Whenever I do a review, those familiar with my blog know that I have a very consistent approach because I know what I like in stories, and I evaluate stories by what I like. I think the more someone works to understand what they like, they’re more likely to find books they enjoy and (if they aspire to be an author) write books they will enjoy.
What I decided to do today is provide examples on what books did particularly well in various categories.
Character: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I chose this specifically because of how divisive this book is in my opinion. I love it. I know people who hate it. The love and hate of this book is based entirely on how people feel about Kvothe. I think Kvothe is a brilliant character. He’s sympathetic, proactive, and highly competent. Now this is actually why a lot of people don’t like the book. He’s too perfect. I don’t think he’s a Mary Sue, but some do. Still the point is, this book hangs it hat on the main character.
Exposition: Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. Every book needs exposition. Sooner or later, the author has to just tell the reader what’s going on. The trick is to make sure that writers show everything they can and lace the exposition through the story. Mistborn has an incredibly complex magic system, and the world it happens in has a deep history. This book never once beats up the reader with complicated blocks of exposition. There is one “education” scene, where Vin learns the basics of allomancy, but other than that, the book weaves what we need throughout the action.
Worldbuilding: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. If you’re wondering, yes, it was very hard to not include Sanderson here as well, but Eye of the World is another example. Great stories typically have worlds that feel real. Eye of the World establishes so much with culture, the magic system, the mythos, and the setting. It’s truly masterful worldbuilding, but it’s not just worldbuilding for the sake of worldbuilding. There are books I feel that take worldbuilding too far. I don’t want to spend my life reading about the economic value of a whosit. This book balances intricate worldbuilding with the story to make the scene and universe believable.
Dialogue: Brother Odd by Dean Koontz. I’ve always been a fan of the dialogue in Koontz’s books, but I think this book is a text book for how dialogue is done. The conversations in this book are crisp and relevant, and each character has a distinct voice. Also, it’s a pretty amazing book.
Description: Betrayer’s Bane by Michael G. Manning. Honestly, I’m so finicky with description, this is hard for me. I think Timothy Zahn should also get some credit here, but Manning came to mind first, so here it is. This book has a lot of action and a lot of dramatic scenes. Manning artfully places strategic adjectives that bring a story to life without beating the reader to death with huge paragraphs of description.
There are many books that do many of these well. I don’t know that I can truly place a book here that does all of them well. I think a good book only has to do a majority of these well. I’ll even go so far as to say that, for me personally, I just need good character and low exposition, and I’ll probably like it. The point is, the more of these a writer pays attention to, the better the book will be.
So I was running dry on ideas. I’d been doing a lot of update posts and bracket posts, and I felt it was time to do something different. That got me thinking about one of my favorite reasons I read fantasy: the idea of “who would win in a fight?”
Therefore, I decided to do a “Top 5” list. What is this list based on? My opinion! It’s my list. I hope this post encourages healthy (kind-hearted) debate. It may even inspire a bracket.
What do I base my opinion on?
That’s a great question. The first is memorability. I’m going to provide the five characters who came to my mind. If I have to try to remember you, you clearly aren’t that powerful. The down side? I honestly haven’t read that much. Oh I read a lot, but there are books I haven’t read (again why I hope you lovely readers would be interested in enlightening a fan). So, you can also look at my “read” bookshelf on Goodreads to tell me if there’s someone in a book I read that you think would top any of these five. From there, it’s based on sheer power and capability. Limitations are also factored. for instance, you won’t find an Aes Sedai on this list. All I’d have to do is not threaten them, and, though they could make life inconvenient, they couldn’t hurt me. The rest is just me thinking about what I’ve read about them doing and how impressive it is.
Now that the logistics are covered, let’s see who’s the top dog!
#5: Ian Troy, The Crown of Stones I honestly had a fight with myself about this. Do I select the characters “at their most powerful” or their power level (or lack there of) at the end of the last book I read. Since most nerds like me will always argue fights on a “height-of-power” scale, I went with that as well. Ian begins the whole series with a display of power that would put any on this list on notice. Ian stops at number four because the crown serves as a weak point that could be exploited. Since I have to take the character at the height of his power, I must also take him at the most dangerous of issues weaknesses too. Ian could honestly destroy a world, but his power comes at the expense of the lives of others. This wouldn’t be a problem for a villain, but a former addict trying to protect life just wouldn’t consciously throw power around at the expense of (possibly) those he loves.
