The last few weeks have been good. A bit bumpy, a bit unexpected (and unplanned), but good. I’ll be talking a bit about NaNo and a bit about Oathbringer this week.
So Oathbringer dropped last week, and as anyone reading me often probably knows, I’m a HUGE Sanderson fanboy. His Mistborn novels are some of the most surprising and engaging fantasy I’ve ever read, and the Stormlight Archive’s scope boggles my mind. Oathbringer is the third Stormlight novel, and it clocks in around a whopping 1,240 pages.
I ended up binge-reading that in about 50 hours. Eat, sleep, read, repeat. This is, admittedly, my habit every time a novel releases which I’ve been looking forward to, but it honestly wasn’t until this past week that I realized exactly how self-destructive to productivity it can be. I’m not a person who usually feels “burned-out” after reading for extensive periods, but by the end of Oathbringer I was exhausted.
It’s good. It’s very good – although I think the prior novel, Words of Radiance, was stronger – but it’s just so freaking big. I think we’ve finally found the point where a “doorstop” fantasy novel is too big. There was a large battle around page 800 which felt like a climax, yet I still had a full novel’s pagecount to go!
The Stormlight Archive begs comparison to the biggest fantasy saga I’m aware of: The Wheel of Time. Oathbringer in particular evokes my memory of WoT, because it has a lot of the same elements which characterized the middle (read: weaker) books of WoT. Our number of viewpoint characters grows quickly, along with locations and complexity of the plot. The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance are ultimately about the interactions of a few characters within the kingdom of Alethkar.
Oathbringer is about a world on the edge of disaster.
What impressed me most with the first two novels of the Stormlight Archive is that Sanderson managed to offer a complete action of plot in a single novel. Both Way and Words are good novels on their own. Oathbringer relies more on its predecessors. This is only natural in a series, when a story has enough pieces that it won’t fit in a single book. And, if the worst thing I can say about Oathbringer is that it has “middle-book” syndrome, that’s really not such a bad thing.
Speaking of Oathbringer as a sequel (above and beyond standing on its own merits), it does fulfill many promises of the prior books. The reader gets many answers, and comes to understand much more about the Desolations and the Voidbringers (the antagonist forces). Sanderson continues to do some surprising and interesting things with them, and with how some characters respond to unexpected revelations.
In particular, I was pleasantly impressed that we weren’t kept waiting thirteen books for the end of the world (looking at you, Wheel of Time… Book 1 promises tarmon gai’don, another apocalypse, is coming, but we don’t get it until the end of the fourteen book series). Way says the Desolation is coming, and it’s here in Oathbringer.
If you like big fat fantasies (and haven’t already been reading the Stormlight Archive), you should read Oathbringer and its predecessors. I’m honestly not sure there’s a better fantasy saga currently being written.
Well, I suppose the big writing news this week is that I’ve effectively killed my NaNoWriMo attempt. Oathbringer is a cause of that in part, my Alcibiades paper for my Master’s is another cause, but I think the root of it comes down to being unprepared for NaNo.
I actually feel okay about the plot, so far. It isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible. The biggest challenges are dissonance in tone and characterization.
I love my first chapter; I had a scene stirring around in my head for the aftermath of this big fight, and the main character just sitting down to focus on his breakfast. It came out way creepier than I intended, but I really like it. It’s strange and unsettling, and Alec (my MC) is a strange, unsettling dude.
But later on I have parts with him doing this really heroic stuff that just… doesn’t fit. The whole work feels a bit off, like if you were to drive an American car in Britain. It works, but only kinda sorta. I was trying to capture the constantly-moving rhythm of a thriller, like Angels & Demons by Dan Brown, or Relic by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, although more Young Adult in audience. So far the book is not YA (a mix of violence and swearing), but the general issues and situations and interactions are very YA, enough that I’m not sure they’d work for an adult audience.
The comparison I used in my writing group is that I tried to write YA James Bond (with scifi wizards tossed in), and instead I’ve ended up with a kind of twisted Dragon Ball Z.
Now, the good is that this stuff is really fun to write. Like, I’ve never fathomed how some indie authors can churn out two, three books per year, but if I could somehow market and develop novels that feel like the fun, flashy bits of my NaNo, I absolutely can see myself just popping them out. I feel like it’s not good, but it’s fun and escapist and exciting, and those are okay things too.
I intend to finish this book, but probably not revise it. I know I’m not going to hit the NaNo wordcount (and in hindsight as excited as I was to try NaNo again, it just wasn’t a good idea). Between classwork and hitting a 1,200 page speedbump, My NaNo attempt is pretty well sunk.
The book’s fun, and it’s good practice. I’ve not written much from the third person, and I’ve never written a piece from multiple perspectives before. These are things I want to be able to do, so writing something that may never have a prayer of seeing publication just to practice those techniques and aspects of the craft is okay. I have two main characters, and they feel fairly distinct in my mind. Trying to push that into the words, in writing how each of them see the world, is a really interesting process.
Something I always try to keep in mind is that J.K. Rowling was rejected by a dozen publishers on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Brandon Sanderson first got published on his sixth book, Elantris (and was working on writing his eleventh or twelfth when he got the call). Writing takes time, and takes attempts. I’ve (basically) chosen to take the path of writing a bunch of different things to practice the craft, instead of just refining one story over and over and over and over for a decade.
And that’s okay.
(Plus it gives me an excuse not to revise and edit…)
Last Week: Nothing formal, but in essence WRITE WRITE WRITE for NaNoWriMo. Not accomplished.
This Week: My Alcibiades paper (for my MFA) is due on Sunday, so that’s my focus. I’m already getting the hunch that I won’t have something finished that I like, but at least I think I know where I’ve erred in setting my scope. I’m going to try finishing a draft of the piece, instead of smashing out something completely different with a more accurate chunk of history to chew on.