W is for the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (or James Oliver Rigney, Jr., his real name). The release of the books spans 23 years, or nearly 30 years if you start from when Jordan began working on The Eye of the World in 1984 (published January 1990) until Book 14, A Memory of Light, concluded the series in January 2013.
Due to Robert Jordan’s death from cardiac amyloidosis in 2007 before the final volume could be released, Brandon Sanderson completed the series using notes and recordings Jordan had made, though Sanderson and Harriet McDougal (both Jordan’s editor and his wife) decided to do what Jordan had tried to avoid, namely to split Book 12 into three books.
The series is as long and as complex as no other (that I know of), with a cast of so many people it was sometimes hard to keep up with who was who without consulting a wiki. In fact, I found some of the “middle books” quite tedious to read, because, as interesting as the story was, the “main main characters” were getting about one or two chapters per book and the story got caught up in so many side-plots that it was getting a little annoying. However, it’s worth sticking with the story, as the plot threads come together nicely again in the later books.
As I mentioned in my post for “B-Day” in the A to Z Challenge, I love book series, and I love thick books with many pages and details galore (as long as it’s well-written and interesting, of course). I don’t think there’s much (any?) competition for Jordan’s series when it comes to length and page- or word-count. The total word-count for The Wheel of Time is over 4.4 million (yes… million), with a couple of books getting close to the 400k mark. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to keep track of all these characters and plot threads over such a long time.
Many references to mythology and legends from a number of cultures can be found throughout the series, including of course the reference to the concept of time being cyclical, with several ages repeating themselves over and over, from Hindu mythology. The attentive reader can find references such as tales of the great giants, “Mosk and Merc”, battling with spears of fire (Mosk being Moscow, and Merc being America). (There are many more such references if you’re interested.)
The world Jordan created is rich in detailed history and a variety of cultures. Although the epic storyline builds up to an inevitable Tolkien-style face-off between the forces of good and evil, Jordan’s sense of humour and his ability to make this rich fantasy world seem utterly believable pervade every chapter.
If you haven’t read this series, you’re missing the benchmark against which other fantasy works are measured.
V is for Villains. Isn’t it curious how sometimes the “bad guy” is more memorable in a story than the “good guy”? Or how the villain can sometimes steal the show from the hero? A well-written villain can save an otherwise relatively boring story. Giving the audience someone they can “love to hate”, or someone whose struggle to be good they can identify with might just give your story that extra oomph to set it apart from the others.
As an aside, have you noticed how supervillains in movies are quite often people with British accents? My theory is that it’s because people commonly associate good Oxford English with being well-educated. As Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory says:
The Dr Doom to my Mr Fantastic. The Doctor Octopus to my Spiderman. The Doctor Sivana to my Captain Marvel. […] It’s amazing how many supervillains have advanced degrees. Graduate school should probably do a better job of screening those people out.
I thought I’d have a go at answering the question, Which Supervillain are you? Here are my results:
There are some great supervillains most people would recognise without even naming them. For instance, if someone hissed, “Why so seriousss?” it would immediately get a point across. (R.I.P. Heath, who grew up in the city I live in.) Or even just hooking your little finger to the corner of your mouth (or stroking a cat while sitting) conjures up associations we know and love. Turning the presumed villain into the hero of the story wouldn’t work in every genre, but it was great in Despicable Me or in Hotel Transylvania.
To a lesser extent (these were rather extreme examples), the same thing can work in a more traditional story. I really enjoyed reading The Wheel of Time, for instance (check back in tomorrow!), and of course I loved Lord of the Rings, but usually I prefer it when the villain isn’t all bad, when he has his own backstory that explains why he is as callous/mean/brutal/sadistic/[insert your adjective here] as he is. Even if the reader isn’t expected to agree with his methods, he should be able to at least recognise the motivation behind the villainous actions.
Some of my favourites that fit that category, from a variety of media and genres, are Kennit (from the Liveship Traders), Judas (as portrayed in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar), Captain Hook (from Peter Pan), Hannibal Lecter (from The Silence of the Lambs), and Captain Barbossa (from the Pirates of the Carribean).
