Welcome all dreamers, fantasists, bibliophiles, and romantics. Join me Mondays and Fridays for speculation about other worlds, exploration of the human heart and soul in fiction and fact, sojourns in history and science, advice and tidbits in the realms of story, and thoughts on everything in between...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday's Post

Due to illness and a death in the family, my regularly scheduled Friday's post is postponed. I'll be back Monday with the next and final segment of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson: Read, Part 23 (Chapters 71-73)

Welcome to the second to last segment of our read of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. To catch up or review previous parts, click here.



Chapter 71: Recorded in Blood

Summary: Szeth comes to Kharbranth for the last assassination on his list: King Taravangian. The voices and screams of all those he has killed haunt him now. He hears them coming from the very rafters, though no one is there. When he gets to the chamber where the king resides, he delivers the message he was bidden, and the king reveals that he holds Szeth’s oathstone. The seeming mild and gentle king is the who who ordered Szeth to slaughter.

Szeth is horrified. But it gets worse. Taravangian takes him into a secret chamber, much like a hospital, but this chamber isn’t for healing. It’s for killing. The medical staff drain victims of blood and record the strange things they say right before death, things Taravangian hopes will help them face whatever is coming. Among these victims are children. Szeth almost breaks his oaths then and there to kill Taravangian, but honor stills his hand.

Then he gives Szeth one last person to kill: Dalinar Kholin. Taravangian insists that Dalinar cannot be allowed to unite the Alethi, and Szeth must kill him brutally.

Reader Comments: No! First of all, while I get that Taravangian has this warped idea of saving the world by destroying parts of it, but I’m with Szeth, he needs to die. I want Szeth to do it. And Adolin better kick the hell out of Szeth when he comes after Dalinar. Oh, it’s always interesting when an author pits heroes against each other. I don’t exactly want Szeth dead--I want him redeemed--but I certainly don’t want Dalinar killed. Maybe between Adolin and Kaladin, Szeth can be stopped.

Writer Comments: I never expected Taravangian as a villain. He is the last person in this setting I would have expected. Yet that very fact makes it interesting. Surprising readers can be highly effective. As long as it makes sense within the story, don’t do the expected.

Chapter 72: Veristitalian

Summary: Jasnah shares her notes and discoveries with Shallan, but encourages Shallan to come to her own conclusions about what her collection of quotations means. Jasnah mentions that the legends say that the Voidbringers were cast from the world forever, but she doesn’t think that makes sense.

“But that’s not how humans work. We don’t throw away something we can use.” (Kindle location 17847, hardcover page 979, paperback page 1,225)

And Shallan realizes that humans didn’t drive out all the Voidbringers. They enslaved them. The Parshmen are the Voidbringers.

Reader Comments: Interesting. That’s all I can say right now. We’ll see how this plays out.

Writer Comments: This is a very short chapter. Sanderson could have meshed into with the previous chapter from Shallan’s point-of-view, but he didn’t. Why not? I suspect he chose to keep this chapter separate because the information it give, the turning point for the story, is so crucial. If the events of this chapter had been mixed with another, they might have lost some of their significance amidst other competing plot moments.

Chapter 73: Trust

Summary: Dalinar meets with Kaladin that night. He asks Kaladin to lead the men of Bridge Four as his personal body guard as Dalinar’s guard will be needed for the king since Dalinar and the king are about to do something very dangerous. Too, Dalinar wants all the bridgemen to join his army if they’re willing. Kaladin still isn’t sure he should trust Dalinar, but he agrees to the plan, so long as his men are willing, so long as he answers to no lighteyes except Dalinar, his sons, and the king, and so long as they’re paid the same rate as Dalinar’s usual bodyguard. Dalinar agrees.

Then Kaladin returns to his men. Like every other night, they stay up and enjoy the stew that Rock cooks. The men ask about the Stormlight that Kaladin can wield and determine to run experiments to discover exactly what Kaladin can do and what his limits might be. For Kaladin, though, he’s lost three men and still has no right answers to the questions of life and death and right that he asks. But twenty-seven of his friends are now free and alive. For one, he finally managed to save someone, at least for the moment.