#4: Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings: I honestly had a lot of trouble placing him. As one reads LotR, it’s easy to understand he has the potential to lay waste to a number of opponents. The thing is, we never really see him do much in the way of magic. We feel like he could, so I have him all the way up to number three just for that reason, but he never really displayed it. If someone said to drop him to 4 or even 5, I don’t know that I could argue, except that the guy seems so powerful. Therefore, I met in the middle. This ranking (I feel) gives the potential of his power respect while also taking into account how little power he actually used in the books.
#3: Vin, Mistborn: I think she’d fall in this spot even without the “at her most powerful” rule. She wasn’t just powerful, she used that power in clever ways that made it pretty much unfair to fight her (unless you’re essentially a god). The events of the book take that seeming unfairness and make it down right laughable to think she couldn’t take out pretty much anyone. Allomancy is just an awesome power, and a full Mistborn is pretty much impossible to beat if you’re limited to a single power, but not if you’re using the One Power.
#2: Rand al’Thor, The Wheel of Time: The Dragon Reborn already has the strength to “break the world.” The One Power is such that some serious power get’s flung around. With this power, characters can make or flatten mountains. They can even use a weapon so great it erases one from existence (or even burns away parts of their life). There are even ways to amplify that power! It’s honestly ridiculous when I think about it, but it’s so fun to read. While Rand could break a planet, he could make one, so he falls second to number one on the list.
#1: Harmony, The Cosmere: Sure, anyone who follows my blog knows Sanderson is my favorite author. But I dare you to point out a character who has god-power X 2. The Cosmere surrounds sixteen shards of what was once a whole. Each single shardholder is known as a god in their system. Harmony has two. Even Sanderson has said flatly that Harmony is the most powerful shard-holder for this reason. 2-4 could probably end a world, but Harmony could create one if he wanted. Some may argue limitations here, but only one shardholder to my knowledge is actually limited. Two were limited for reasons explained in the books. But, as far as I know, Harmony could do whatever he wanted, and no one could stop him. At his most powerful, there isn’t a fantasy hero (or even many villains) I can think of who could stop him.
So there’s my list! What do you think? Who would you add to the list of “most powerful”? Who would you rank higher than my guys? Do you think I got my list wrong? I want to hear it folks!
As I’m not reading as quickly as I’d like, I don’t have a review for you all. That means I had to think about something on which I could discuss. I gave it some time, and as I was thinking about another project I’m taking on (super-secret, big possibilities), I started thinking about villains. I did a blog on villains a while back, but then I realized, I’m not actually a big fan of villains.
Don’t get me wrong, I like a good conflict, but stick with me. I went back and thought about my favorite books of all time. Only one of them has any arguable main villains.
Beowulf: One might argue this has villains, and it does. But Beowulf fights several. To my recollection (and I’ll admit it’s been a long while) none of them have very complex back stories. Oh, there’s some information, but ultimately, they’re either the fodder Beowulf cuts through or the thing that finally takes him down. Grendel is the most discussed, but he’s dispatched fairly quickly in the book.
What Men Live By, by Leo Tolstoy: I promise you, there was no bad guy.
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson: So here we come to the “yes there was a villain” argument. Look, Ruin was the main antagonist. But Vin takes him on, and that’s that. Ruin wasn’t a mortal. He was this larger than life force that Vin had to elevate herself to take on (and I think there’s something there).
Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson: Again, the Dark One was the overall threat. Some may argue Ishamael was the “villain” of that story, but I simply don’t see it that way.
The Dragon Riders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey: No villain. A threat, a lager than life threat, but no villain.
This led me to an assertion. Great Books Need Great Villains. I think not. These are my five favorite books of all time, and the reason I love them has nothing to do with the villains. Do I think a great villain can make a book great? Yes, but I don’t think they’re mandatory. It really dawned on me as I was thinking about who my favorite villains are. The fact of the matter is I don’t have any. I’m actively sitting here thinking about books and who the MC faces in each of them, and I can’t even name one. Comics are different in that regard, but comics are meant to run for years, so you need a cast of villains to change things up.
