November 26, 2020, 09:55:27 AM

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Messages - NO1SY

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I possibly left this a little too long to continue with, as I am now half way through the 14th and final book in the series... But I want to see this through to a conclusion, so I will continue with my ruminations on the first half of the The Wheel of Time...


7. A case-study in dealing with determinism in story writing

Spoiler

The story so far of the Wheel of Time is simply one of a man fulfilling prophecies that have been laid out since the beginning. In the hands of many professional writers, this would be boring. You know the prophecy, then you know the ending, you even may know some of the steps along the way. What Robert Jordan has accomplished here with the same set tools is nothing short of incredible.

First thing to understand is that The Wheel of Time is a seven spoked spinning wheel for weaving threads, with each spoke indicating an age. Each thread is a person’s life and they are woven together into The Pattern (essentially the event’s that  play out). Some threads are stronger than others and can affect the pattern of the weave that is spun, pulling other threads in to be woven with them and directing the shape of the weave on behalf of The Pattern. The major antagonist seems to want to destroy The Wheel or cut the weave free from The Wheel entirely. It seems that there is some sort of cycle that occurs in the weaving - perhaps each age plays out with a similar pattern, or perhaps it is once seven ages have passed and The Wheel has made a full turn that the Pattern repeats itself. There is an indication of rebirth or reincarnation also.

Now, with that all out of the way, there are prophecies, and it appears that they are playing out over the course of the story. In short, a person is going to rise to prominence by fulfilling a collection of remarkable feats; such as conquering a fortress by holding a sword that cannot be touched that is protected in said fortress, before it is conquered; then they are going to fight against The Dark Lord and die to defeat him. It starts with the main characters fighting against the prophecies and against their role in the pattern, only to realise how futile it is and how dangerous, so they come to begrudgingly accept them. So things will play out as expected from then on right? WRONG. What is a prophecy? Who made them? How have they been told and changed through the years? Who has interpreted them and through what lens of looking at the world? These are all questions that get asked when you first hear one of the multitude of prophecies that are laid out early on. They are suitably vague and cryptic to begin with, so as to hide the clear outcomes to be expected when fulfilled, but then compound that with all of the doubt over the meaning and who’s meaning to trust and all the rest and really you begin to see that prophecies do not have to be quite so predictable.

Not only that, but there are several factions vying to have their voices heard when it comes to dealing with the prophecies, who they apply to, and how to achieve them. Some believe that they should be fulfilled by the right person, and then that person needs to be controlled and hidden away from the world - to protect them from the world and the world from them - while their faction gains power from that control. Some believe that the person may defeat the Dark Lord but also destroy the world once more in doing so, so they fear the prophecies and hide away from them. Some have their own prophecies that they need to see fulfilled first in order to follow, and do not care for the prophecies of other nations. Some find ways to convince themselves that the prophecies have not been fulfilled at all and that they are still waiting on the right person. Some people believe that the prophecies are false, and that it will be regular peoples’ efforts that defeat the Dark Lord in the end. And obviously some strive to see the prophecies never fulfilled. So not only is the destination not necessarily certain, but the journey there is rife with push and pull and conflict, making it not even certain that after one prophecy is complete then the next will even be achieved.

Now, it should be made clear that, while it is good to obfuscate determinism like Robert Jordan does here, it is also important to realise that this only makes it satisfying when the prophecies are actually fulfilled in a way that makes sense. The outcome should be 1. Actually eventually achieved and 2. Be a reasonable interpretation of the prophecy (and if the words have changed from the original, then it is best to lay the groundwork that elucidates some of that original prophecy first, a while before the outcome is decided). Bait and switches don’t feel good and nor do results that don’t make sense based on the information given.




8. Action: 1 potentially genius idea within an, hopefully deliberate, afterthought...

Spoiler

If you have come to The Wheel of Time expecting intense action sequences, then you will be disappointed. At least in the first half of this series, there are barely more than two or three actual action scenes and, well, I’ll touch on those in a bit… In this first half of the series, most battles are experienced as aftermaths lamented by whichever character survived them, and... I’m not convinced that this is necessarily a bad thing. I do love a good fight scene in literature, and I think that there are plenty of opportunities through action sequences to display character development, learning even plot progression. But, just because the opportunities are there, doesn’t mean that it is an economical use of word count. A lot of fight scenes are just going through the motions, and, especially in novels, it’s really difficult to convey spectacle as well as in a visual medium. So rather than weave tiny pieces of development into a lengthy battle or combat, why not summarise the exact same character thoughts and pieces of narrative post-battle as the characters inevitably look back on what just transpired. This transitions things on in the story much more easily with natural follow up dialogue and characters appraise together, and doesn’t result in massive luls in the pacing right after an intense high-pace fight. I think this can be a really good pacing tool to use if the lessons stood to be gained from the conflict are few compared to the size of the conflict going to take place. That said, as in all things, there is a balance to be struck here so that not all action and conflict is presented in hindsight, and even in a visual medium, it is probably a good reminder that not all fight scenes have to be really mechanistically drawn out - just enough to convey major movements whilst thought and dialogue progresses characters and narrative.