Reader Comments: Oh, this is going to get interesting. So Kaladin will be there when Szeth shows up to murder Dalinar. This could get very interesting.

Writer Comments: We are past the climax of the book. We’re in the resolution phase, and for that, victories must be had. Even if the story is a tragedy, something must be gained. For Kaladin, it’s that he’s finally free, he has finally saved people, and there is finally hope. Perhaps Sanderson will dash it to pieces soon, but he won something. Ensure there is some sort of victory by the end of your book, even if only a moral one.

Thank you for joining me for these chapters of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. We’ll finish this read next Monday, and I’ll announce what book we’ll cover next. Until then, swing back by on Friday for further forays into fiction, the speculative, and life.

Friday, April 11, 2014

What Do You Do After Submitting a Manuscript?

Yesterday, I mailed a submission of my latest completed book to Tor, one of the biggest science fiction and fantasy publishers who has produced many books and showcased many authors that I have loved over the years. My fingers are crossed for a favorable response, but it’s a tough business. Plus, according to their website, it may not be until October before I hear from them. That’s a long time to wait and fret.

So what is a writer to do with herself while trying not to let the anxiety nip away at her sanity? Better yet, what should she do to decrease the anxiety? Here are some of the best techniques I’ve found:

1. FORGET ABOUT THE SUBMISSION: Yes, you read that right. As much as possible, shove it out of your mind. Certainly write down when you sent the submission or query off and when you should supposed to receive a response, but otherwise, don’t expend neurons on it. It’s a waste of energy and will only heighten stress.

2. START YOUR NEXT PROJECT: Or, perhaps, a small series of projects. Not only is this wise as a writer, but it helps keep the stress of waiting at bay by offering distraction. What if your first project is rejected? Unfortunately in this business, that’s much more likely than receiving a request for the full book or a contract offer. You need something to send off next. You need to improve your writing skill through practice. You need to keep up the habit of writing. Jumping straight into a new project helps with every single one of those.

3. FRET IN COMMUNITY: Get some writing friends to cheer you up, sympathize, and cheer you on. Writers are familiar with rejection and waiting. Commiserating soothes the worst of it. It’s easier to withstand the anxiety and emotional blows as a group.

4. READ: Fill your mind and heart with stories. Reading is essential training for writing, so don’t look at it as avoiding working on your craft. Unless, of course, that is in fact what you’re using it for. Reading will draw your attention away from the emotional knots caused by waiting and worrying.

5. PLAN AHEAD: Have a list of places to send your manuscript to in the event you receive a rejection. If you don’t need them in the end, great. However, if you do get that rejection, your prospects look far less bleak with a game plan already in place for the next round of submissions. Know where you’re going next so you don’t get bogged down in emotional turmoil.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson: Read, Part 22 (Chapters 68-70)

Welcome back to this read of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, an epic fantasy novel, which we use to better understand what a successful author does to compose a compelling story. To catch up or review previous parts of this read, click here.



Chapter 68: Eshonai

Summary: The battle on The Tower is fierce and brutal, but at last, Dalinar and his men have hope. With Kaladin and his bridgemen on one side and Dalinar’s forces on the other, they beat the Parshendi back enough to secure escape. However, at the last moment, a Parshendi Shardbearer appears and engages Dalinar. But with Dalinar’s fractured armor, he stands little chance. Despite his best efforts, the Shardbearer brings him down, but doesn’t kill him...yet.

Kaladin fights with the Stormlight raging through him, and when his enemies part and he sees Dalinar’s forces, he rushes to find order and get everyone safely across. But almost all the officers are dead, and what remains of the army is exhausted, stunned, and disordered, enough so that they take orders for an enslaved bridgeman. At last, Kaladin finds Adolin and demands he take the army across the bridge while Kaladin finds and gets Dalinar. Adolin is reluctant and doesn’t take too kindly to Kaladin’s orders, but he sees the wisdom in the strategy.

