As I’ve mentioned, I felt the need to re-read the Wheel of Time. I’ve also mentioned that Perrin is my favorite character.
Today, I thought I’d share with you the moment that happened. It’s not a big moment. It’s not anything that happens in Book 4, where Perrin truly shines. Instead, it’s this silly little quote tucked in the middle of Chapter 31 of The Great Hunt.
This was before people knew the big secret Rand had (I try to avoid spoilers when I can). Perrin and Mat knew, as did Verin. Verin was making a pointed comment at Rand.
“Perrin realized he was staring too, ‘Well, he did not fly,’ he said. ‘I don’t see any wings. Maybe he has more important things to tell us.'”
You see, this was a great divide for me. I actually hated Mat all the way through perhaps Book 5 or even a bit later. Mat was a fool, and he was hurtful to Rand when he needed a friend most. Perrin was clearly stricken, but there he was in this moment when everyone was making someone who was keeping the biggest, worst secret anyone could ever keep, and Perrin chose to be a faithful friend.
That was it. There were other cool things, and he has much bigger and more wonderful moments, but that little part right there was the part that made me look at him and see what a true friend is like.
I know it’s a bit silly, but I have my reasons.
I got picked on a lot as a kid. I probably deserved it if I’m being honest (well, no child deserves to be picked on, but if any child did, it would have been me). I can remember just wanting someone to stand up for me. I just wanted to be seen and feel valued. That moment even after all these years, resonates with me strongly in how much it means to stand up for someone.
What about you? What was the moment your favorite Wheel of Time character became your favorite.
I’m very close to finishing the First Draft of Discovered. While I can’t quite put the call out for alpha readers now, I thought I could at least take a moment to introduce you to a character I’m very happy about.
Daniel is an orphan who’s experienced the harsher side of the system. He’s captivated by stories where boys like him turn out to be heroes or princes, but he knows better. He knows no one who thinks like him could be very heroic.
Here are the particulars of Daniel I can share:
Height: 63 inches – 5’3”
Weight: 90 pounds
Build: Lanky. Very thin. He’s homeless and underfed.
Skin Tone: Tan
Voice Quality: Quiet.
Hair Color: brown
Hair Length: Long
Hair Style: Messy. Dirty.
Eye Color: blue
Eye Shape: oval.
Face Shape: Dimond with a square jaw.
I feel like other information would be too spolierific, so I redacted it. This is the information I use when writing a first draft. I use a character sheet containing this information and more to apply realistic detail to a character in the fist draft. I’m a discovery writer at heart, and I want get the plot moving. I consider it a failing. I account for this in the first draft, where I pointedly go in and add description and look for opportunities to use those to not just show what a character looks like, but how a character thinks.
I think Daniel is wonderful in a lot of ways. He has every excuse to be evil, but he wants so desperately to be good. That dynamic next to other characters really works in my opinion.
I hope this gets you excited to volunteer as an alpha reader for Discovered when I’m ready (man would I love to be ready next week)! We’ll see if I can make that happen. I have two and a half chapters of additional content to write (scenes I realized I needed after reading the previous draft). Once those are done and tidied up, I’ll put out the call.
It’s been a bit since I’ve just sort of chatted about writing inspiration material. My family has started watching this with me, and it’s still brilliant.
Leverage came and went ages ago, but it’s currently on IMDB, and I highly recommend it.
Why am I talking about it now other than I’m watching it?
Well, I like to point out quality work, and Leverage is amazing at outlining and providing satisfying plot twists. I’ll take a moment to talk about those traits and maybe one more.
Outlining: The two traits listed above are very closely related. you can’t have a satisfying plot twist without the appropriate amount of planning. However, since doing one only helps the other (satisfying plot twists depend on quality outlines, but outlines don’t guarantee a satisfying plot), I feel like I can discuss them as two separate things. The trick to a great outline is understanding how it all comes together. I personally do this by writing the ending (the plot twist) and working my way back from there. I ask questions like, “How can I get there?” and “How can I make it seem like it’s all going to fall apart.” Whenever someone watches a show like Leverage, they know the good guys will win. They know they’ll figure it out, so the real trick is to make the danger feel real. The longer the show goes, the harder a creator has to work to make the danger feel real. Leverage constantly provides clever heist stories with sharp turns that truly threaten several parts of the show. Yes, the con they’re trying to pull is always threatened, but, uniquely, something else is also threatened: a character’s hidden secret, a budding relationship has a wedge shoved between the characters. Something else happens that adds to the conflict. That’s the part that really makes this all work. The other thing is to plant little hints, hints that almost seem like a bit of simple description or camera movement. Then, when the twist comes, it all comes together.