Something I had really high hopes for was Robert Jordans aesthetics for sword fighting in The Wheel of Time. Basically, master swordsmen fight with something called Sword Forms. I’m a big fan of abstraction in writing combat, and these do just that; instead of describing a series of steps and sword strokes, Robert Jordan instead simply tells which Sword Forms the character is flowing between. They all have suitably flowery names, such as “Apple Blossoms in the Wind”, “The Boar Rushed Downhill”, or “The River Undercuts the Bank”. Lets just say that overall, I have been… whelmed, by this style of combat description. The titles are abstract but, as long as the reader is able to somewhat picture what the form names describe, then you’d be surprised how much you can imprint that on to how someone may swordfight in a form named such a way. “Apple Blossoms in the Wind” evokes light, spreading strikes to make space, “The Boar…” evokes an overbearing frontal assault, “The River...” evokes a definitive slice that starts low and rises using the full length of the blade. I don’t know if any of those interpretations are actually correct, but it’s enough to imagine a full fight sequence with. I feel like a little bit of set up could have gone a long way however, for instance, why not describe the nature of some of the forms, and the strikes and steps involved during some of the training sessions the characters go through? Also, as action does not happen often in the front half of the series, there is not much actual interesting use of these sword forms - no real conflict with them that builds tension through them or shows them being used in an interesting way. I imagine they were more a literary tool to abstract away the need for Jordan to write any fighting at all and really cut down on the word count of those sequences. If a little more effort had been put in here, to pit forms against one another as natural counters and establish the exact purpose of each of the forms, more of a story could have been told through their actual use. I do really like the concept though.

Now on to a part of action that I was not such a fan of… The set piece magic fights… So let me start by saying that the “softened, hard magic system” in the Wheel of time is pretty well realised. There is a male side of magic and a female side of magic, and the male side has been tainted and causes those who use it to turn mad. The magic feels good to use though and dangerous if people draw on too much in themselves. Channelers seem to have reserves of the power like a mana pool that can run out if they use too much, and use of the power is physically exhausting. It is utilized by weaving together combinations of fire, air, earth, water and spirit (the five powers), generating various effects such as fireballs, healing, solidified air, calling down lightning, and creating gateways etc. It is a hard system because there are rules on inputs and what outputs they will result in, but it is softened in the story by there seemingly being no limits to what can be achieved with channeling, so long as someone can develop a weave to generate the desired effect. I have already spoken about how I think having the ability to teleport in a pre-renaissance setting such as this to be essentially game-changing, and poorly utilised within the world of The Wheel of Time in a possibly poorly contrived way... but, overall, when Robert Jordan is focusing solely on applications of the magic for problem solving purposes, usually he does a really good job of it throughout the books. The benefits of a hard magic system is that as the writer you know the rules (constraints and consequences) and base effects of the magic system, and so you can design really well conceived lock & key scenarios of the already established magic being used in creative ways to overcome problems, puzzles and conflicts - whereas poorly done soft magic systems can feel like pulling a solution out of thin air.

However, somehow, despite all of this work, when Robert Jordan came to writing some key set piece showdowns of magic, things became very difficult to follow - akin to the lights going dark, some multicoloured flashes exploding in said darkness, and then the fight being resolved somehow… The nature of The Dark One (the big bad) seems somewhat eldritch, causing some weird and crazy, evil effects on the world, and this seems to bleed through when their most powerful followers fight… but while I’m a huge fan of this kinda thing usually, I just found it really hard to read and follow in some what are some key moments in The Wheel of Time. When writing weird effects that are difficult for a reader to picture or imagine, sometimes it’s good to take things slowly and be more clear when pointing out what is weird. You don’t have to describe how it is weird explicitly, but great effort should be made so that this can be inferred from the perspective character’s senses (especially if the scene is shifting and changing). Although once a hard magic system has been established you can often afford to abstract the actions in the writing to improve the flow and pacing, in circumstances where the world is bending and weird sensory effects are happening, it can be best to be more explicit with the magic (or any combat) so that the reader's imagination does not have to split between too many things all at once.



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Welcome Center / Re: Hello newbie here :)
« on: November 24, 2020, 04:01:50 AM »
Welcome to MangaRaiders :)

I know that there are a few artists on the forum who are very diligent at giving feedback, and even some writers with an eye for artwork, so I hope that you are able to get stuck in to discussions with them!