So Kaladin rushes off to find Dalinar. He spots the Parhendi Shardbearer about to slay Dalinar and fights his way into the fray. However, when the Parshendi see him glowing with Stormlight, they part and murmur “Neshua Kadal,” refusing to fight him. Taking the opportunity this allows, he spears the Parshendi Shardbearer in the leg, where a fissure has appeared in the armor. He disables the Shardbearer and drags Dalinar free. The Parshendi let them pass. He orders Dalinar out his horse, and they all flee.

Safely on another plateau, Dalinar confronts Kaladin and comes to understand that these bridgemen came to his rescue against Sadeas’s wishes. In thanks, he offers to negotiate for their release from Sadeas, and then, he will free them. Kaladin clearly doesn’t trust Dalinar, but he agrees to take this chance.

Reader Comments: My absolute favorite part of this chapter is Kaladin ordering Adolin and Dalinar around like common soldiers. They don’t exactly take it without blinking, but it’s so much fun, like when Kaladin hauls Dalinar away from the clutches of death and demands, “On your horse, lighteyes.” So enjoyable.

Writer Comments: At last, near the end, two of the biggest story lines come together: Kaladin’s and Dalinar’s. For much of this book, these two have been working and reacting independently, but here, their individual journeys collide and become inseparable from each other. Dalinar cannot live unless Kaladin save him dramatically. Kaladin cannot live with himself, nor is he likely to keep living now that he’s so blatantly defied Sadeas, without Dalinar interceding on his behalf. The point to take from this is twofold: 1) That every plot and character journey must intermingle in some fashion to create a cohesive whole. 2) That these journeys to the climax must be carefully orchestrated, whether by the writer’s subconscious or because the author intentionally outlined them.

Chapter 69: Justice

Summary: Back at Sadeas’s camp, Navani comes due to the rumors that Dalinar is dead. She’s enraged at Sadeas and sees through his lies that he had no choice but to leave Dalinar. So she write an enormous glyph upon the stone with an ink that burns, the thath glyph, which means justice. She ignites it as her prayer.

Dalinar returns to everyone’s astonishment. He rides into Sadeas’s camp and confronts him. Sadeas pleads his reasons, that it was for Elhokar’s good, that Dalinar is going insane and to let him die in glory was a mercy, and that, truthfully, Sadeas wanted Dalinar out of the way. They come to no peace, but neither do they war. After all, both still want what’s best for Alethkar and Elhokar, and war would destroy the kingdom.

Then Dalinar makes his bid for the bridgemen. Sadeas refuses to sell, not for even the astonishing price Dalinar offers. Kaladin turns away, seeing yet another dream die, another lighteyes’s promise broken. Then, to everyone’s astonishment, Dalinar summons his Shardblade, a weapon worth kingdoms, and offers it to Sadeas in exchange for every single bridgeman in Sadeas’s possession. Having coveted such a blade for years, Sadeas accepts. To Kaladin later, though, Dalinar explains how he got the better deal, despite the apparent insanity of the trade.

Kaladin shook off his numbness. He scrambled after the highprince, grabbing his armored arm. “Wait. You-- That-- What just happened?” 
Dalinar turned to him. Then, the highprince laid a hand on Kaladin’s shoulder, the gauntlet gleaming blue, mismatched with the rest of his slate-grey armor. “I don’t know what has been done to you. I can only guess what your life has been like. But know this. You will not be bridgemen in my camp, nor will you be slaves.” 
“What is a man’s life worth?” Dalinar asked softly. 
“The slavemasters say one is worth about two emerald broams,” Kaladin said, frowning. 
“And what do you say?” 
“A life is priceless,” he said immediately, quoting his father. 
Dalinar smiled, wrinkle lines extending from the corners of his eyes. “Coincidentally, that is the exact value of a Shardblade. So today, you and your men sacrificed to buy me twenty-six hundred priceless lives. And all I had to repay you with was a single priceless sword. I call that a bargain.”