The Satisfying Plot Twist: What makes this actually happen is the moment the twist comes. Sometimes, the show might give you a few flashbacks to show you how it happened, which is the lesser thrill, but still valuable. The greater thrill is making it so when the twist comes, the viewer (or reader) either says, “OH! I should have known!” or “I knew it!” This show constant forces you to pay attention to every detail. Then when it all works out, the biggest thrill is realizing how it all came together. The more you watch, the more you find yourself wanting to watch just to see if you can figure it out.
Character Development: I have to spend a bit of time on this. In episode one, you see little hits of both the archetypes these characters portray and the potential they have. As each season progresses, the characters grow (or devolve). Every episode builds on the character’s sympathy and motivation. You just don’t see it very much these days, and it’s even harder to find in entertainment that’s PG-13. I love this cast from episode one, and I love them more and more with each moment.
As a side note, I feel no shame in admitting that Leverage heavily influenced my short story Stealing Freedom. I often pitch the story as, “Leverage on a futuristic planet.” So if you like that story of mine, try the show out. If you like the show, maybe try that story out.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a character study, and since I’m currently through my fifth read through of Oathbringer, I’ve been thinking about Adolin.
I’ve had the chance to speak with the author, Brandon Sanderson, who is my favorite in the business right now, and people were talking about Kal and Shallan. I couldn’t help but say, “The only thing wrong with Adolin is that he isn’t Kal.”
Fanboy moment: Mr. Sanderson felt that was a good point.
You see, if Stormlight doesn’t have Kaladin, I affirm that Adolin would be the main character. In fact, Adolin would be a fine main character in pretty much any other fantasy story that doesn’t have Kaladin in it. And yet, poor Adolin is stuck behind this generation’s greatest hero. Kaladin is the greatest main character since Rand al’Thor, and Adolin can’t help but get lost in that shadow. (I’ll probably do a character study on Kaladin later, but I’m still a bit perturbed by his character given what happens in Oathbringer.)
Even in writing a blog praising Adolin, I can’t help but acknowledge why he isn’t the main character, but he is possibly one of the greatest secondary characters ever (I’d put him behind Perrin myself, but Adolin is up there).
So why not take a look at Adolin and try to understand why he’s so compelling.
The simple answer is his sympathy aspect. Adolin is loyal. He’s the picture of a good son and a model of a great big brother. He’s charming. He’s earnest. The most fascinating part of all that is how he sees himself: Not good enough.
Like his father, Adolin is his harshest critic. He’s an acclaimed duelist. He’s the planet’s most eligible bachelor, but he sees in himself flaws that don’t even exist. The flaws that do exist in him are mountains that rest on his shoulders. This leads him to do something beautiful: He tries. He tries so hard to be the sort of man he thinks everyone thinks he should be, and he’s unable to see he’s already so much more. This is what makes Adolin stand out.
When I was first reading Oathbringer, I was afraid Adolin would turn against the team. A part of me still is. How long can a man be just short of good enough before that yearning to be recognized becomes bitter? It would make for a great fall-from-grace arc, but I sure hope it doesn’t happen. I still think it might, and that has me rooting for Adolin all the more.
This is why some of the events of The Rhythm of War made me so happy, which brings me to the other point I wanted to make about this character.
Adolin does all the “hero arc” things others do in a completely original way, and when you compare his arc to Kal’s you can see the parallel. To be honest, Adolin does it all the hard way.
The trade off is Adolin’s suffering (the tool most authors use to build sympathy) isn’t as obvious as someone like Kal. This is probably one reason why I don’t hear people talk about him. Honestly, I hear more people talk about Renarin.