I know all too well the distractions of real life... but I look forward to seeing some art from you whenever you are up for sharing.

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Develop Your Story / Re: Visualising Characters
« on: November 23, 2020, 12:28:27 PM »
I'm not gonna lie, I think I may find this to be the most difficult part about writing for me... I find even coming up with characters to be a challenge - in some stories drafts I've just written an "X" for a character and all of their defining visual features, because I didn't know what to do with them... this is actually very bad for writing, as the majority of storytelling is character interaction (even with a single character) and how they look or how they perceive others should have A LOT of impact on character decision making, motivations, actions etc.

I will say that considering I'm more into novel writing now as opposed to comic writing, I don't think I have to be as exact and decisive with character visual design anymore, but it's a good skill to have.

I like the advice that has been given on character archetypes.

Let's take your character Murakami. The majority of characters in popular stories with military backgrounds such as theirs share a fairly distinctive image. Square-jawed, solid man with a buzz-cut hairstyle and maybe some stubble. Likely approaching his middle ages, if not older - so maybe getting peppering in his sideburns, and his skin may be getting rougher with some deeper set lines. Probably prefers function over form so dresses in simple t-shirts; non-restrictive trousers with pockets; and shoes/boots meant for walking. Maybe wears dog-tags. Probably wears a scowl on his face most of the time, and his eyes have a haunted quality to them. Oh, and he probably has a scar or two...

Archetypes like this play off reader expectations really well. This means that when someone reads a discription similar to this/that has parts of this, or see a character designed like this, they can make assumptions about the character and their personality right off the bat. This is good for two reasons 1) you don't have to put as much effort into trying to show their past and experience through dialogue - which often comes across as unnatural self-exposition or takes ages to properly establish - and 2) it makes it easier to subvert expectations with the character without having to contrive super complex plans. This second point is really good when you use the archetype as a base to then build out from or change in a few small ways, to give your character some quirks that seem unique. For example, most readers expect these military types to love animals, especially dogs, but what if Murakami really hates animals, and they really hate him? Perhaps, despite his quite utilitarian view on clothing and appearance, he really likes to indulge in fine dining. Maybe he's now dedicated to covering himself completely in tatoos based on the scars that he has?

Alternatively you can do everything you can to completely skirt around the archetype for great effect also - such as with Kesashi's example of the Hulking barbarian with the battle axe vs the tiny girl with the battleaxe. Bear in mind that this often requires a large amount of suspension of disbelief on behalf of the readers, and therefore you must do the work to set the tone and expectations of the story to properly contextualise the character, so as not to pull the reader out of the experience. Luckily, just the fact that its in a manga helps a lot to set quite accepting expectations based on ingrained preconceptions.

The personality, backstory and archetypal appearance add the first and second dimensions to characters, then the little quirks and subversions, which must tie in to the other things mind you, add the third dimension.

Sometimes though, it is good to bear in mind that people don't innately look like their personalities, although they do shape their appearance to fall more in line with their interests and desired self image. That said, I think, in manga etc, it's quite important to be able to tell main characters apart. Often this is taken a bit over the top.. with crazy hair styles or outlandish clothing, or... top-heavy... body proportions... but one or two specifically defining features - a streak in the hair, a stray lock of hair, a mole or birthmark on the face, prominent eyebrows, an unusual pupil, an earring, a unique piece of clothing like a hat, a scalf or jacket, a unique weapon, a unique accessory like headphones or a rubix cube etc - can go a long way to telling characters apart, and also be used as another visual thing to tell the reader something about a character.

If you make a design choice for a character, especially if it is an aesthetic choice made by the character and not an innate feature, then try to make sure it tells part of their story.

4
Manga Creations / Re: MR: War Arc: Shorts
« on: November 23, 2020, 11:30:53 AM »
Its so interesting and pretty cool to read a story that humanizes the opponents in MR Canon. Very well written and well conceptualized, and still strange how traditionalist The Lost Chorus of 4Kids are.

Now that I have finished my first report for work, I can get stuck back into this :)

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Welcome Center / Re: Nice to meet you!
« on: November 21, 2020, 04:44:29 PM »
welcome to MangaRaiders!

Best of luck with your button-mashed contest entry! I hope it turns out great and would love to give it a look when it’s ready.

I hope you enjoy your time here :)

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Music / Re: What are you listening to
« on: November 21, 2020, 11:44:35 AM »
Last weekend I didn't have enough interesting material to share so I decided to sit on it another week... Then BAM! Content!