I’ve said this a bunch of times, give me proactive, sympathetic characters, and I’m probably going to love your story. I’m less invested as a reader to see if they’re proactive because they have to defeat evil or because they have to beat this one particular antagonist. That’s window dressing for me. Bob and Caught both have villains. I certainly hope they’re enjoyable villains, but I don’t mind a world where the heroes are the ones with whom my readers connect.
So this post, short but interesting, leads to a question. Where do you sit in relationship to villains? I understand the value of compelling villains. What I’m asking is do you only invest in stories that have a great villain? Compare your favorite books ever to this question. Tell me the villain of your favorite book or series. I’m honestly curious to know what you think.
On occasion, I’ll stand in front of my students and discuss the problems I’ve faced in writing or in the Navy. I’ll tell them about challenges with how I approach a story or how I deal with something when I struggle.
I look at these young men and women, hold my head up high, and say, “I cheat.”
If one looks around enough, they tend to see the same things happen over and again. I don’t get as angry when people say, “there are no original stories,” anymore. Oh, those who say that have poor english skills, but that’s because that’s not what they necessarily mean. Usually, they’re talking about plots. The originality should be the voice and vision of the author.
When I tell my students that I cheat, I wasn’t talking about violating the UCMJ or even academic standards. I was simply expressing that I make every effort to learn from others so I don’t make the same mistakes. That’s one of the reasons so many of my blogs focus on my mistakes. There are a lot of people trying to make their mark in the world, and I don’t want them falling for the same tricks I’ve fallen for. I don’t want them making the same mistakes I make.
I also like to take inspiration. One of my favorite things is to put stories in an imaginary blender and see what original concepts come out. I’m currently doing a read-through of an upcoming book, 1,200. The glimmer moment (idea) came from a story I was covering for the Navy. You see, there were (at that time) 1,200 homeless veterans in the city of San Diego. So I took that actual issue and ran with it. Remember that blender I told you about? One thing that always seems too convenient to me (though I do it, too) is the arrival of the Mentor or Impact Character. (Sometimes one man fills the same role.)
A little boy makes some glass disappear, and here comes a giant to explain the boy’s a wizard.
A farm boy buys some droids, and they just happen to belong to the man who can teach him about the Force.
There’s a million of them.
For the most part in my life, I’ve been blessed. I’ve had some amazing mentors in my life, but I’ve also had to figure a few things out on my own. So when I was brainstorming for 1,200, thinking about how to make this more interesting, I took away the mentor. What an original idea!
No it isn’t. I TOTALLY stole that from The Great American Hero. It’s about a guy who finds a super suit, but it doesn’t have any instructions. I’m not even going to lie. I applied an interesting concept in a different way. So when my main character (whose name is probably going to change) discovered his powers, he was on his own. This book is less dark than Caught, but still much darker than Journals. So I took a concept, and made it my own. I do it all the time. And even if the plot police shine a light in my face, I’ll tell them, “Yeah, I did it! And I’d do it again!”
Heck, I think about what I can steal all the time. I even steal from my day job. We teach our Sailors about host nation sensitivities and cultural concerns. The Navy takes great care to make sure its Sailors understand we’re representatives of our country and how to be good guests in all of the countries we visit. This is true even in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other nations we’ve operated in. The Navy knows it’s Sailors must be better people than those we’re there to protect others from. That means we have to train our Sailors in what to think about. I was about half-way through preparing that lesson plan a few years back when I realized it’s no different than what an author has to think about when worldbuilding. Academic concerns lead me to hold back the majority of the list, but a few include cultural values and religion. I’ve even mentored a few Sailors who want to be authors on this concept.
I steal from other authors. I do not plagiarize. If a magic system does something interesting, I file it away in my mental file cabinet. The concept to New Utopia was heavily inspired by Valley of the Wind. The trick is more about how you apply it.
As I sit and look at 1,200, there’s a LOT of work I have to do. I’m glad the Brown Pipers are enjoying it, but I still think there are some genuine issues to work out. (If you remember my blog on discover writing, 1,200 is one of the last two books I wrote by discovery writing. Sure, I had some idea where I was going, but I didn’t outline at all.) But the concept is working pretty well.
There are video blogs out there who explain a lot of your all-time favorite movies and songs are, in fact, not the original tales you thought they were.
What do I steal?
Parts of a concept: I may not take the entire premise, but I do look for an element that fascinates me.