Who are some of your favourite villains? Which supervillain are you according to the quiz linked above? What do you think makes or breaks believability when it comes to villains in a story? Let me know in the comments.
U is for Understanding Poetry. Does that phrase ring a bell for you, somewhere in the dark recesses of your mind where you stash your movie knowledge? If not, maybe this excerpt will jog your memory:
To fully understand poetry, we must first be fluent with its meter, rhyme, and figures of speech, then ask two questions: (1) How artfully have the objectives of the poem been rendered; and (2) how important is that objective? Question one rates the poem’s perfection; question two rates its importance; and once these questions have been answered, determining the poem’s greatness becomes a relatively simple matter. If the poem’s score for perfection is plotted on the horizontal of the graph and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its greatness. A sonnet by Byron might score high on the vertical but only average on the horizontal. A Shakespearean sonnet, on the other hand, would score high both horizontally and vertically, yielding a massive total area, thereby revealing the poem to be truly great.
Are we there yet? Yes, it’s from one of my favourite films, Dead Poets Society (although I keep wanting to add an apostrophe at the end of “Poets”… grrr). It’s the section from the fictitious poetry textbook by “Dr J Evans Pritchard, Ph. D.”, which Keating (played wonderfully by Robin Williams) gets the students to read before demanding they rip it out of their books. His comment about trying to shoe-horn something as ethereally beautiful as poetry into a mathematical formula?
Excrement! That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard! We’re not laying pipe! We’re talking about poetry. How can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? “I like Byron, I give him a 42 but I can’t dance to it!”
Now the section they rip out was in fact taken from a poetry textbook still used in the U.S., from chapter 15 of Laurence Perrine’s Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry. In Perrine’s defense, it’s not as bad (when read in context) as the film makes it sound, but the point remains that trying to apply an objective formula to something that’s typically very subjective is not going to work in many cases, as much as some people would like it to be that easy.
Keating goes on to make his point (and I’ll get to mine soon, promise!):
We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer: that you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?
Great, but what does this have to do with writing, you ask? Well, the next time you need to introduce an interesting character in your story, consider introducing her by exposing her to something she absolutely disagrees with, and have her handle the situation in a manner as extreme as befits the situation.
When we show what a character likes, it reveals a little about them, and may invoke sympathy in some readers who have similar preferences. Showing how a character reacts when confronted with something they detest, however – now that will really let the reader know what they are about. After shocking the reader (or viewer, in the case of this film) with the unexpected reaction of a teacher asking his students to rip out pages from a book, and displaying what he is really passionate about, whether we agree with the action or not, the reader cannot help but be left with an impression that here we have someone not afraid to stand up for what he believes in.
To what will your character react in an extreme or unexpected way? What will your verse in life be? Let me know in the comments.
Here’s a video of this part of the film in case you’d like to relive it – enjoy!
Q is for Quests. And for not having all that many Q-ey topics queued (whoa!) up to choose from. Just like the quite clichéd actor asks his director, “What’s my motivation?”, so the typically quirky fantasy hero quizzes his author, “What’s my quest?” If your hero doesn’t ask that question, why not?
(Incidentally, and completely off-topic for this post, I failed to publish anything yesterday, so this is my second post today after the one on Patrick Rothfuss. In my defense, it was a Good Friday family day and I just didn’t get around to it. Sue me. 😛 )
All quips aside, it’s not exactly a quantum leap forward to state that you, as the one in quontrol of your hero’s actions and quotes, should always be aware of what his inner quest is and how it drives him.
I sincerely hope the quantity of Qs in this high-quality post haven’t made you queasy or quiver while you quail in fear. They certainly haven’t quenched my quota of one quarter of a quadrillion quid that I’m aiming for. Sometimes, quantity beats quality (quod erat demonstrandum).
(For the attentive reader: Which above q was used inquorrectly?)