System of a Down - "Protect the Land / Genocidal Humanoidz": WHAT!? WE ACTUALLY GOT NEW MUSIC FROM SYSTEM OF A DOWN!? Man am I glad that they got over their pay disputes... At least the first of these singles was obviously important enough to them to actually get together again. Funny that I talked about Bad Religion in my last post, because "Protect the Land" is basically exactly what I would have expected of SOAD if they decided to make a Bad Relgion song! It's steady and thumping and anthemic and political, great stuff. Genocidal Humanoidz is a bit more standard high energy SOAD. It has super fun and provocative quickfire vocals, and then, what's this!? BLAST BEATS!? Another great track. Both are a bit darker in tone than what I've heard from SOAD in a while, but I can dig that. One thing I must mention however is Serj Tankian's new vocal style... It's not bad, but it's just not as powerful as his previous efforts.

Lunatic Soul - "Through Shaded Woods": This is just such a super pleasant, evocative, immersive album to me. It is a real testament to how verstaile Mariusz Duda is with his Piccolo Bass. He seamlessly blends and weaves between scandanavian folk and folk rock and industrial electronic sounds to create these wonderfully uplifting, then deeply brooding, then captivatingly energetic tracks, which I could listen to in any mood I am in, from chilled out to wanting to rock out. This album has easily overtaken "Fractured" as my favourite Lunatic Soul record. Stunning.

Killer Be Killed - "Reluctant Hero": What happens if the guitarists and vocalists from Soulfy and The Dillinger Escape Plan, the bassist and vocalist of Mastodon, and the drummer of converge come together and form a supergroup? Pure magic is what! There are familiar sounds from all of the constituant bands here on this record, but then there is some synergy and pushing of comfort zones that pushes this collaboration to more than the sum of its parts. It's heavy, energetic, melodic, punky, thrashy, proggy, and every song is just spectacular! The three vocalists play off one another very well and even cross over into one another's ball parks a bit to really mix things up. They are all fantastic musicians so no suprises that the instrumentals are super enjoyable. I think this can tide me over for another 6 years if that's how long these guys album cycles will be...!

Aeolian - "The Negationist" and Dark Tranquility - "Moment": I'm really on a melodic death metal binge at the moment. I just find these albums really fun. Great guitar music, compared to a lot of the very rhythmic focused music I listen to. And they just make me wanna throw up my horns and headbang! I've been heading back into both these bands' back catalogues and it's super worth it, plus they are leading me to several other bands I enjoy, such as Amon Amarth, Mors Principium Est, Allegaeon and Insomnium.

Machine Head - "My Hands Are Empty": New track from Machine Head, the band that I keep on forgetting that I enjoy for some reason... I don't think their previous album was too well received generally, but there are definitely tracks I like from every release (In particular: "Imperium", "Halo", "The Locust", "Be still and Know", "Catarsis"). This track is up there. As campy as the "Woah"'s are, the atmosphere is actually pretty good and helps carry the melody well. Instrumentally the playing is solid, and the production is better than most Machine Head albums. Looking forward to more.

Dead by April - "Bulletproof": This is hands down the best Dead by April song since "Dreaming". Honestly it's nothing new from them, or even in that whole synth-core scene, but it's amazing what good production can do to properly blend the pop-like clean vocals and synths with the heavy instrumentation. It's still a bit campy, but it just sounds so much better in this track. What's more is that the band sound energetic again! Two albums of near trashy synth-core ballads and hopefully they've now come out of the other side willing to write engaging metal tracks again. Good stuff.

Harakiri For The Sky - "Sing for the Damage We've Done": So you know how I said these guys' last track reminded me of Alcest? Yeah... well they obviously went and featured them on this track! Another beautifully soaring, melodic black(ish) metal track, with much more guitar noodling and riffing and absolutely stunning drum work. I can tell that I am going to love this album when it finally comes out!

EPICA - "Abyss of Time": Yeah I just wanted to remind everyone how good this song is. I listened to the entire studio documentary for this album earlier and it has just swelled my admiration for this band. They are all super talented musicians themselves, but they've gone the distance in making this album: Getting the full Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, and both an Adult and Children's Choir, on this record to perform music that the band themselves have composed and transcribed, to go on top of multitudes of extra instruments, backing vocalists and just the works. This could possibly be this band's magnum opus. I am literally jumping out of my socks to get my ears on this whole album!

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Welcome Center / Re: hi new to manga! looking for cool people for help
« on: November 16, 2020, 06:09:44 PM »
Welcome to MangaRaiders Casi :)

Best way to learn is to get stuck in and start writing stuff, and then people can provide you feedback that you can hopefully learn from.

I look forward to getting to read some of your writing and helping you on your journey to creating a full story!