Reader Comments: That is the coolest thing Dalinar does in the whole book. And that has to get Kaladin’s attention. I don’t think it will make Kaladin change his mind about lighteyes, but perhaps it will change his mind about Dalinar.

Writer Comments: What do characters want most? The answer to this question generally drives the plot of a story. What do the consider valuable? The answer to that helps make turning points. A Shardblade is not the biggest driver of this story, though that could be argued, but Sanderson establishes its value continually. Then, he uses it to turn the story. A priceless Shardblade fulfills Sadeas’s desires. The surrendering of it completely alters Dalinar’s power and position. The price of it buys Kaladin’s freedom and the lives of all those he currently holds dear. Ask yourself what your characters value, and use what you discover to help move your story.

Summary: Dalinar goes to King Elhokar while wearing his Shardplate. Alone in the king’s chambers, with Dalinar’s own men as guards outside, Dalinar beats up the king. He demonstratively proves through force that, should he choose, he could kill Elhokar with barely any trouble at all. Then, he pointedly spares Elhokar and chastizes him for arranging his own assassination attempt by cutting the girth on his own saddle. Elhokar protests that he had to do it so people would believe there really were assassins. But Dalinar is done pampering the king. He informs Elhokar that he will make Dalinar the highprince of war and that he will cease these childish game. He makes it clear that Elhokar’s decisions of jeopardized the realm and Dalinar, and then he leaves ready to truly, forcibly unite Alethkar. After all, he is and has always been a warrior, and if Alethkar will not unite by choice, Dalinar will unite them by force and teach them to be a good and cohesive people.

Reader Comments: Elhokar so deserves this. I didn’t see it coming when Dalinar confronted Elhokar about inventing his own assassin and proof, but looking back, it makes sense.

Writer Comments: In an epic story, deeds of epic proportion are needed. However, they don’t always have to be dramatic action of war or heroism. They can be as simple as sparing a life, as mastering a king, as becoming who a character truly is rather than what he’s been trying to tell himself he ought to be. Epicness comes in many form and is best when used in all.

Part Five: The Silence Above

Chapter 70: Sea of Glass

Summary: Shallan deeply regrets stealing Jasnah’s fabrial. Worse, she regrets betraying Jasnah more than any other part. But not everything makes sense. If the bread was poisoned, then why didn’t Jasnah suffer from it, as she too ate the bread? Shallan struggles through this, using her sketching to recreate the memories containing clues. At last, she realizes that Jasnah Soulcast both the bread and jam. Without a Soulcaster. Which means that Jasnah, like Shallan, can Soulcast naturally.

Despite all reason, Shallan returns to Jasnah’s reading alcove in the Veil and confronts her. Jasnah threatens to call the guard and imprison Shallan for a hundred years, but Shallan presses her, pointing out softly that she knows Jasnah uses a fake fabrial to conceal her abilities. She confesses that she can do the same. Then, she goes to the place with the sea of glass beads to prove it. To get there, she reaches out to the symbol-headed creatures, who require a personal truth. So Shallan confesses that she murdered her father. They take her, and Jasnah rescues her from the sea and shoves her back into the real world. Then Shallan requests Jasnah take her back as a ward, a real ward. She wants in on whatever Jasnah is studying. She can be a confidant, someone who knows the truth that Jasnah can confide in. Jasnah informs her that she will never steal again and she will always tell Jasnah the truth. When Shallan agrees, Jasnah hands her a stack of notes on Voidbringers.

Reader Comments: I knew Shallan had killed her father! I wish I knew why though. There are still a lot of unanswered questions here. Like, what is Shallan going to do about her family now? Is she turning her back on them to join Jasnah?

Writer Comments: This is a chapter of revealed secrets. Shallan reveals that she killed her father. It’s revealed that Jasnah can Soulcast without a fabrial and is concealing that fact. Secrets are not only a delicious spice to a story, they are also a type of weakness for your characters. They are vulnerabilities that the antagonist, others, and the author can exploit to enrich, deepen, and turn a story.