Fantasy elements: I was going to say I steal magic systems, and I steal those, but then I realized I steal pretty much any ONE aspect of fantasy element if the mood suits me.
Entire plot lines: Valley of the Wind inspired New Utopia, but New Utopia is built around a few separate issues. Though others do this (and it’s not illegal or unethical), I don’t. I don’t because I’d be too tempted to draw more and more from the source of said inspiration. For instance, I borrowed the concept of the magic system in New Utopia from Mistborn. It’s different enough, but I keep a very stern hold of myself. I only take small parts.
Let’s talk about blending again. I mentioned it above, and this is something I do in pretty much every stage of life and writing. I steal all of these great things, and then I take them all apart and put them back together like a Lego hodgepodge creation of my very own. I don’t actually know where I got the technique from, but I haven’t seen anyone who approaches it quite that way. So maybe that’s the one original thing I bring. I’m not saying I’m the only one who steals, I’m just saying that’s my particular twist on burglary. If you do it the same way, let me know.
I was jumping around the Blogverse (if that’s not already a common term I’m trademarking it) and found J.R. Handley’s blog about Villains. That got me to thinking about the “types” of villains.
This isn’t to be confused with conflict, which Quintessential Editor covered so well in this blog. Villains are a source of conflict, but I’m talking specifically about the different types of villains you see in stories.
Both have a lot of great information, and they break villains down to a very fine degree.
However, I tend to like things kept simple. Things can be broken down into micro-categories, and one should work to do so. But where the above blogs give you the micro, I thought I’d attempt to offer the major categories of villains. The distinctions I give them are out of my own mind, but may overlap. My goal is to create a smaller list of “broad” terms to describe whatever villain you might be creating. That list can be broken down into either of the lists I mentioned above.
So here we go:
The deity villain: This isn’t a post about religion. That said, this type of villain deals with any deity be they good, bad, or man-like (the Greek gods were very petty). Any “god-like” or “devil” like character would fall under this category.
This villain has what seems to be absolute power. This villain rarely acts directly. He/she has agents who do his/her bidding. The final conflict between the hero and deity villain don’t always end in direct conflict, but they can.
Stories from this point of view often have a “helper” deity. This usually gives the hero (if he isn’t a god or demigod himself) the required power to delete this evil, thus preventing Deus Ex Machina. Now, some stories have many different villains (the Greek gods were dastardly in some regards, but they weren’t the “main” opponents, just meddlers that made life more complicated for hero and villain alike). But stories that focus on this villain as a source of conflict are go-to Scifi and Fantasy villains.
Case Study: The Mistborn Trilogy (1st era). I was going to analyze this more deeply, but it’s just a great series, and if you haven’t read it, I don’t want to spoil it for you. This trilogy meets all the criteria I mentioned above.
Case Study: Lord of the Rings. As I mentioned above, the hero and deity villain don’t have to face off directly.
2) The inversive villain: I did a blog about symbiotic villains recently. These guys all fall under that category. The sole requirement in this type of villain is that the villain is the equal opposite of the hero. I did plenty of case studies for this in the blog I just mentioned, but I do want to elaborate a point.
It doesn’t matter how powerful or weak the character is. What matters is the qualities the hero shares are manipulated and skewed through the perception of the villain. Some inversive villains are equally as powerful as the hero, while others are comparatively weaker. This depends on how much the hero’s “power” defines him. Whatever defines the hero also defines the villain, it is the stance on the issue or the application of those defining traits that make the conflict between these villains and their heroes so compelling.
3) The betrayed villain: A point of emphasis. Here, the point is betrayal is the nature of this villain. It doesn’t matter if it’s the villain who betrayed or was betrayed. If the cause of this characters negative actions are a direct result of a foreseen “slight” you have a betrayed villain. Betrayal is a key theme in this conflict and to this character. This villain rises due to a wedge driven between he and the hero. They were friends or family at some point. Don’t be tempted to throw Magneto in this. Magneto and Charles still care about each other. Neither feels betrayed and they, in fact, often protect each other from perceived “greater” threats. No, Magneto belongs in the inversive villain category.
Case Study: Iago (my favorite villain of all time). Iago felt betrayed. The reason for his actions revolve around a promotion he felt he deserved but was instead slighted. He was able to pull off his plan because of the trust he still feigned through the play.
