Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On Epic Fantasy

I just completed The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, the twelfth book in the Wheel of Time series. Robert Jordan died before being able to finish writing the series (sometimes I thought I'd die before I was able to finish reading the series) and Brandon Sanderson was chosen to wrap it up. There are actually going to be two more books by Mr. Sanderson before we finally get to the end. Book thirteen is due November 1 of this year.

This series is epic, in every sense of the word. Each book is big enough to give you tendonitis just holding it. It makes the Harry Potter series look like picture books. The storyline spans an entire continent, and encompasses the lives of dozens of people, although it primarily focuses on a handful. At times I found myself thinking the series could have been much shorter, but then I think there would have been a great deal lost. This series, more than any other in quite some time, became real to me. There were times over the past eight or nine months (that's how long it took me to read them) that I honestly had moments where I wasn't sure what was reality, and what was part of the world that Mr. Jordan created. As an example, for several books there was an intense heat wave that lasted well into winter. On hot days, in the real world in the middle of summer, I actually had in the back of my mind that it was supposed to be winter, even though the temperature outside was ninety degrees. These moments only lasted seconds, but they go to show how deeply immersed I was in the world of The Wheel of Time.

The fact that Brandon Sanderson wrote the last book, using copious notes from Robert Jordan, has been a great example for me as a writer-wanna-be on pacing. I can honestly say that if Mr. Sanderson had written the first eleven books, I think most of my difficulty slogging through the books would have been nonexistent. Robert Jordan would spend nearly entire books on one character. Then do big, honkin' prologues on the next book catching you up to what was going on with everyone else. His prologues could be a sixth of the book. So I found myself a bit frustrated at times wondering what was going on with the rest of the characters. Brandon Sanderson on the other hand jumped around. Every second or third chapter was devoted to a different character. Sure there was that disappointment when you were involved in one character's circumstances and he yanked you away to follow another, but each section ended in such a way as to force you to read on. I read the last book in half the time as any of the others.

All this to say, I love epic fantasy, but I'm sure it isn't for everyone. You do have to have the mindset that you will finish no matter what. That you will continue reading even if it is hard going at times. The world building is incredible. The scope of the story all encompassing. And the payoff at the end is usually (hopefully) worth it.

1 comment:

David A. Bedford said...

It all depends on who you're writing for. Mary Stewart's four books on the Merlin/King Arthur saga are brilliant and worth every minute spent reading. On the other hand, there is the need for all kinds of books, and faced-paced ones help get new readers into reading more. My current project is fast-paced, with character development largely in the backstory and mostly shown, not told.

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