I think the fact that Adolin doesn’t suffer physically or by the loss of others is the the key, and that makes me sad. Adolin is sort of a caricature for an average person in today’s world, and we do the same thing to him that real people do to others.
We look at him and think, “Well it’s not like he’s been imprisoned or hurt, betrayed or forced to experience loss. What’s he got to complain about?”
Think about it. He’s wealthy, charming, and handsome. He must be fine right?
Except he’s not. He’s fighting every bit to be seen as his own man, a man a father and brother can be proud of, a man a woman can love, as Kaladin fights to protect those around him, but because he’s never been poor or enslaved, people just don’t appreciate him, and that’s tragic. It’s a depressing view of how people treat each other.
Yet he fights on, not so much with his awesome swordsmanship or his spren, who he’s helping to find herself. Instead, he fights on by being a kind, loyal man who does all he can.
That, dear readers, is a character worth putting on t-shirts. That, dear readers, is a main character trapped in a more-compelling main character’s arc.
So the next time you’re reading a Stormlight book, take a moment to give Adolin a bit of love.
I’m moving in a different direction this week. This may be seen as a rant. In a way I suppose everything is a rant. But I hope that rather than see it that way, we can look at how life, art, and entertainment mix and how sometimes they don’t mix.
It’s common knowledge that I am Christian. In fact, if I’m known for anything, I’d hope to be know in that light first.
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this in this blog before or not, but I do indeed love Supernatural. But there were some caveats to that. Years back, I finished Season 5 of that show and thought it was a fantastic ending to a beautifully done plot line that has many themes.
So let’s start there. I’m not sure what year it was for me. It may have been when the episode aired. The point is, I watched it and loved it. I thought the series was among the better shows I’ve seen. But something strange happened. It didn’t end.
Far be it from me to deny actors and producers and others affiliated with a show to stop earning a living, but I had known that the original creators had walked away saying the story they intended to tell was over.
Being a fan of the show, I watched.
Season 6 was a big bomb for me. It felt lost. It seemed random. I didn’t like the direction they took the characters. So I stepped away.
The thing with me though is I’m stubborn. Even if I’m reading a terrible book (I’ve read many), I feel compelled to finish it. It’s a failure of mine. So some time a few years back (though less than when I’d turned away from the show), I sat down determined to see what happened.
Honestly, I wasn’t impressed. First off, when the villain you face is literally the devil, where do you go from there? Some of the later seasons weren’t that bad. In fact, the ark with The Darkness at least felt like it was moving in a direction that reminded me of the first five seasons.
So I sort of plodded along just seeing where the story would go, and indeed I saw a few things that I like. I was actually interested in Jack as a character. I like redemption stories. I like stories where the one who is supposed to be the bad guy genuinely wants to be good.
So here’s where my faith comes in. It’s my personal opinion (and you’re welcome to disagree; this just happens to be my blog) that any Christian should at least be very discerning and careful when they choose where to go for entertainment.
Does this mean Christians shouldn’t be watching science fiction, paranormal, supernatural or even horror shows? I hope not; I write that stuff.
I have precedent. C.S. Lewis is a renown Christian who wrote fantasy. Who was it who shared the gospel with him that ultimately turned him to Christianity? None other than J.R.R. Tolkien. Both write with either allegorical or at least relatable material, but I don’t feel it’s inherently sinful to enjoy these genres. Again, I understand if some disagree.
The point I’m coming to though is that every person should have a line they do not cross. I experienced something similar with Walking Dead. They just went one step too far, so I stopped watching, but that’s a tangent.
While a few episode or story arcs in later seasons of Supernatural pricked my conscience (and I’ll confess I probably should have listened), I kept going. It was sort of like being in a relationship (not a marriage) after the magic had gone, but you didn’t want to end it.
Then I saw the final episode of the penultimate season (or so I think).
For me, the line too far was an episode that showed they were actually going to make their character of god (and that does create several potential areas of discussion in itself) the villain.
Here we go back to the first five seasons. Indeed everyone thought god (the character) was “gone.” But, as shown, he hadn’t gone. Sure, there were several things that one might debate about that aspect alone, but I had some sort of leg to stand on (even IF I wasn’t supposed to).