This is a common theme in this sort of villain. , but it isn’t mandated. In fact, sometimes a betrayed villain is born, and the hero knowingly creates him. The point is, this villain’s motivation and reason for dastardly deeds is based on a sense of betrayal. I thought about this topic a long time, and couldn’t readily think of a “main” villain of this type in Fantasy or Science Fiction. So if anyone here more well read than I am knows of a scifi/fantasy villain who falls in this category, please say so in the comments below.
4) The pure evil villain: These are the guys my generation grew up loving to hate. These villains are very common in cartoons. Pick an 80’s cartoon, look at the villain. These guys are falling out of style these days because their motivations are harder to believe. These are the guys who simply exist to be bad. They have no motivation nor cause for their evil deeds. Any villain who is bad, but there’s no identifiable cause of that evil falls into this category.
I’m not so against this type of villain, but my editor and many bloggers talk about them, and most say these types of villains are unsatisfying. That doesn’t stop Hollywood from cranking out villains who fall under this category, but there’s a reason for that. TV and Movie fans have a lesser expectation of depth. Unless you’re sitting down for a 30-minute cartoon, the viewer doesn’t tend to care “why” the villain is doing what he’s doing. To shift your villains out of this category, give him a motivation the reader can identify. I’m personally NOT going to make it a requirement that the reader empathize, but some would argue the requirement. I absolutely agree the reader/viewer must understand a character’s motivation to be promoted out to this category, but I don’t think the reader has to agree or empathize with it.
5) The cause villain: If all you do is give your “pure” evil villain a “cause” this is what you’d get. Here is a villain who has a “reason” for what he’s doing, but that reason can vary. It doesn’t matter here if the reader agrees with the cause. What matters is the reader understands it.
Case Study: Grand Admiral Thrawn from Star Wars. He wanted order in the Galaxy. He did some awful stuff to see that order delivered, but he did it. For fans of the series, I have a question you can debate in the comments below.
I was going to create a new category for the power-hungry villain, (which might be where Palpatine goes) but it doesn’t matter that the cause is “more power.” If the villain has a cause, he’s a cause villain. This is the villain whose primary motivation is the accumulation of (or of more) power. That means this is where those evil emperors/kings fall under too. He’d be pretty easy to get a long with if the world would just do what he says and give him what he wants. You may argue Palpatine goes here, but I’m less convinced. Yes, he wants to rule the galaxy, and that might be the point that wins the argument for you, but did he develop that want for a reason? This is what creates the power-hungry villain subcategory of a cause villain from a power-hungry villain. If the villain’s cause is more power, you’ll see this (specific) version of a cause villain.
Case Study: Sylar from Heroes. His whole purpose is the accumulation of abilities. He still has a cause, but that cause is specifically related to power. Yes, Palpatine and Sylar are cause villains, but their motivations might differ. I’m not wholly bought in on the idea that Palpatine simply wanted “more power.” I’d be very interested to see a debate on the subject in the comments below.
So there it is. I’m pretty confident I could set any villain in one of the five categories above. The subcategories (power-hungry being so important I felt I had to at least address it) are more about plot and conflict than the motivation for the characters. Do you have a villain I can’t throw in one of these categories? If so, what category would you give them? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
As I write this, I’m stricken by a loss the world suffered. I won’t discuss it other than to mention the role that women can play in stories. I was basically raised in a house full of women. I had a few brothers that stayed with me on occasion, but the ratio in my house was always at least 2:1.
My mom raised me by herself for five years, and during those five years, I wasn’t very helpful to her. Because I know how strong the women in my life are, I look for female characters who are strong. There are different types of strength, and I’ll get to those, but for me, I hate any story that portrays a woman as anything other than a character who happens to be female. (For the record, I feel this way about religion, color, and ethnicity as well. Stories about race issues or religious issues are important, I’ll even write a few.) There’s a difference between a book about (in this case) women’s issues and a book that simply thinks women need men to exist.
There’s the Bechdel Test. But this only ensures the women have something to talk about. It’s a good test to put your characters through to prevent the issue I’m discussing, but I have a different challenge.
Develop your character. Determine everything you want to determine, then flip a coin to determine gender. Gender has a role in character. Men react differently in certain situations than women, but I’ve found that some stereotypes are mitigated when gender was determined after archetype and function in a story.
