the text without a problem.

With hindsight I deduced that the scene was hurting me far more than helping me…and so it had to go.

Highlights from ‘The Shadow Rising’

Hi! After an incredibly busy week (in which no writing was done), here are my thoughts on the highlight-able parts in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, book 4: The Rising Shadow. This time I’ve done it a little differently and sorted the quotes by category.

(If you’re interested you can also see my highlights from book 2 The Great Hunt and book 3 The Dragon Reborn).

Genders

  • She thought the Creator must have been tired when it came time to make men; sometimes they hardly seemed human. (Page 12)
  • ‘He was an easy little boy to manage most of the time, if you handled him properly, but when you tried to push him, he was as muley as any in the Two Rivers. Men don’t really change that much, only grow taller. (Page 721)
  • Why do men always do things without asking? Does growing hair on their chests sap their brains?’ (Page 767)

These are not the first gender-based observation I’ve highlighted. Men and women are strange creatures to one another, and it would be incorrect and shallow if there wasn’t some thoughts, actions and emotions of “how strange” the other gender was. It’s a touch of humanity to make the story more real. This is even more so the case with adolescent characters who lack the wisdom and experience of age… Age notwithstanding, men and women should squint at each other strangely from time to time (Are you crazy?). The same is true of anything which would create different worldviews (cultures, religions, even professions to an extent).

Just Great Prose

This was mad panic tied with a frayed rope. (Page 81)

An excellent descriptor: mad panic tied with frayed rope. I sometimes marvel at the regularity by which Robert Jordan is able to come up with such apt expressions. I wonder if he would sit back and examine every third sentence to see if he could turn it into a beautiful piece of prose. Certainly he does it well.

Other note worthy lines:

  • Three thousand years had not dimmed that memory, even if time had altered many of the details. (Page 4)
  • It wanted him dead the way a starving man wanted food. (Page 72)
  • The clan chief of the Taardad Aiel had no visible weapon except the heavy-bladed knife at his waist, but he carried authority and confidence like weapons, quietly, yet as surely as if they were sheathed alongside the knife. (Page 86)
  • Moiraine could not lie, but she could make truth dance a fine jig. (Page 104)
  • Neither expected an easy day, but both wore stony determination like cloaks. (Page 947)

Wisdom

I enjoy having wisdom packed into a book:

  • no good decision was ever made in anger. (Page 119)
  • it was better to guide people than try to hammer them into line. (Page 121)
  • ‘You call this being protected, roofmistress?’ Bain said. ‘If you ask the lion to protect you from wolves, you have only chosen to end in one belly instead of another.’ (Page 482)
  • A general can take care of the living or weep for the dead, but he cannot do both.’ (Page 686)
  • The worst sin a general can commit, worse than blundering, worse than losing, worse than anything, is to desert the men who depend on him.’ (Page 687)

Character Insights

As I’ve also mentioned before Jordan does a wonderful job of describing the world through the characters perspective. The banker does not see the world in the same way as a homeless beggar. They act differently, talk differently and notice different things.

The classic example of this is Siuan Sanche who grew up in a fishing village. Here are quotes from her point of view, or her dialogue.

  • Everything was sailing along according to plan. (Page 773)
  • That was what had her flapping like a fisher-bird whose catch had been stolen (Page 774)
  • There were lionfish out there, and she was swimming in darkness. (Page 775)
  • This was not the first hard corner she had ever been in. A fifteen-year-old girl with nothing but her bait knife, hauled into an alley by four hard-eyed louts with their bellies full of cheap wine – that had been harder to escape than this. (Page 777)
  • ‘It’s time to stop trying to hack a hole in the hull, and start bailing. Even you can still mitigate your offense, Elaida.’ (Page 777)
  • She ground her teeth. Burn my soul, I’ll use this lot for fish bait! (Page 778)
  • I swear, one day I will feed that woman to the silverpike!’ (Page 781)
  • ‘I may no longer wear the stole,’ Siuan replied just as flatly, ‘but I still know how to ready a crew for a storm. (Page 796)
  • Just because I can hook a shark from a boat, I do no offer to wrestle it in the water. (Page 853)

I have read some opinion that Siuan’s fishing analogies are over-used. And as good as they are, I do agree. They are packed together tighter than sardines in a can. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself). They are good, but a little too numerous for my taste.