But I saw those final minutes and honestly felt my heart break. Here’s a show I once loved with characters I didn’t want to let go of even if I hadn’t honestly enjoyed a season in forever. Then the show takes this sort of direction?
I couldn’t do it.
I can’t help but feel if I try to explain this more, I’ll only fire up those who still love the show and were perfectly happy with that arc and many others. I have no intention of starting a huge argument.
I say again; you have a right to your own opinion.
While I am indeed pointing to this one moment in this one show, my ultimate point (again) is that everyone needs to decide where they draw their line. For some it’s nudity. For others it’s blood. Some people don’t watch anything rated higher than PG. Heck, I’ve seen some who even lose their cool over PG.
If I’m going to ask people to respect my right to my opinion, I must, therefore, respect their right to theirs.
But each of us as viewers has to decide, “Hey, that’s just too far.”
Well, I supposed there are those who have no line whatsoever, but even that is a choice about where their line is.
Maybe the story goes in a different direction. Perhaps there was more to it. Again, that episode really rubbed me the wrong way.
This isn’t me telling YOU not to watch it. I have absolutely no authority over you, nor do I have any right to tell you what to do.
I still love those first five seasons. I think it’s beautiful storytelling and a fantastic arc. I still market Bob Drifter as “Dead Like Me Meets Supernatural.” That’s the regard I have for that story. I’m also not going to pretend I don’t like it. Maybe as I grow and change, my opinion will change, but this is where I am today.
I referenced Walking Dead. That show and one other, Family Guy, all went a step too far for me for different reasons, and I found myself conflicted until I realized something that led to this blog.
It’s ok to have enough. You don’t have to push through that book you bought just because you bought it. You don’t have to stay in that movie you’re not enjoying.
I’m still pretty stubborn. I don’t see myself stopping just because I’m not enjoying something. I’ll probably write a blog about that later on. However, the actual message this is leading to is actually, “If you stop liking something, it’s ok to stop watching, reading, or listening to it.” Sure, others may disagree, but that’s ok, too.
People can discuss what they think without anger or malice. They can find common ground and agree to disagree. That’s actually a big learning moment for me. I’ve often felt like I have to justify when I stop watching something (or whatever). That’s just not the case.
Oddly, here I am explaining why I stopped watching something, but not to defend the stopping. Instead, I hope this encourages you.
Even if it’s this blog, you don’t have to read it.
I hope this doesn’t end up in thousands of super fans seeking my head on a platter. It could happen. People are passionate. Instead I hope this is like a group of friends at a restaurant, and one guy goes, “Wow, this meal’s turned out to be too spicy for me to handle.” That was the intent.
So I wanted to do a case study today, and I’ve been thinking a lot about anime and how it works. To be fair, I probably haven’t seen as much anime as a lot of other people. What anime I watch, I watch all of, but I’ve seen about ten anime series, and they’re just about the same, but in a good way. How is it anime can be so formulaic and still be entertaining? Sure, the magic system or fighting system is unique. The characters are sort of unique. But if you’ve watched Dragonball Z, you’ve seen Naruto, Bleach, and a host of others. Again, I don’t mean that as an insult. I love all of those shows, but they all follow a pretty basic formula, and I’m going to go over that today.
Step 1: Isolated hero seeks to be accepted/respected/befriended or the rogue hero who stands up because “someone must.”
Ichigo and Naruto are isolated people who either form small groups or seek small groups of friends. They either earn those friendships quickly or must fight doggedly to earn them. In either case, they’ll risk everything to save their friends. This is where they’ll risk their lives to protect others.
In either case, these bonds are the catalysts for the first arc. The bulk of the first arc is all about the development of the friendships or the establishment of the lengths the hero will go to in order to protect those friendships.
Step 2: Enter powerful antagonist 1.
When this person arrives, there is immediate dislike. There is rivalry. This new arrival has (at the very least) a leg up on our hero.
Step 3: The fight.
This fight either ends with one winning, and therefore winning over the antagonist, creating a new friendship or ends with a more frightening opponent arriving, forcing the original combatants to join forces.
Step 4: Enter even more powerful antagonist.