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General Manga writer discussions / Re: NaNoWrimo 2020
« on: November 15, 2020, 07:01:40 AM »
I wanted to try a NaNoWriMo project this year... but I don't have time this month... Maybe I can try in December instead.

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Haha well I’m doing my best to catch up! Honestly, I started mostly because I wanted to finish the series before the Amazon TV show begins airing sometime next year, but actually the more I read the less I actually care about the show... Amazon might be rich enough, but I have absolutely no idea how they can possibly pull The Wheel of Time off as a screenplay... Think about how everything ended with Game of Thrones, with the show writers cutting it off early to go on to other projects and complete botching the pacing of the ending. I can only imagine the amount of work and dedication The Wheel of Time will need for an even longer book series... Not only that, but some of the things in the books I just don’t see translating well to TV, and especially not if the animation budget is not on a level with most of the best Marvel movies...

On the topic of world-building, I was listening to an interview between two “BookTubers” today and one of them brought up a really interesting exercise in world building if you are going to be writing epic or grande fantasy anywhere close to this scale. They suggested writing short stories for various important points in the history of the world you are creating. So if a catastrophic event like a Supervolcano eruption, Deep freeze, or Meteor Strike has occurred in the past, write a short piece from the point of view of someone experiencing it, or surviving it. There is a war between two kingdoms that has raged for hundreds of years? Write a short piece about what sparked that war. A statue stands of a person who is considered a hero of legend? Write a short piece about them achieving their most heroic deed, or about them failing and then covering up the truth in the bloodiest of fashions. It can really go a long way to making your worlds feel really deep if you truly know the ins and outs of most major events and characters that go into that building of the current world.

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General Discussion / Re: Hey guys a question can you answer me?
« on: November 11, 2020, 11:10:46 AM »
I’m finding it a little difficult to understand what you are asking, but I’ll say a few things and hope that there is an answer in there for you somewhere...

I do not think that an in-depth, mechanical knowledge of architecture is required to draw manga. I’m pretty sure that even in the cases of manga where the setting art is very detailed, most artists do not have an architectural understanding of the scene that they are drawing. However, perhaps that level of knowledge could help an artist to draw settings without the need to use reference images.

I have read a couple of manwha that seem to have used photos of skylines in the actual comic strips; usually they have either applied a cartoon filter or an intense blur over them. It’s not my preference of art style though as it often looks very janky no matter how good the character art is.

You seem to have a good shortlist of manga comics that are inspiring you to draw. I would practice your artwork by copying freehand some panels you like from those series, and then, for each copy, also draw an original scene of your own in that style. Then maybe at the end, come up with an original scene that combines all of those styles together.

The same technique could be applied to finding scenes from the real world (or video games) and drawing them in comic form - Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, The Sydney Opera House, The Manhattan Skyline, a Temple near Kyoto etc. Just search a picture on google and draw using it as a reference. Then, for each, draw an original scene with a building in the style of the one you have copied - Gothic style, Modern curved style, Cityscape, Traditional Asian etc.

Try not to outright copy the look of anything, especially video game assets, as they are generally proprietary... but try to understand what gives them that particular look and style. A quick search on Wikipedia also helps for architectural styles - I learned all about what makes Gothic and Romanesque architecture in about 20 minutes just from reading Wikipedia (on top of my own experiences), and then I was able to describe a Manor House in that style in my writing fully.

A couple of considerations for drawing hyper-realistic scenes in manga are: 1. how busy and difficult to read it can make some manga. I think that the setting art in One Piece was actually quite exceptional when I used to read it, but it also had so much going on that some pages it was really hard to follow the characters and the action. 2. the amount of time it can take. If you intend to be a professional Mangaka, then you will have to meet publishing and editing deadlines. The more detailed your drawing the longer it generally takes and the less you will be able to output overall.

Hope something in that was helpful...?

P.S. Calgary is great! But I’m a Winnipeg boy through and through  :tongue:

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General Manga writer discussions / Re: Useful Youtube Resources for Writers
« on: November 09, 2020, 01:34:43 PM »
So it's a little bit late as I guess we are technically 9 days into NaNoWriMo... but I found this video to have some very interesting advice in it:

Brandon Sanderson: "Five Tips for Writing Your First Novel"

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General Discussion / Re: Eating Aeroplanes
« on: November 09, 2020, 01:31:38 PM »
I actually think that's a very valid point to bring up, if you would allow me re-word it slighty:

It's not helpful to practice something while instilling bad habits.

