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Monday, March 10, 2014

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson: Read, Part 18 (Chapters 55-57)

Welcome back to our read of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, where we explore how a successful writer pulls off a great story. To catch up or review previous parts, click here.



Chapter 55: An Emerald Broam

Summary: For the first time, Kaladin sees Sadeas and Dalinar perform a joint bridge run, and it works excellently.

That same day, Bridge Four is sent down into the chasms. There, they find a lighteyes corpse with a pouch full of wealth, including an emerald broam, the highest denomination of sphere. And Kaladin begins thinking along alternative escape lines. Perhaps they can bribe their way free. At the least, they need the money for food and medical supplies to keep the wounded alive long enough to heal. But sneaking anything out of the chasms is, until now, impossible. However, they find a bow on a Parshendi body. With it, they can’t sneak out most of the sphere, but a few. Rock secures a pouch with a few spheres to an arrow and shoots it at the last permanent bridge so that, on the next bridge run, they can snare it and sneak it back into camp.

Reader Comments: First off, yay that Kaladin finally is getting closer to interacting directly with Dalinar and Adolin. He still doesn’t buy that Dalinar has any real honor or honesty, but part of him wonders if maybe Adolin does. However, he won’t let himself speculate and get drawn in by a lighteyes again.

Too, I’m dying to see the moment when Kaladin truly realizes what he can do. He’s starting to piece together that something weird is going on, but he’s far from figuring it out.

Writer Comments: In this chapter, Kaladin quickly comes up with a way to sneak spheres out of the chasms. However, Sanderson might have taken days or longer, perhaps even consulting friends for ideas, to figure out how Kaladin might manage the feat. On the other hand, Sanderson might have pieced it together even faster than Kaladin. The point is that, as a writer, you don’t have to be as brilliant as your characters. You’re allowed to take as much time as you need and consult as many people as you like to figure out those strokes of genius.

Chapter 56: That Storming Book

Summary: On another joint plateau assault, Dalinar finally gets the Thrill back and successfully, epically takes down Parshendi foes. But the Parshendi are learning. In the middle of the battle, they bring a second army, a tactic they’ve never done before. As a result, Sadeas is overwhelmed, and his banner falls. Dalinar races to his aid, alone. He cuts down massive numbers of Parshendi, stands over Sadeas in his shattered Shardplate, and nearly falls himself. Then Adolin arrives with the rest of the army, and the Parshendi flee. Victory and Sadeas saved.

But there are problems still. Though Dalinar manages repeatedly to utilize the Thrill, that horrible nausea returns at the sight of so many dead. Too, he’s beginning to wonder if many of the Parshendi are actually women. And this brings him to another disturbing conclusion: They know practically nothing of the Parshendi, and that is a major disadvantage.

Reader Comments: I’m starting to wonder--technically, I’ve vaguely wondered for a while--if this “Unite them” message Dalinar keeps hearing doesn’t just refer to the Alethi. Perhaps, it actually refers to the need to unite the Alethi and the Parshendi.

And, oh, I’m so curious what Kaladin thinks of what just happened.

Writer Comments: Sadeas is an interesting characters study. He reminds me of many characters in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series in that I can hate him and then be made to feel for him and, oddly, hope he survives. Sadeas clearly has some major flaws. How he treats his bridgemen highlights many of them. However, he has his own odd sense of honesty and honor. He’s arrogant and yet humble enough to grant glory to another. He’s loyal and yet not entirely trustworthy. I alternately want him dead and would be terribly disappointed if that came about.

How does Sanderson do all this? Here are a few tricks:

1. Sadeas is multidimensional, especially in a contrasting way. Look at the list of his attributes that I describe above. Sadeas, like a real person, is a man of contrasts and opposites, which make him fascinating, unpredictable, and able to fit into many scenarios.

2. Different characters view Sadeas differently and give the reader new and varying lenses with which to perceive Sadeas. Just consider the alternate perspectives of him from Dalinar, Adolin, the king, and Kaladin.

3. Sanderson obviously likes and enjoys writing Sadeas. An author needs to love his characters, all of them, to make them truly come alive and be loved in turn by the readers.

Chapter 57: Wandersail

Summary: Kaladin loses another bridgeman and faces once more that terrible, crushing feeling that he failed yet another and the question of why he always survives and the others always die.

Back at camp, while tending Teft’s wounded arm, the bridgeman startles Kaladin by throwing a punch randomly. Kaladin catches his fist and demands to know why Teft attacked him. Teft wanted to see what would happen, and Kaladin realizes that he’s glowing softly, that all the Stormlight has vanished from the spheres in his pouch, and that he accidentally stuck his medical supply bag on the side of a barrel, and it’s still hanging there despite logic. Naturally, this disturbs him greatly and he blames everyone, from Teft to Syl, for what’s happening, something that offends Syl greatly.