This villain walks in and wipes out pretty much the entirety of the original cast, and they do it with ease. This butt whoop’n either establishes the larger arc or teases it before the next phase (or both). The heroes somehow survive (or die and maintain the ability to do the next phase).
Step 5: The training arc.
This is where our heroes get down to business. They usually meet a mysterious mentor around here who beats them until they reach the next stage of their abilities. Our heroes are often given some sort of “uber level” attack or state of being they must reach within a deadline that is impossible. But somehow, they pull it off. Sometimes the writer makes us wait to see if the move works or not, but the training is the bulk of this stage.
Step 6: The underling or main event.
Our hero either takes on the current big bad or starts his way up the chain. The fight is close, but our hero reveals his/her new ability and wipes out the current challenger. But then an even stronger foe arises, who beats up our heroes, who barely survive and find somewhere to train.
That’s right folks. Hero wins. Go back to step 4. Rinse repeat until the ultimate of ultimate level 80 villain is vanquished.
All the while the previously defeated foes become fast friends and members of the metaphorical Scooby Gang.
To be honest, I don’t know why it works (on me every time), but it does. I love Dragonball Z. I love Naruto. I love Bleach. I love Jujutsu Kaisen. I love Demon Slayer. All of those shows follow the same template. The moves have to be cool. The fight scenes have to be epic.
Most importantly, even though everyone who’s been watching anime since Goku was a baby knows the hero is going to win (at least in the end), the writer has to make the fight seem impossible. The hero must get beaten and battered to such a degree that the reader says, “Wait, is he really gonna lose?” That’s the magic part.
Some anime throws in a twist.
Twist angle: Hero has some indwelling creature who offers great power at a great cost. This indwelling creature is another antagonist, but the relationship is literally symbolic. In this case, the hero reaches his Epic Tier when the hero converts his indwelling pest into a true ally. Then the hero does that last step mentioned above.
So there it is. This is the only genre I’ve ever seen that never gets old for some reason. Interestingly, I haven’t seen it used that much in books, which is why I want to give it a try at some point.
Did I miss a step? I will say I understand that there are other anime that don’t remotely follow this formula. There may even be the great majority of anime that don’t. But if the hero is a plucky fighter of some kind, I promise I know what’s going to happen. The excitement for me is to see what the “next level” ability or move looks like.
The family and I started watching Hunter X Hunter specifically because the television told us it was similar to Naruto.
Similar? I am utterly convinced Naruto’s creator was a huge fan of Hunter X Hunter, and took a great deal of inspiration from the show. How much?
So the main character (the names in Hunter X Hunter are very confusing) wants to be a hunter (ninja in Naruto) because his father (yep) left to be a hunter. His father, a mysterious, famous, and legendary hunter (or Hokage) seems to have impacted the whole group of Hunters (ninjas).
The series picks up when the main character has to take a test, which is almost plot-point for plot-point the same as the Chunin Exams.
I’m not going to dive into a point-for-point review, and I’m not trying to say Naruto is nothing more than a trumped up rip off of Hunter.
What I actually want to say is that Naruto clearly respects Hunter, and shows it in using material from that predecessor and adding something new and refreshing to it.
Naruto has a ton of original angles in comparison to Hunter. I’m only about one season into Hunter, and for all I know everything changes after that season. But it was cool to see so many pieces that matched.
For instance, the main character of Hunter takes on a master, who simply wants him to take away a set of bells. Wait? No, that was Naruto. With Hunter it was a sort of dodge ball. You get the point though.
After doing a bit of research, I’m not quite sure what ran when, but the anime style of Hunter indicates an early release date, and I found one date as 1999, which is easy to believe. However, what may be surprising is they are contemporaries.
The Mangas for each title only came out about a year apart.
So I guess I’m just wondering what you all think? Is one a rip off of the other? I don’t think so. Yes, they are very similar. However, I like to think of it more as similar tropes done in equally entertaining ways.
My family and I recently finished re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender (the series, not that atrocious movie).
I think there’s an unfair stigma about “kid’s shows,” but I understand where it comes from.