A personal example of this is how I learned to play drums... I started out being taught by someone who was not really a drum teacher, and so rather than learning to practice important rudiments and techniques, or even how to hold the drum sticks properly, I was taught 3 beats and 3 fills to play along to piano tracks (I was taught how to read drum sheet music also...). What this did was allow me to pick out simple time signatures and keep to a beat even without a click track, however past that I really struggled to scale up my drumming ability because of bad habits that I started with and never learned how to iron out. And now that they are ingrained I find it even more difficult to force myself to play with proper technique, or sit down and practice basics properly, because I find it uncomfortable or unfamiliar. How can I play along to a song I like with high tempo blast beats if the way I have always held my sticks prevents the rebound motion and barely uses my fingers? I should be twice the level of drummer that I am currently by now (13 years on...), but I hamstrung myself by never correcting issues along the way to be able to develop properly.

13
5. Multiple perspective politics and faction tensions is both tense and frustrating

Spoiler

This point links somewhat into the worldbuilding and immersion, as well as into the multiple perspectives and pacing. The faction tensions and political maneuvering in The Wheel of Time gives A Song of Ice and Fire a run for its money. Throughout each book are several instances of side character and antagonist perspectives, where the reader is given insight into their plans. This provides hefty tension as we see where factions may clash, how one plan or event ruins another, how one character is not who we thought they were from a different character’s viewpoint. Not only that, but, because we get all of these extra perspectives, we are able to understand motivations and thought processes of many more characters and factions, which would be far more one dimensional if only encountered from the perspective of the main characters. This is a big learning point for me, as I have always been partial to writing stories with fewer perspectives and hardly ever antagonistic perspectives. Anyways, needless to say, the factions have a lot of depth to them and also exist together and interact with one another in very natural and interesting ways, and the repercussions of events within one faction, or between two or more, can ripple out and change the entire landscape of how events will play out and how the other factions act and react.

HOWEVER! Damn me if all of this is not extremely exhausting to read. Firstly, an obviously important event might not have its ramifications played out for an entire book! This is obviously a plot hook, and it's neat to see something from ages ago pop up again and resolve, but the drawn out tension or lengthy lack of closure can be a lot to deal with sometimes. This feeling of exasperation can be compounded when a faction agent does something that completely ruins or derails the plans driving forward the plot, or even if it does not derail them immediately, will present as a major hurdle or roadblock when the plan is being executed. In a series that is already quite slow paced, events like this can feel like a “one step forward, two steps back” kind of scenario, which can be quite hard to swallow in the moment. On the complete flip-side however, I actually think this bolsters the worldbuilding further. You feel the distances in between these towns and cities and regions, where information takes days or weeks to travel, by pigeon or by horseman or in some even slower cases by rumour. Factions make choices and decisions based on outdated information and assumptions and feel truly separated from one another (for the most part...), adding to the friction of the world and tensions between groups. To me, this lack of coordination is infuriating to watch play out, because I have always gravitated towards characters who are “always two steps ahead” - the sherlock holmes, the Kelsiers etc.- but it is also captivating and realistic for competent characters to be hamstrung by circumstance. It’s like a car crash you can’t look away from…

The thing that brings this point down for me, is the introduction of magic to this system. There are two ways that magic users in this world can utilise to communicate over great distances, essentially: teleportation gateways and the dreamworld. Each has their downsides and dangers, but these should be offset for two reasons: 1. The value of communication is just that high in a setting like this with events as they are, that the risks are rationally worth it; 2. The characters use these magics all the time for other things despite the risks, but apparently just not when it counts!? Especially the dreamworld - one main character can talk to a group that are stationed with another main character pretty much whenever she wants to, but she just doesn’t for no good reason - leading to really unnecessary unrest, huge blunders and poor decision making. Everything else feels so natural that this oversight feels like obvious and ugly contrivance. The only thing that kind of claws this back is that there is a lot of inherent or building distrust between characters, even those that started as the closest of friends and confidants, meaning that characters are incentivised not to share all of their information or plans even if they could… but then this circles around into that exhausting feeling of long and drawn out tension, where characters meant to be on the same side treat one another as enemies and seem to be driving each other into disaster.




6. The Wheel of Time is probably a progressive (for the time) examination of gender roles... probably...

Spoiler

A charitable reading of The Wheel of Time sees it as an examination of gender roles and biases in society, as well as common misconceptions held between the genders. Starting in a small village, these roles are very well defined in the minds of the characters and very distinctly separate from one another, and attitudes are not necessarily bigotted as much as they are small minded. While the men sit on the town council to discuss matters, the women gather in the women’s circle to deliberate. Interestingly, while the women do not hold positions of official administrative power in the village/towns, they actually hold a lot of advisory power that steers the people as much as the men in those roles - even if at first it appears that the men have the final say. The Wisdom of the village is a wrench in the works, as she is young and physical and aggressive in her nature, however general attitudes of characters reflect general attitudes in real world discourse: The men can’t understand the minds of women, the women can’t understand the minds of men; the men think of women as devious and nosy, the women think of the men as bull-headed and straightforward; the men think that women are delicate and need protecting, the women think the men need to be steered etc. The multitude of perspectives we are shown in the book demonstrate all of these perceptions of the opposite sex to be mostly misconstrued, as people and situations are often more complex than an observer can realise - often the constant under-the-table meddling causes more problems and mistrust than good. This is the crux of why I believe that The Wheel of Time is actually a rather progressive examination of gender in society, as opposed to just being a reflection of bigotted beliefs by the Author (Just to be clear, I am saying that I don’t believe Jordan to be a bigot as it relates to the gender role issue).