Thank you for joining me for today’s chapters of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. We’ll resume this read next Monday. Until then, swing back by on Friday for further forays into book, the speculative, and life.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Writing Dialogue

Dialogue adds life to stories. It’s one of the essential ingredients of fiction. Some writers excel at it. Some struggle. However, whether you’re good at composing dialogue or not, there are many things you can do to improve your technique. Here are a few ideas...

To improve your dialogue skills:

1. Listen to real people talk. Go someplace where lots of people congregate and eavesdrop, but be polite about it. If you sit down with a notebook or a book and turn your attention to those around you, it’s easy to hear their unique ways of speaking without being overt.

2. Put in a movie or watch a TV show and close your eyes. Without the distraction of the visual media, you’ll be more attuned to the dialogue and can observe how it’s done.

3. Pick a book that you think has good dialogue and just read the dialogue. Skip all the other parts.

4. Read Shakespeare, who’s a master of dialogue, or other plays. Plays are almost all dialogue.

5. Write your own story with dialogue alone.

6. Write a play.

While practicing and observing, here are some important things to remember when writing your own dialogue:

1. Just as individual people have vocal habits and ticks, characters should too. Does a specific character have a key phrase or word he uses a lot? Does your heroine usually speak in simple or complex sentences? Does she usually speak in complete sentences? Is he terse or wordy? Does she use lots of adverbs or adjectives? Does he use contractions? Slang? Double negatives? You get the idea.

2. Dialogue doesn’t have to follow all the rules of grammar. Rather, dialogue is meant to reflect the characters’ speech, personality, and emotions, and that doesn’t always translate into correct grammar, however, do try and make sure that your dialogue is understandable, if not necessarily proper.

3. Vary the construction of dialogue and their tags. A dialogue tag is that bit that tells you who is speaking. They can come before the dialogue, in the middle, or at the end. Most often, they come at the end, but varying their placing helps keep the section from sounding repetitive.

4. In dialogue tags, use “said” or “asked.” Refrain from trying to vary these words with things like “inquired,” “interrupted,” “complained,” “uttered,” or “declared.” Dialogue tags are meant to be practically invisible. They are things the reader should not notice. “Said” and “asked” accomplish this well because they’re so common, but the more unusual or complex an alternate word to these is, the more likely it will pop out at the reader. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever use something other than “said” or “asked,” but make sure you have good reason.

5. Also, only apply dialogue tags when their absence would make it confusing about who’s speaking. If you have two characters talking, for the most part, only an occasional dialogue tag is necessary. When more than two characters converse, tags become more important.

6. Only include dialogue crucial to the story. Fiction is not the time for characters to idly chitchat about the weather. Like everything else, dialogue must add to the story. It can add tension, reveal a new plot layer, deepen characters, or help establish setting. If it doesn’t do something like these, cut it.

7. Once you write your dialogue, read it aloud. Your ear will catch problems that your eyes would miss. Better still, get a friend to read it aloud with you. Together, you’ll catch even more. If the dialogue sounds natural and engaging, you’ve done well.

What other tricks have you found that help when writing dialogue?

Be sure to swing by on Monday for the next segment of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson: Read, Part 21 (Chapters 65-67)

Welcome back to this read of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, where we look at how a successful author crafts a great story. To catch up or review previous parts of this read, click here.



Chapter 65: The Tower

Summary: Dalinar and Sadeas assault The Tower together, using their two armies to surround the Parshendi and drive them against a cliff. At first, it works beautifully. Dalinar even feels the Thrill. Until he sees the youthful face of a Parshendi and hesitates, his conscience and the nausea hitting hard. Then another army of Parshendi come, surrounding Dalinar’s forces, and Sadeas retreats, taking his army and bridges with him, abandoning Dalinar on the plateau to die.

Reader Comments: That horrible, selfish, cowardly git! Now, I want Sadeas to die in a long and painful manner. How horrible and painful only depends on whether or not Sadeas set this up to get rid of Dalinar or if he’s just running because he has the courage of Jello.

Writer Comments: I want to address two things in this chapter regarding the writing itself.