You see, back in my day, cartoons were very thin. They had limited plots and shallow characters. Some still have those flaws, but that doesn’t mean that every animated show is bad or guilty of those crimes.
Avatar proves that on every level.
Broader Characters: All the characters on Avatar have deeper levels that a typical cartoon. They have virtues and flaws. They have differences that cause conflicts.
The relationships between the characters are themselves arcs. I think the biggest draw to the show is in the relationships formed and challenged throughout the series. Zuko’s relationships are particularly wonderful. We don’t see how loving Iroh is if we don’t see how fixated and selfish Zuko starts out. Just about the moment we’re ready to give up on Zuko, we meet Azula, and suddenly we understand more about Zuko, and grow to sympathize with him and even love him.
Great Conflicts: Those conflicts I mentioned above give an emotional charge to what could have been a terribly shallow plot. Aang learns water bending. Aang learns earth bending. Aang learns fire bending. Fight. End.
Those things happened, but each of those plot elements are only part of additional, more interesting plot elements. The story does a great job of maximizing the directions stories can go.
Just these two simple things make a story so much more interesting, and it’s good entertainment. It’s not enough for things to happen to people. We need to care about those people. It’s also not enough for us to just see people, no one (no matter how sympathetic) is interesting if they are not doing anything.
This is the balance I think Airbender struck. We had a good mix of episodes that connected us to the characters (am I the only one who loved that episode in Book Two where we saw each character’s day?). We also had episodes where the characters moved. Sometimes they reacted (the episode where Azula was chasing them the whole time), sometimes they acted (the library). Yet even in those action driven shows, we still see character building moments.
So I just wanted to share a few thoughts that might help hopeful storytellers learn how important those elements are to a story. More importantly, I wanted to demonstrate how those elements elevate a story. Good character depth and conflict can make any style of story for any genre better.
Do you have some favorite episodes of Airbender? Do you have some other elements you enjoyed? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.
I was talking to a student about narratives recently, and the topic of characters, story arch and Star Wars came up.
The student affirmed that he hated Rey, but really liked the main character from Rogue One.
Those were his words.
“What’s her name?” I asked.
The student looked at me blankly.
“How can you say you like a character you can’t even name?”
Comedic interaction aside, a classmate looked up her name, Jyn Erso. During some good natured back and forth, I asserted that Jyn and Rey are, in fact, pretty much the same character. You can hate both, but you can’t hate one and love the other. They are pretty much the same character.
Let’s just start with the simple biometric data: Both actresses (and therefore characters) are shorter (less than 5’9″). Only four inches separate them. Both have dark hair. They have the same build (healthyceleb.com says they’re exactly the sam weight). They both have lighter eye colors (green and hazel). So they do, in fact, look very similar.
Now let’s look at the character’s specifically. Both were abandoned by their parents. Both have a serious investment in their familial legacy/origin. Both are incredibly skilled in their craft and seemingly learn at alarming rates. Both are witty. Both are prone to “rage” moments.
Seriously folks, @me on this. Heck, I can line up Rise and Rouge One plot point for plot point if you want in terms of their arch:
Introduce impact character who brings them to the rebellion/alliance.
Character inspires large level action against threat.
Character get’s captured/pinned down.
Character faces idiotic odds.
The only actual difference between the two is that only one lived.
I suppose one could argue Rey’s arc is more complete, but ironically that’s the thing everyone (I talk to) disputes about why this trilogy is bad.
So I leave it to you wonderful readers. Assertion: Rey and Jyn are pretty much the same drn character. Agree or disagree?
Wheel of Time is my second-favorite saga of all time. I joined the series after Knife of Dreams was out (though I started with Eye of the World), and I was hooked. I’ve read the whole series at least 14 times (1 time for each book in the series). There isn’t much news on the M.L.S. Weech front this week, so I thought I’d do a character study.
I’ve talked about character arcs a few times, and Rand is a fantastic analysis of character arc. Warning, there are spoilers here!
Characters need to grow: When we first meet Rand, we see a young man who thinks he knows how his life is going to go. He’s going to be a farmer, like his dad, and marry Egwene. He’s innocent. He’s naive. Eye of the World is essentially the story of a young man who must leave his home but desperately wants to return to it. The whole book is basically establishing Rand as a character living in ignorance (literally).