Similarly for Perrin, the blacksmith:

  • He felt as weak as the worst wrought iron, ready to bend to any pressure. (Page 685)
  • Swing a hammer in haste, and you usually hit your own thumb. (Page 689)
  • Blood trickled down his side; his side burned like a forge-fire. (Page 677)

‘Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain. (Page 397)

‘No.’ The word came thin as a whisper, but strong enough to fill every ear. (Page 408)

A touch of humour:

Master al’Vere put his head into the common room, and came the rest of the way when he saw them sitting apart. ‘There is an Ogier in the kitchen,’ he told Perrin with a bemused look. ‘An Ogier. Drinking tea. The biggest cup looks …’ He held two fingers as though gripping a thimble. ‘Maybe Marin could pretend Aiel walk in here every day, but she nearly fainted when she saw this Loial. I gave her a double tot of brandy, and she tossed it down like water. Nearly coughed herself to death; she doesn’t take more than wine, usually. I think she’d have drunk another, if I’d given it to her.’ (Page 486)

Some irony…

In the stories, when somebody fulfilled a prophecy, everyone cried ‘Behold!’ or some such, and that was that except for dealing with the villains. Real life did not seem to work that way. (Page 566)

And even love…

She wanted to go after Rhuarc and introduce herself to Amys – reintroduce herself – but Rhuarc and Amys were looking into one another’s eyes in a way that excluded intruders. (Page 369)

Jordan, the master story-teller is leading us through the series with prophecy.

  • ‘The stone that never falls will fall to announce his coming. Of the blood, but not raised by the blood, he will come from Rhuidean at dawn, and tie you together with bonds you cannot break. He will take you back, and he will destroy you.’ (Page 408)
  • With you …“He shall spill out the blood of those who call themselves Aiel as water on sand, and he shall break them as dried twigs, yet the remnant of a remnant shall he save, and they shall live.” A hard prophecy, but this has never been a gentle land.’ She met his gaze without flinching. A hard land, and a hard woman. (Page 573)

But that doesn’t mean we know exactly what’s going to happen. There’s still some chance at work, and some red herrings (not a pun, this time):

For a moment she let herself think of the images she had glimpsed, just for a moment, flickering around Gawyn’s head. Gawyn kneeling at Egwene’s feet with his head bowed, and Gawyn breaking Egwene’s neck, first one then the other, as if either could be the future. (Page 798)

And a memory from my own writing. The very first story I can remember writing was in Year 3 and began with the something like, “The branches scratched the window with an eerie crrrr-crrr noise”

He fought wrapped in the cold emotionlessness of the Void, but fear scraped at its boundaries like wind-lashed branches scratching a window in the night. (Page 72)

I hope you’ve enjoyed these highlights as much as I did.

The Ignition of Revision (1)

What was it that caused me so quickly to begin a revision of Vengeance Will Come, when it had literally been the farthest thought from my mind?

In the months since putting the manuscript in the mail, I’ve been mulling over how I wrote it. One problematic issue has risen to the surface of my consciousness like foul oil sitting on the top of clean water. The frequent point-of-view (POV) swapping and I’m now convinced it’s a problem.

While some POVs lasted for an entire chapter, there were many, many more far shorter. Someone wise once coined the phrase, ‘a picture tells a thousand words’, obviously that person has never played Pictionary on my team… My lack of drawing skills aside, here’s a picture to demonstrate. (All the yellow highlights are scene changes).

VWC POV changes.PNG

(Wow, even though I knew it was a problem… this display makes it clearer – and me dizzy).

At the time of writing, I thought that the rapid POV/scene changes added to the speed of the novel… but I’ve gradually decided that too many rapid POV-shifts disorient to the reader. Possibly also, my constant POV changes hinted at a weakness in my writing. I believe it’s easier to head-jump than describe the same thing through one character’s brain.

Recognising this flaw, the main change I am going to be doing through revision is cutting down on the number of scenes and POV changes. Small POVs will either be discarded or made meatier.

Do you agree – does frequent and short POVs confuse or annoy you as a reader?

(Next writing-related blog post, I’ll show you the first ‘real’ scene of chapter 1 and explain why it’s now lying on the cutting room floor).