Thursday, April 14, 2011

What the hell is this?

Another post? So soon? I am in severe danger of breaking the pattern of leaving this space abandoned for months and months at a time. Never fear - there's always a good chance I'll fall off the wagon tomorrow.

Anyhow, I've been working my way through the Wheel of Time series for quite a while now, making slow progress because I fear that devouring these books at my normal rate would have an ill effect on me. I'm not sure whether I would kill myself or someone else, but that is the sort of outcome I would expect these books have on me. I wouldn't read them at all, except I <3 Brandon Sanderson, who is finishing the series (and has been rumored to be doing a far superior job to Mr. Jordan's original efforts).

I feel one could hardly do worse than Jordan and as I get further and further into the series (I am only on book four), I find myself increasingly puzzled as to how these could ever have become popular in the first place. To make a short list of the many problems I have with what I have read so far:

  • 95% of the characters are plain unlikable and 100% of them are two-dimensional at best
  • It's hellishly repetitive 
  • For being (at a guess) 300k+ word books, nothing much happens in any of them, a very slow pace
  • Everything is shockingly predictable
  • Everything is a blatant ripoff of better and far more interesting works of fiction and myth
  • I can't suspend my disbelief quite as far as the story demands me to
  • Women are treated horribly as a general rule, with no apparent reason, even in societies which are more matriarchal 
  • I feel dumber for having read as much as I have

I could keep going, but I will not because it's not the point of this post.

So what is the point?

I read some advice recently that went along the lines of: "Don't write what you know. Write the book you would want to read." It seems good enough advice to me. Obviously, the Wheel of Time series is not something I like, but I was thinking about it and there are a few things in there that do appeal to me. A very few. The fact that I can pick them out at all makes me think that they are the sorts of things that most resonate with my preferences.

As an example, I like Lan, even if he is as flat as the rest of the characters. Because his two assigned personality traits (I think that's all that Jordan's characters are allotted) are ones I like in a man: He is brave and he is protective. So far anyhow. Seems that any time the story shifts to anyone's point of view we are instantly let in on their mental train of thought which is always and without fail on the Self Pity tracks, headed towards Whinyville, with occasional stops at the Twin Cities of Unreasonable and Childish.

I just can't stop picking at the many flaws, can I?

To get to the point, I am intending to set forth on a writer's exercise to list all those attributes I like to see in characters. I mean, I like my villains to be smart and cunning and cruel. I like for them to have some reason for being cruel and not just bent on destruction or chaos for the pure hell of it, the way so many villains are. I would like for them to be able to take the stage in a book and lay out their logic and emotions and have it all make sense and possibly even be the sort of thing someone could understand even if they don't agree with it.

How many people are really bent on world domination? Just to dominate the world and for no other purpose? And don't give me the whole insane line. I've met insane people and they don't function all that well.

But how many villains are we force-fed all the time who are just evil because they are inherently evil? Or craved more power, as if the forces and kingdoms they commanded weren't enough of a nightmare to keep track of?

I just don't buy it. There have to be so many more reasons for anyone's actions than those glib explanations. Stay tuned and I'll probably start exploring these concepts a bit more in depth. In the meantime, I feel inspired to go work a bit on Chapter Three of the romance.  

1 comment:

  1. Just a brief note to say I'm still following this.

    I'm actually okay with crazy-evil villains, as long as they're flagged up as such - it's the ones which are *partially* justified that I have trouble with because they fall down an uncanny valley. Just realistic enough that you notice how unrealistic they are.

    Star Wars is a classic example here, Darth Vader is perfectly reasonable as a villain because there's very little effort to explain *why* he's so evil other than "was seduced by the Dark Side" whereas once you actually get Anakin's backstory you suddenly sit there and go "so he turned to the Dark Side to save Padme, but made no effort to actually do it, and was immediately totally happy to go and slaughter children for no reason."


Constructive criticism welcome. However, I am not looking to have anyone point out every grammatical error. I know they exist and I just can't care about those while trying to write.