The Great Hunt forces Rand to act. Even in this book, Rand truly wants nothing more than to life to return to the way it was (a return to innocence). It is only his bond and desire to save his friend that keeps him on the path he needs to stay on. Which brings me to another point.
Characters need believable motivations: What else could keep a character moving along the plot line? Why would a character risk danger? In this case, Rand risks giving in to his power by putting himself on the Hunt. His loyalty to his friend is the motivation that makes us believe he’d do something he’d otherwise never do. The friendships established in the first book allow the reader to see that motivation.
The Dragon Reborn is such a clever tale for so many reason. Here we see Rand grow to accept who and what he is, and I don’t know that he has 5,000 words of screen time. We’re watching Rand grow from the perspective of those trying to catch up to him. This is the critical turning point. This is the book Rand realizes there is no returning to innocence. This book is Rand putting his fate to the test. He knows that only the Dragon Reborn could reclaim Callandor. I think this might be the book where people really fall in love with Rand. It seems weird to say, but this is the book where we see how heartbroken Rand is, and our hearts break with him. What do we learn about this?
Characters need to suffer: Sometimes, suffering can make us care for a character, and sometimes suffering can deepen how much we care. Either way, there must be conflict. In this book Rand is alone and struggling with nightmares and visits from Ba’alzamon. I have to admit, there was a large part of me that wanted it not to work. And that makes the story work.
The Shadow Rising is far more about Perrin than Rand. The scope of this series demands some books focus on one character more than others, and this is such a case.
The Fires of Heaven has a victory of sorts, but it’s a tragic victory. Everything is thrown into chaos, and Rand must evolve from a character who has reluctantly accepted his fate to one who must take the path he has. There’s a lot that happens in this story. The first is that Rand actively pursues his role as the Dragon Reborn. He’s acquired a plan. He’s still untrusting of Moraine, and why should he be? She’s been manipulating him from the beginning. Sure, she was doing it for the sake of the world and for his own good, but it doesn’t make her actions less manipulative. Of course, the moment he starts trusting her is exactly the moment she “dies.”
Character must be isolated to grow: This isn’t the same as The Great Hunt. First, he didn’t want to be anywhere near Moraine to begin with. Here, Moraine became a crutch. In a way, she also would have been a hinderance. Like the power these characters wield, Rand isn’t something you can direct, only something you can channel. Taking Moraine in that way and at that time forces Rand to become a leader.
Characters need evolving goals: The first three books are all about Rand trying to return to where he wants to be. Fires gives Rand a new goal and a new motivation. We still see his innocence, characterized by his desire to prevent women from dying, and even in this, Rand must allow others to die. This hurts Rand. He desperately wants to protect others, especially women, so his goal becomes morbid rather than hopeful. This is the seed that was planted for his fall.
Lord of Chaos changes Rand, and not in a good way.
Characters need to devolve every bit as much as they need to evolve: Rand’s capture and torture take someone who’s been manipulated before and pushes it to the extreme, leading him to be suspicious and distrustful of everyone. This betrayal changes Rand from one morbidly marching toward doom to a weapon. This was the most important moment since Moraine came to visit the Two Rivers.
Characters need anchors: Min and Aviendha (I’ll never see the value in Elayne) serve critical roles here. They represent who Rand used to be. They serve to give Rand some connection of love and trust that he desperately needs where others only fear him or what he must do. Rand tries to avoid this in a few ways, but Min (my favorite of the three) refuses to leave his side.
A Crown of Swords is a darker book that shows Rand descending into darkness. he does things that are “right,” but his motivations and justifications begin to darken. This book, Rand (not the Dragon) receives power. That power, like always, begins to corrupt him. He starts to want to break away from his older person. Again, motivation is key. Love and trust leads to loss and betrayal, so here, we see Rand beginning to use people and seek power rather than protect.
The Path of Daggers is a tipping point. Rand is gobbling up nations and gaining power. His actions fill him with pride and hubris, leading him to a critical battle with the Seanchan.