This examination expands as the story spreads across the world, and these small town characters are suddenly exposed to multitudes of different cultures and traditions at all sorts of scales. There are societies where women are as revered fighters as men, if not more so; societies where women hold absolute power over men and will execute them on the spot for the most marginal slight, with the man’s wife not even batting an eyelid as he is run through; societies where the women politic as fiercely as lionesses and will scratch out their husbands eyes in argument, yet fully expect the man put his foot down and state boldly how things were going to be. Nearly every sort of binary gender dynamic you can think of is represented somewhere in this world, except maybe for the classic patriarchal society that we know from our own. Throughout it all, however, pervades the same attitudes held by the simplest of farmers in that initial village; of misunderstanding or misplaced sense of duty to the other. It can be humorous at times, like listening to Bill Burr and his wife go at each other on a podcast or comedy special, but also a little sad to see the lack of empathy. So I say that it is progressive in that it really displays a vast amount of possibility when it comes to gendered power balances and imbalances.

However, I would also say that this is the point where the modern landscape has left The Wheel of Time behind now. I don’t think that transgender and non-binary ideas had taken much hold in his time so I don’t hold it against Robert Jordan at all, but it does make the books feel a little dated to see so much be contextualised as strictly male and female. For instance the magic of the world has a male half and a female half. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still find the set up extremely interesting, and goes to add a whole other layer to the dynamics of the world - male magic users are thought to have caused the breaking of the world and their half of the magic is now corrupted, causing them to turn mad if they use it, so they are now despised, hunted, and cut off from their magic, leaving a 99% majority of female magic users who rise to hugely powerful positions. However, the women are considered manipulative and still linked to the magic that destroyed the world, so they are treated with as much distrust as reverence, and are even treated as evil witches by another powerful and zealous militant faction - but it just seems weird or dated now to hear things referred to as strictly male and female. On top of this, there is really no representation of varied sexualities. The closest we get, which I still found interesting, is a form of polygamy in one of the societies, whereby if two women love the same man, they can agree to both marry him and love each other as “sister-wives” so as not to ruin their relationship. They don’t necessarily have to be close friends for this relationship arrangement, nor does it appear to be physical or even romantic between the two women. It is not surprising to me that this is as close to a non-traditional relationship as there is in The Wheel of Time, as Robert Jordan described himself as a devout “High Church” Christian, but again, writing, even in medieval fantasy, has moved on since.

A quick note on the writing of the romance between main characters, for the most part I think it’s really well done. The only thing I am not too keen on is Rand’s mini-harem who all seem to have fallen in love at first sight… but I can’t say that it doesn’t necessarily make some sense… A real positive to the writing however is how each of the three main men - Rand, Perrin and Mat - each think that they alone suck at romance and understanding women, and that the other two have such a better grip on things than they do, despite each being equally successful and simultaneously clueless. It went some way to alleviate the display of the gender attitudes characters had; to show that there was as much misunderstanding within the groups as there was across the isles. The meta joke made for the readers but not the characters definitely got some chuckles out of me, but more importantly it felt very human.




I currently have 4 more points lined up to talk about, but I will leave things hear for now. Hopefull people find this interesting so far and worthy of discussion :)

14
1. Robert Jordan is a master world builder.

Spoiler

I have never read a series (other than Lord of the Rings but more on that in a moment) where the fantasy world feels as real and as lived in as with The Wheel of Time. The timeline through the ages is laid out through quotes from books, prophecies, memories in bloodlines, and word of mouth. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have the Silmarilian to complete the lore and legends about Tolkien’s World - although much is presented in the books themselves. But to me, Robert Jordan, greatly inspired by Tolkien for sure, takes this to another level. In the Wheel of Time, you journey through the different nations and locations within. You learn of the multitude of cultures and attitudes of the people everywhere you go. You admire their food, their clothing and their architecture. You learn of their deep rooted traditions and societal norms and their prejudices. From backwater farm to royal palace to mage tower you will be taught the ways of the people that live there, and understand the how and the why of it all as well as the what. This is what makes this series so special - many authors will show you societies and cultures, but usually it is like a 2D backdrop in a theatre production, meant to set the scene a bit while the story plays out in the foreground - Robert Jordan manages to properly and fully immerse readers in this world through the story he tells, by making it feel as if the story itself has to dip and weave through the many obstacles that a living, breathing, uncaring world would throw at it.