1. The battle went so smoothly that I knew something bad was going to happen, and Sanderson indeed delivered. I expected the second Parshendi army, but not Sadeas’s betrayal. Yet Sanderson set both up. He brought the action to a point of near victory, then hurled a bomb into the midst of his heroes. Until that final victory, heroes should not succeed too much. Small victories are fine and even good, but so near the end of the book especially, victory should be a true struggle to achieve. Otherwise, it isn’t satisfying.

2. Sanderson has a beautiful, masterful few paragraphs here as Kaladin and Bridge Four rush the plateau to set the bridges. Its construction is key to this chapter.

Kaladin danced with the wind.
Arrows streamed around him, passing close, nearly kissing him with their painted scragglebark fletching. He had to let them get close, had to make the Parshendi feel they were near to killing him.
Despite four other bridgemen drawing their attention, despite the other men of Bridge Four behind armored with the skeletons of fallen Parshendi, most of the archers focused on Kaladin. He was a symbol. A living banner to destroy.
Kaladin spun between arrows, slapping them away with his shield. A storm raged inside him, as if his blood had been sucked away and replaced with stormwinds. It made his fingertips tingle with energy. Ahead, the Parshendi sang their angry, chanting song. The song for one who blasphemed against their dead.” (paperback page 1116, hardcover page 895, Kindle location 16300)

Not only is this passage darkly lovely, it serves an important purpose. It sets mood. This chapter is a blend of glory and dread. Sanderson contrasts that with his word choice. In the midst of death and danger, he uses words like “danced,” “kissing,” and “song.” The beauty of the images mirrors the false victory and joy felt through much of the scene. The dark words, “skeletons,” “slapping,” “blood,” “sucked,” “blasphemed,” and “dead” mirror the horror of the chapter, the slaughter of youths (perhaps women), the destruction, the loss of life, the betrayal. Sanderson uses his language to deepen and highlight the events of the scene, which in turn make the writing that much stronger.

Chapter 66: Codes

Summary: It is indeed betrayal, one, in Kaladin’s view, far worse than when Amaram betrayed Kaladin. As Dalinar and Adolin fight, exhausted and with no hope, things fall into place with their relationship and Dalinar. Adolin yells at his father for trusting Sadeas when he shouldn’t have, but he also refuses the idea that the dreams and codes are false. Despite the fact that they’re about to meet their deaths, he would not have his father any other way. This confession strengthens Dalinar and makes everything click. His doubt and guilt fade. It’s how he lived his life that matters, and that’s what the codes and dreams were about, and he too would have it no other way. His only regret now is that he will leave Renarin as highprince, unprepared and surrounded by enemies.

Reader Comments: There’s an utter awesomeness to this. Dalinar is going to die--or so it seems. I’m not giving up on something happening to change that--but he dies with honor. This is, perhaps, my favorite thing to see in stories, men and women who, despite the cost, retain and choose honor and goodness, though it may mean their deaths.

Writer Comments: The last word of this chapter is “farewell.” It’s a gut wrenching word. It truly makes it sound like Dalinar is going to die. He’s bidding his youngest son farewell, but in a way, he’s also bidding the reader goodbye. And that’s gripping. How a story, chapter, or even paragraph ends is just as important as how it begins.

Chapter 67: Words

Summary: Exhausted, Bridge Four lags behind Sadeas’s retreating army, and for the first time, Kaladin sees a real chance for freedom. He convinces Matal, the lighteyed commander of the bridges, to let them follow at their own pace so they don’t slow the army down. In truth, Kaladin plans to flee instead, letting the army believe that the Parshendi slaughtered them. With their bridge, they could do it. At last, they can be free.

But something inside him won’t let him do it, even as he orders his men to prepare. To his shock, Syl stands beside him, for the first time, as large as a real woman, and her gaze is fixed upon The Tower, horrorstruck at the betrayal and destruction. She informs Kaladin that, at last, she remembers what type of spren she is, an honorspren.

And Kaladin realizes what he must do. He screams and shouts at it. He owes Dalinar nothing! He will not kill his men to save a lighteyes. But he will. He must. Because he has to. Because it’s right. And his men know it and courageously, willingly follow.