Reader Comments: At last! This is going to be fun. Poor Kaladin. Poor Syl. This will, undoubtedly, change the whole course of how Kaladin handles keeping the bridgemen alive.

Writer Comments: This moment when Kaladin realizes what he can do with Stormlight has been coming a long time. Sanderson has built up to it for chapters and hundreds of pages. He’s hinted and expanded and played with the reader’s imagination and curiosity. He has been playing with a lovely little tool in the writer’s arsenal: Denial.

To hint at something, to dance around it, highlight it, toy with it, and yet refuse to allow its fulfillment is denial. Romance writers use this technique especially well to create suspense, tension, and desire. It’s all the moments the hero and heroine look into each other’s eyes and say not one word about how they’re really feeling. It’s the heightened awareness of each other, the drawing close without a kiss or true physical contact. This denial of the fulfillment of desire works wonderfully to draw out tension and, when done correctly, makes the final fulfillment that much more exquisite.

This concept can also be used with other elements of writing. The writer is, in essence, playing with the reader’s desires, dangling that luscious piece of chocolate before the reader’s nose and leading him along, at best giving him a tiny lick of the delicious treat. Only when desire is heightened to the perfect pitch dares the writer let the reader have that true taste. By withholding true fulfillment, the writer makes the payoff moment that much more valuable to the reader. If Kaladin had realized what he was hundreds of pages ago, it wouldn’t have been as much fun. Sure, it might have been cool, but not as delicious and satisfying.

After all, what is fiction but a writer making the reader anxious and desirous? The writer must amp up that anxiety with the promise of fulfillment before he can make the finish so satisfying that the reader will demand another book and tell all his friends to read it. Fail to utilize this, and the book flops. Fail by satisfying the reader too soon, and the treat becomes casual, like the hundredth ice cream sundae in a month. Hold out too long and refuse to give the reader fulfillment, and the reader risks becoming frustrated and deciding that someone else makes better desserts. It’s a balance that can only be achieved with lots of practice and experimentation.

Summary: Deeply disturbed by what he can do, Kaladin walks toward the chasms, trying to figure it all out. There, he finds a lighteyes dressed in black, sitting alone before a fire, and playing a flute, all of which are odd. Kaladin makes to leave, but the man addresses him. He’s Wit and he has a story for Kaladin. The story entrances Kaladin along with the music Wit plays on the strange flute, but at the end, Wit insists that Kaladin must derive his own meaning from the tale. Kaladin determines that it’s about taking responsibility, and Wit asks him what responsibility he’s avoiding. Reluctantly, Kaladin realizes that he’s been hindered by his fear of failure and has, even while trying to save the others, been selfish because he was really trying to save himself from pain. If he truly took responsibility, he would grasp at any chance to save the bridgemen, even if that chance hurt him. So he goes straight to Teft and asks about the Stormlight. Teft informs him that it was something the Lost Radiants could do, that he was once part of a sect that believed the Radiants would return, and that, unfortunately, he doesn’t know much beyond that. No one truly knows what the Radiants were capable of. However, Kaladin is determined to find out.

Reader Comments: Very cool. Awesome chapter ending. I had trouble putting the book down to write my comments. I love this sense of purpose and expansion, this sense of taking the story by the horns and truly turning into the heroic. And it was fun seeing Wit mess with Kaladin’s head and Kaladin in turn giving Wit something more satisfying, I think, than his usual prey. I also suspect that Wit knows what Kaladin is.

Writer Comments: This scene is about what Kaladin needs to hear and understand to truly grasp the power laid before him. Sanderson could have made many choices as to who should be the messenger. Teft might have been quite logical. Or perhaps Sigzil, the Worldsinger bridgeman who knows far more about the world than any of them. Instead, Sanderson chose Wit, who is both the least likely and most reasonable messenger. It is Wit’s job, after all, to point out folly and deliver messages in unconventional ways. However, it is particularly odd for Wit to sit alone on a plateau with a flute and a fire, seeming as though he were waiting for a certain bridgeman to show up so he could illuminate him.

What lesson is there in this for us writers? There is this: Sometimes what a character needs to hear or what needs to be said in a story should come from an unexpected or unusual source. Sometimes, that’s the most powerful way to do it, and often, it’s the only way our boneheaded characters will listen.

Thanks you for joining me for today’s chapters of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. We’ll resume this read tomorrow, and for any who have finished the book, be sure to pick up the sequel, which came out last Tuesday, Words of Radiance. I haven’t gotten to read it yet, but the little hints my husband keeps dropping about what’s  in it are so tantalizing. And, as always, swing back by on Friday for further forays into fiction, the speculative, and life.

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