There are some amazing female characters in the world. Some that come to mind right away:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Who I may want to argue is the greatest female character of all time).
Egwene al’Vere from The Wheel of Time
Vin from Mistborn (Who may give Buffy a run for her money, but I’d still argue Buffy would win…okay…I’ll have to post a blog about that in the future).
Lessa from Dragonriders of Pern.
I could go on, but I just wanted to throw out a few things to consider.
The Bechdel Test has its limits both good and bad. Imagine a book about a woman who’s an assassin. She goes through the whole book killing bad guys and just being awesome. I’d probably love this book, but it fails the Bechdel test. There’s not even a second woman for the first to talk to.
My adaptation to this is that if you have women (or a woman) in the story, make them characters. You’ll never make everyone happy, but the first thing to do to ensure you have (we’ll call them) non-weak women in your story is to give them a role in said story.
The Next step is then to give them strength. Now, all of the above characters are extremes. They’re LITERALLY strong women. They could kill people, but that’s not the only type of strength. It is one way. And if you’re working on an action fantasy story, ask yourself, “Is the only reason this character isn’t a girl because I’m a guy?” But if you’re writing science fiction and there isn’t a “magic system” of sorts, don’t worry. Other ways to make those characters strong exist.
The Mentor Archetype: I’ve recently given Supergirl a second chance. I’m glad I did. That show’s pilot was still one of the worst I’ve ever seen, and I have issues with some of the on-the-nose “cause” plots. But I submit to you this:
The strongest female character in that show is Cat Grant.
Supergirl (Kara) has all these powers, but notice how heavily she relies on every other character in the show (particularly Cat) to move forward in the plot. In fact, the only time she’s “strong” is when she’s fighting. (Yes, that’s a pretty mean thing to say, but I watched the first season, and that’s true). Now, Kara has her moments. She finds out who’s responsible for a certain death, and that scene is amazingly strong. She’s not weak, I’m just saying Cat is far stronger as a character.
Cat is who the women on that show want to be. Cat is who everyone turns to for advice. Cat is the one who gets people moving. They still deal with a lot of issues, but they’re issues that are unique to her character, not her gender.
Writers, it’s fine to make women “super” but that doesn’t actually make them strong. Strength, in my opinion, isn’t a measure of power. Power, is a measurement of physical capability. It’s my opinion that strength is demonstrated when one’s power is lacking, but one finds a way to succeed regardless. So don’t think “give them superpowers” is the answer. Instead, give them a role in the plot that isn’t “love interest.”
Cat is the mentor in this scenario.
Other non-super, but still strong, female characters include:
Cindy Thomas (from The Women’s Murder Club series)
Karrin Murphy (A great character study in and of herself)
Stormy Llewellyn (from Odd Thomas)
My point is that character should be strong regardless of their attributes. I’ve posted blogs about developing characters and evaluating their progress. In light of recent events though I felt this post might be particularly effective. No, I didn’t mention that character or the woman who played her. She, quite frankly, requires no mention. She altered generations.
Spolier Free Summary: The Bands of Mourningis the third of four planned novels in the second era of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. Wax is still dealing with a loss when he’s sent on a new mission to discover if the legendary Bands of Mourning are real. The Bands of Mourning are rumored to be the Lord Ruler’s bracers. Wax and his crew take off to find the Feruchemical artifacts that would possibly allow the wearer to hold all of the Lord Ruler’s power.
Character: Say what you want about the series as a whole, I’d argue those who don’t speak highly of it are mostly those who don’t want to let the characters from the first era go. Wax and Wayne are more than enough for this book, and they’re only the main characters. Sanderson’s always done a fantastic job of making every character feel well placed in fiction. They all have roles and identities. These characters are reminiscent of Holmes and Watson. In this case, Wax is so compelling, he truly develops into one of the better characters of the entire series. For those of you who just want to see some members of the old cast, fear not, there are cameos.
Exposition: Sanderson does a lot well, which obviously helps him be as successful as he is. In a world as deep and rich as Scadrial, it’s hard to imagine how Sanderson gave us all the information we needed without page-long paragraphs of data dumping. He still manages though.