Alone, Bridge Four charges the chasm. They have no army to protect them. They’re up against a Parshendi army larger than any they’ve ever faced. And death certainly waits for them. Parshendi archers loose at them from multiple sides, and only by using the side carry technique and Kaladin using the last of the Stormlight do they manage at all. But to save them all, Kaladin releases such a large burst of Stormlight that he glows like the sun and is drained to near immobility.

Teft and the others drag him off and proceed without him. He lies, immobile in a hollow and remembers the moment his brother, Tien, died, the moment he failed to save him. He blinks and comes to the present battlefield. He cannot let it happen again. Despite his exhausted body, he pushes to his feet and, at last, picks up a spear.

Determination takes him back across the plateau. He charges across the bridge, which hasn’t reached the other side yet, and leaps. As he does so, he breathes in the Stormlight from the gems woven into the Parshendi’s beards. He lands in a crouch.

Syl had spoken as he charged, urging him to remember the words. And at last they come, words he didn’t know but which now come, words of a second ideal of the legendary Knights Radiants, “I will protect those who cannot protect themselves.” Upon these whispered words, thunder cracks and light bursts from Kaladin, slamming into the Parshendi lines. Some of the Parshendi flee, and others rush to fight. Kaladin meets them in a deadly storm.

Reader Comments: This may be the coolest moment I’ve ever read. Need I say more?

Writer Comments: Take a moment and consider the sheer number of chapters devoted to this battle. This one battle has received more words and chapters than any other part of the plot. That’s because it’s in the climax of the story. If you take a look at the number of pages devoted to the final thrust or climax of a story, it may surprise you. In my experience, it tends to be at least a tenth of a book, often more. It takes a lot to bring together and tie up all the story’s threads and to do so in a way that’s satisfying.

Thank you for joining me for these chapters of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. We’ll resume this read next Monday. Until then, swing back by on Friday for further forays into fiction, the speculative, and life.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Getting into Your Characters’ Heads

Sometimes a story flows out with ease, but many other times, it’s agonizing. The frustration and misery can come from a variety of sources, but one of those is when a writer isn’t connecting with his characters. Connection mentally and emotionally with the story’s characters is essential to writing compelling stories, but what do you do if this proves difficult?

Here are some ideas:
  • First and foremost, don’t be self-conscious or worry about what others will think. Yes, I know, that’s much easier said than done. But the only productive use for letting your doubt and worry get in the way is if your character is doubtful and a worrywart.
  • Try writing something else for a little while that’s entirely in the character’s point of view. Sometimes removing the viewpoint from the bounds of the story relieves the pressure enough to let you get in touch with the character’s inner workings.
  • Dress as the character. This can be anything as simple as throwing on a pair of strappy heels or a top hat to as complex as a full costume. You could even throw a blanket over your shoulders and pretend it’s a cloak. Costumes and props help put us into the mind of another.
  • Adopt the posture and mannerisms of the character. You may uncover elements of the character you hadn’t realized existed with this one. Of course, exercise some reason. If your character always speeds down the highway, it isn’t worth getting a ticket or endangering others just to practice that character trait.
  • Write about the character from the perspective of other characters. These varied opinions may reveal new aspects that ignite your imagination.
  • Take a single moment in the scene and write it in exquisite detail. You won’t use this piece in the final scene. Well, you might use a few small fragments of it, but not much. Focus on every sensation, what he sees, hears, smells, tastes, how he feels about all this, and his physical reactions. Put as much detail in as you can, as long as it focuses on the character’s perceptions and reactions. This is when you should practice those showing not telling techniques to their fullest. By the end of it, you’ll probably have a much closer relationship with that character.
  • Which brings me to my next point: Ensure that you are showing what’s happening, not telling or explaining. Sometimes, the issue of distance with a character results simply from the author explaining how he feels and thinks rather than showing it through action, reaction, physical responses, and word choice.
What other techniques have you found to connect with a character you’re writing?