2. Immersing readers fully in a world like this is a slow reading experience

Spoiler

As a result of the story itself having the illusion of dodging through the veritable minefield of a living world, thus giving the illusion as if it is barely contrived at all (which is somewhat ironic - more on that later), these stories do not move quickly... I often found myself skim reading through the copious descriptions of inn common rooms and of what dinner was, or of the perspective character describing someone’s calves... just to get back to the motion in the plot. This instilled bad habits as I had to retread pages several times because I had glossed over a character description that would help me later on. In large part this is my own fault for being inpatient and rushing my reading, but also I think that most modern readers will struggle similarly after so many years of being conditioned with faster paced novels and trilogies as opposed to 14 book long epics… I think that there is some happy medium to be struck, where the reader can still be immersed in the world, but with some aspects prioritised over others to actually delve deeply into so as not to disrupt the plot so much.



3. Colourful prose is interesting and captivating... when used sparingly

Spoiler

Robert Jordan proves himself to have deft control over language and pulls from a vast pool of really interesting vocabulary throughout the books. And, because this continues through the narration provided from the character’s perspective, it really feels like Robert Jordan has carved his out his own unique voice in his writing, adding consistency even throughout each perspective (That's not to say that characters do not have their own individual voices as well). However, sometimes it comes across as if he is trying to say something in the most complex way possible and deliberately trying to double the number of words needed to say it... I expected it from Tolkien as LOTR was really just a linguistic exercise for him, but I think that modern authors have learned to be engaging with their use of language in a much more concise way now. In particular, and something that I am very glad authors seem to have moved past now, Robert Jordan’s frequent use of double negatives really grated on me whenever they featured - I do not find it enjoyable to have to untangle convoluted, jumbled wording to get to a mundane meaning. Masterful control of the English Language does not necessitate showing off the most technical writing possible in your work; straightforward language is often the most effective form of communication, and it can still be equally rich and beautifully written.



4. Robert Jordan is a master of multiple perspectives

Spoiler

The Wheel of Time series is not just a story of one plotline. It is, at minimum at any given time, five plotlines woven together into a grand narrative. However, these plotlines have been told through the perspectives of at least 8 main characters, with side threads or antagonist plots woven in through the perspectives of many, many more. What is more impressive however, is that you never miss a perspective change, and each perspective character has their own individual voice. I do wonder why he chose not to give each perspective swap a new chapter… but maybe I’ve read too many novellas where chapters can be as little as one paragraph… Jordan also manages to make following the chronology of events easy for readers, even though on paper it shouldn’t sound like it; when he has to deal with so many events occurring simultaneously all over the map. He has jumped back in time a few notable times to tell the same events from an alternate perspectives, and I always knew which event was being referred to and where the perspective was situated differently in the scene, even if it was two or so chapters on from the initial event (these are long chapters - about 25 minutes solid reading each). Moreover, he uses flashbacks very tastefully and in line with the narrative to great effect - sometimes a character’s present commentary on a past event is the best way to feed the reader that information if narratively there is no good opportunity to show readers that firsthand experience as the story plays out. They can also be used to more naturally hide something from the reader, as the perspective character can be written to dwell on only specific parts of a past situation. Anyways, it is to Robert Jordan’s credit that, in a story of this scale and a world so sprawling, I did not feel lost once in seven books.


15

Alrighty! So, now that I have started commuting again, I have gotten back into reading. It's amazing what progress can be made with two and half hours journeying everyday, and then a bit of time before bed instead of videogames or Youtube...

The series I picked up (much to the dismay of my wallet...) is one I have been wanting to read for years now:


"The Wheel of Time" by Robert Jordan (and finished by Brandon Sanderson)

Clocking in at 14 CHUNKY books long, each at 750-1000 pages, it is quite the undertaking, but I found myself engrossed in the series before long and unable to prevent myself from buying the next in the series as soon as I finished the previous. And so in the space of 3 weeks, I have stormed through half of the entire series!

Something that I noticed early on was that this series is a trove for learning opportunities - for novel writing, fantasy writing, and just writing in general - so I began reading with a relatively analytical eye, which thankfully didn't detract from my enjoyment. I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the forum and hopefully generate some discussion.

Please note, I have done my best to make this all
SPOILER FREE, so please refrain from any major spoilers in any discussions. I mostly talk about concepts as opposed to story as I think that is more productive, however If people want to discuss story elements that is fine, just please keep it in spoiler windows.


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