Worldbuilding: This is without a doubt Sanderson’s sharpest tool. I’m a bigger fan of Scadrial than I am any other Cosmere planets. There so much going on, and every turn is equal parts suspenseful and fantastic. The magic system is wonderfully intricate without chunks of text thrown in the reader’s face. Readers should pick up this series (let alone this book) just to see how someone can keep three magic systems, more than a century of history, and two mysteries together. Add to that how he’s expanding the world with short stories and inserted newspapers. Everything builds to the scope of this planet.
Dialogue: Every time Wax and Wayne get to talking, they steal the show. They’re just so charming. For my money though, the best dialogue is at the end of the book. There are two separate conversations at the end that are so powerful because of their content and pacing.
Description: I’ve always felt that Sanderson was the perfect compromise between no description and over description. He does a fantastic job of letting us see what we see in a way that’s natural. It’s honestly been a while since I’ve finished the book, but I can still see every character with relative ease.
Overall: Mistborn fascinates me because it continues to evolve, but with Shadows and Bands, these characters have come into their own. It’s the best book of the second era so far. It has the right blend of mystery, action, and drama.
My first post on this website was one where I discussed books I felt would make a great Cinematic Universes. I was elated a few weeks ago when I learned that DMG Entertainment made a licensing and film deal for Brandon Sanderson’s Comere Universe. Here’s a link to TOR’s announcement.
The team has already selected screenwriters for The Way of Kings. It also appears as if The Final Empire is on the horizon.
First off, I’m totally geeked out about it. I didn’t just select this book because I thought it’d make a good universe; I selected it because I WANT to see these movies. If I ruled the world, I’d rather see the Mistborn movies first, but I trust Sanderson as a creator. He wouldn’t just hand his work to anyone for any reason. Everything this man does is done with purpose and the desire to tell the best story possible.
So that’s it for today. I just wanted to be a smug SOB for a moment and celebrate the news. No, I don’t think my blog had anything to do with it, but it doesn’t devalue the idea.
So now that we know what movie is coming up first, any dream casting? Who would you cast as Kalidin or Syl? Do you think they made the right call going with Stormlight first?
So I often talk about a lot of books and things of that note, but a few people have asked me about my favorites, and I thought now was as good a time as any to share a few with you. I’m probably already talked about these in one way or another, but I think it’s a good idea to have them all in one spot. After considering my options, I’ve decided to give you my top five, because everyone likes a good countdown. These are my all-time favorite. They are books I’ve read more than once simply because I love them.
Note: I talk a lot about a lot of writers, and they’re all amazing. This is my top five ever. These are the books that I’d drag out of a burning building (and that’s saying something since we’re actually talking about 28 books in reality). This isn’t to say I don’t like others. I even love some. But these are the ones I love most.
5) Beowulf: Probably the first book I was ever made to read in school that made me realize that books existed that I actually liked. There’s a lot here in this story. Beowulf is probably why I’m drawn to the types of characters to which I’m drawn. I created a role playing character named in his honor.
4)What Men Live By, by Leo Tolstoy: This is actually a short story, but any anthology of his work that includes this story is something I’ll read more than once. I’m a huge fan of Tolstoy. I usually find a way to weave him into my books, (including The Journals of Bob Drifter). This story strikes a lot of chords with me, and is actually a very good case study for character and foreshadowing. The message of this book is what drew me in. I’ve loved it since the first day I read it.
3) Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson: I’ll confess. I read this because I learned that Sanderson was finishing the Wheel of Time (see below). I wanted to get to know him so I would just judge him on what he “didn’t do that I thought Jordan WOULD do.” So I read his blog when he spoke about Jordan’s passing. That alone helped me see what a good man he was. Then I read Mistborn. Game over! He’s the best in the business. He’s a brilliant writer and an amazing individual in the community of authors. On my list of “writers whom I drop what I’m reading for,” he’s number one.
2) The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan: I’ve read this series no less than eight times. It’s a huge story with so many wonderful characters. I actually think readers are VERY polarized with Jordan and his work, but I love the series and can’t wait to see it in live action if it ever actually happens.
1) The Dragon Riders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey: This has been my favorite series for decades. I fell in love with Ruth. I love the Master Harper. It’s one of a few books I freely confess to openly weeping over while reading. It’s so beautiful and touching. The drama between characters just pulls in the reader. The covers are simply amazing. Every time someone asks, “If I want good fantasy, where do I start reading?” This is my answer.