Characters need to fail: Failures teach characters. Failures humble characters. This particular Failure shows how far Rand has fallen, and the scary thing is, he doesn’t learn from it. Instead, he’s insulted by the failure. He’s goes even bigger.
Winter’s Heart becomes a sort of crowning moment of arrogance for Rand. He and Nyaeve cleanse the Source. Armies attack. The world watches in horror, and Rand does the impossible. It doesn’t actually do anything for him. He’s still insane. So are the Asha’men. As amazing as this is, it only means future men won’t lose their minds. At best, those already tainted will be saved from going completely mad. Rand’s falling deeper into despair, and this huge act of awesome power is great, but ultimately doesn’t do anything for Rand. He still has his anchors in the form of Nyneave and Min (and a few others). They continue to support Rand, who desperately needs that protection and that loyalty.
Many people hate Crossroads of Twilight. The plot doesn’t move an inch. It’s essentially a whole book of people reacting to Winter’s Heart. I had the advantage of being able to read straight through it to the next book, but I can understand how people who had been reading since the ’90s and wanted to see what happens next might have felt. I don’t imagine New Spring helped much either. Sure it showed us some new information in terms of back story, but we’re still left eager to see what happens next.
Knife of Dreams continues to push Rand to the edge. Everything he tries fails. Everything he tries comes to disaster. Failure isn’t new to Rand at this point, but this is different.
Characters need to be humbled: Here Rand isn’t just humbled, he loses a hand and almost loses himself to Lews Therin. The secret about his insanity is revealed. Where Rand was willing to go into the darkness for people, now it’s proven that he’s worthy of fear and distrust. This is important to show how close to the edge he is.
Characters need to appear as though they might go the wrong way: This is such a powerful writer tool and one so rarely used. We never worried that Harry Potter might become a Death Eater. We never worry that Luke would join the Dark Side. Those are great stories, but here is where Lord of the Rings and Wheel of Time shine. We begin to seriously fear Rand would go too far. At this point, our fear is small, but we’re just a tiny bit afraid that Rand will simply become a ruthless overlord. Him saving the world seems farther away than ever.
The Gathering Storm brings all of this to a head. Rand is again betrayed. Rand is again hurt. Rand becomes convinced that ruthlessness and death are all his options. He seems to have lost all his faith in people and in the world. This is most obvious when he not only kills a woman, he erases her from existence and then (apparently) does the same thing to an entire building. Is it effective? Ironically, no. The whole idea of his abusive, excessive actions was to catch his enemy off guard, and it fails. Rand falls farther than ever, until he encounters his father for the first time since this saga began.
Characters need to remember their original motivations/who they are: There’s an argument that characters need to change. I prefer grow. Rand is clearly a different man than he was. He’s harder. He’s wiser. At this point he’s more sly and mistrusting. But he’s still motivated by love. In desperation, Rand returns to Dragonmount to seemingly end his own life, and then he realizes the beautiful potential in the world. Sure, one may fail over and over again, but each new opportunity is a chance to get it right. That return to hope is what saves the day and leads us to the new Rand.
Through Towers of Midnight (far more about Matt) and into A Memory of Light, we see the changed Rand. He has accepted that he is both Lews Therin and Rand. He has accepted that suffering is a part of life, but he has returned to hope. His encounter with his father and his love for his friends (and other forms of love) has become his anchor. Rather than morbidly thinking about getting the Last Battle over with, Rand instead looks to the future.
We still see the change. He’s certainly never pushed around by any woman again. He’s not manipulated. He’s powerful, but now humility and loss has tempered his ego in to wisdom.
Those are the things that made him ready for the Last Battle. We see the battle end, and Rand is a new man. Rather than going home (who can ever go home again?), he sets out to see the world through new eyes (literally). The boy who only wanted to stay home and live a quiet life has now left to live a life of exploration and adventure.
Rand is a beautiful character in an equally beautiful saga. Just writing this post makes me want to read the saga again (maybe not this year because a new Stormlight book is coming). I just thought that analyzing this story gave so much insight to how to craft great characters into great stories. I hope you found this post helpful.
A while back, I wrote a song dedicated to Wheel of Time. The recording isn’t anything near studio quality, but hey, why not? Enjoy!