So this is short and sweet, but I thought I’d share. I’ll probably drop a few more favorite five every now and then. What are your favorite five stories of all time? Post in the comments below. I’m always looking for books to add to my TBR list.
Under my new book review format, I talk about how much I enjoy characters. That got me thinking about character sympathy, why it’s important and how to manipulate the reader’s sympathy for a character.
One reference for how to adjust sympathy is Writing Excuses. They’re more successful than I am, and they’re also better at this than I am. The linked podcast addresses the how. They reference another podcast that explains why you don’t have to have sympathetic characters. That’s true. There are reasons to have unsympathetic characters, but I’m not a fan of them. They exist in The Journals of Bob Drifter, but that doesn’t mean I was overly happy about their existence, only aware of their necessity.
What is a sympathetic character. There are a few differing opinions, but I’m going to selfishly hover in my realm of opinions. While some feel sympathetic characters are those readers feel sad for, I don’t necessarily leave it at that. When I talk about sympathetic characters, I’m speaking specifically on characters readers have a strong emotional response to. A character my readers hate (if that’s what I wanted them to feel) is every bit as important as a character my readers love. When I get feedback from beta readers, my worst fear is I’ll ask, “what did you think about Character X?” and the readers will respond with, “Who?” That’s a much bigger problem to me.
One of my betas for Journals hates Richard. When she told me why, I smiled, and said, “Sorry, but that’s exactly what I wanted you to feel.” The degree to which readers hate Richard is one thing, but if they hate him for the same reason my beta hated him, I did my job right. Characters can’t be completely rage worthy any more than they can be completely sympathetic. The masters (who in my opinion are George R.R. Martin and Peter V. Brett) can make you hate a character and then a book later, make you at least understand them. This particular ability allows you to have an extra arch with your characters.
A great example for how to do this? Believe it or not, the WWE. I haven’t watched wrestling in years, but think about it. Shawn Michaels went from hero to villain to hero to goof to hero and all the way around again. Readers look for growth in character, and that’s another term that might be misleading. Sometimes failure tests a character’s metal, and it’s okay for that character to regress. Why?
Now we come to the main purpose of this particular blog. We’re all human. Just on the drive to my brother’s house we talked about what it is to be human. I don’t think people are good or bad. I think they’re people. Sometimes they do good things, sometimes they do horrible things. I know I have. So the most realistic characters react to their environment. I have a few characters who don’t change. I like those characters. I like those who no matter the test, they alway pass. I like the other characters too. I think House, M.D. was a great example here. What kept me watching that show was the thought that, “Maybe this episode, he’ll do the decent thing.” Nope. Never did. It’s the same trick Charlie Brown kept falling for. He’ll never kick the ball and House will never be a compassionate person. (You can argue the end of that series with me in the comments if you want.)
Those characters are unique, but they can get boring quickly. I’ve failed in my life, so I look for characters who have flaws, but are generally decent folk. One of the more common compliments I get for Journals is Bob. He’s a good, white-hat, guy. He has his slumps, but he’s consistently kind and compassionate, and that makes him sympathetic when he’s faced with tragedy. Others don’t like him because he’s too nice. I think the world is just about done with antiheroes, then again, maybe not. I think it’s an archetype like any other. Use tools for a reason.
You don’t need a raging alcoholic day-care sitter any more than you need an incredibly pious prostitute. That sort of extreme can seem forced and/or contrived. Strive instead for people who feel real. All my favorite books have at least one character I genuinely feel some connection too. It’s the part of me I see in those characters that makes me want to see what happens to them. I think this is something to strive for in writing.
That makes me want to close with a few (in no particular order) characters I found very sympathetic. They area also some of my favorite characters in fiction. They are:
Perrin Aybara from Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.
All of these characters have great emotional range. Sometimes, they do things that make me proud, other times, I’m angry with them for how they handle a situation. I could have gone on, but I just wanted to give you all a few characters I felt have the qualities I look for when I’m reading. You can feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
In summary: A sympathetic character is someone the reader feels something for. They should be realistic by sometimes failing tests of character. They can be “bad” or “good” as a whole, but no one is all of any one thing. (except for a few carefully chosen characters, which I feel need to be offset by other members in the cast.)
I hope this gives you some insight into what I shoot for when I write. If you think you’ve found something I missed, or you just have a good resource to share, let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading,