I am ashamed that, as a self-proclaimed fantasy fiction fan, and a writer of the same, I came so late to The Wheel of Time series. I picked up The Eye of the World about three years ago, anxious to learn whatever I could about what made the series so successful and what had driven so many people to obsess over the world Robert Jordan had created. Perhaps, I thought in my simplistic scribbler’s mind, I can find some sort of magic bullet that will help me achieve a similar level of success.

What I found, however, was far more valuable than any shortcut. Beyond anything I learned as a writer from the adventures of Rand al’Thor and his friends, I was captivated by Jordan’s mastery of the genre, his striking detail and his brilliant characterization. Rather than taking notes on the structure of the story or his use of modern themes, I was swept away by the sheer force of Jordan’s storytelling. Instead of dissecting the tale to see how its parts fit together, I sat in wonder at the whole, too awestruck by the narrative machine to even consider how it worked.

I have read one book in each of the last three years and am still planning to pick up the fourth from my local library as soon as I’m ready to take it on. A great deal of fantasy fiction is like fast food–it satisfies for the short term, but leaves the consumer longing for something more, something substantial. In The Wheel of Time, each book is a feast of the imagination, a seven-course meal of unrivaled description and sublime dialogue that leaves the reader full and sated. Each turn of the wheel, like any exquisite culinary masterpiece, requires time for digestion, which explains why I have only read one per year. It is possible to be overwhelmed by Jordan’s prose and creativity, to almost be intimidated by the ferocity of his voice. Still, regardless of the time in between turns for the individual reader, the story’s resonance is such that at any point I could pick up the next volume and know exactly where I left off.

Ranking the most influential fantasy authors of all time would produce very few names, if any, before Robert Jordan. Along with Tolkien, Lewis, and, now to some degree, Rowling, he helped define, not the boundaries that ruled fantasy fiction, but the idea that no boundaries existed, that all was possible. Drawing from his life experiences and his expansive personal knowledge, Jordan created a world that the reader experiences with all the senses, a setting so real that reality itself disperses in its wake. One does not simply read Jordan’s work, one lives it.

The true tragedy of Robert Jordan’s passing comes not from the loss his devoted fans will feel, but from his being robbed of the opportunity to complete his life’s work, to bring the Wheel through its final turn. According to the sources I have seen in the media, the last book in the series, tentatively titled A Memory of Light, will be completed by his family and published. While this will bring grateful closure to the many fans of the series, the moment will be bittersweet as Mr. Jordan will not be here to experience it with us or to hear our praise.

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. This passage began the series that so many of us have come to love. Again, the Wheel has turned and an Age has passed with the death of Robert Jordan. To fantasy fiction, to our hearts and minds, he is a legend, but now that legend has become memory.

Mr. Jordan, you are missed.

 

 Now that the manuscript for my second novel is finished and waiting for me to dress it up, I have time to think about writing from the forest standpoint before I venture back into the trees. I already know of several changes I want to make–scenes I want to add, description that I need to tighten up, a character that I need to introduce earlier in the story–and I look forward to rediscovering my own book. After a well-deserved break, jumping back into my story will be an often exhilarating, sometimes embarrassing, experience. I am certain there will be be parts that make me groan with disbelief over my own ineptitude, but I hope there will be more passages that strike me as more poetic than they did when I first set them down.

Over my past few days of idleness, I’ve reflected on the process that I take in composing a novel. I come from a background in retail management where I am always looking for new, more efficient ways of making a profit for my store while controlling expenses. That same exercise holds true for my writing–I continuously look for new ways to produce a cleaner manuscript, avoid repetition, and provide myself with less work during the rewrite. Now, I look back over the past few months I’ve spent on my first draft and try to pick out all the things I could have done differently. Thankfully, I see few areas of opportunity than I did after finishing my first novel, an abandoned (for now) fantasy novel that will rest quietly on my hard drive until I am famous enough to get it published.

One thing I have learned about myself as a writer is that my ideas tend to come in the same general pattern. With both my finished novels, my ideas arrived in two parts–the beginning and the end. I could see how each story would begin, imagining the first scene down to the dialogue, and how each would end. The hard part, I have found, is building the middle to link the ends together. It’s like walking along a rope bridge suspended over a raging river–full of uncertainty and only safe on either shore. When I reached the final scene in my recently completed manuscript, the words poured out of me like the waters of that river, so thankful was I to be at the end. That scene, conceived at the very genesis of the story, waited in limbo while I tread one step at a time across the bridge, not looking down.

Now that I am on a semi-hiatus (I am piddling around with a piece of fan fiction just to satisfy my own needs), I have begun thinking of what story I want to tell next. I have several candidates–a science/historical fiction piece, a thriller, and a magical realism novel are leading the pack–and in each case I have the beginning and the end already figured out. I look forward to telling each one and the many more I’ve thought about over the years, but I know when I’m beyond my stretch of shore and over the rushing water, navigating along that precarious bridge, that the real work begins.

However, that’s also when the magic begins. While writing the first and last scenes gives me a certain level of satisfaction, mostly from the act of just getting them down on disk instead of floating around in my head, that joy pales in comparison to the act of writing something that surprises even me while I’m creating it. Even finishing the work does not match the perfectly worded phrase, the particularly poignant dialogue, or the resonant simile as it springs from nothingness, flows out through my hands, and arrives neat and whole on my computer screen. Of all the feelings I have experience as a writer so far, this is the best.

Three nights ago, I finished the first draft of my second novel. Writing “The End” beneath the last paragraph brought an end to approximately four months of almost-nightly labor. At around 65k words, it is almost half the size of my first attempt at writing a novel, but I also think it is much better than my first. A big story in a small package.

Now, the hard part begins.

When I finished my first novel, I did as I was instructed by many experts in the publishing industry and let it sit for a few weeks before I dove back in to start the editing process. Halfway through editing, my computer died and, in my foolishness, I had not made a backup of the revised work. The rough draft rests peacefully on my new computer, likely to never see the light of day. Like a summer romance, my first novel was a great relationship while it lasted, but there was never anything permanent, nothing to stick with for the long haul. I’ve fallen out of love with it and in love with my new project.

When editing begins on the new story, I already have several things I want to change. My writing process consists of getting everything down in the first draft, then closing any gaps during the rewrite. There were times, fewer with this novel than the last, when I knew as I was writing that I would have to revisit the passages, even as they appeared on my computer screen, would have to go back and clarify what I was trying to say or find a better way to describe what was happening. There were also times, more with this work, that I looked at what I had written with the kind of pride that only comes when you surpass what you believed to be your limits. These lines, whether for their poetry or their wit, make the process of writing seem less like work and more like what it is–an act of passion.

Now, the job turns from basic construction to making every line feel special. All the awkward transition, the phony-sounding dialogue, the ham-handed descriptions, have to go in order to achieve a manuscript that I will be proud to submit to agents and publishers. In On Writing, Stephen King describes himself as a “putter-inner,” someone who adds more detail than is needed to story, then must cut it out to achieve the resonance he is looking for. I, on the other hand, am a “leaver-outter.” There are several scenes that I need to go back and add to better explain what is going on, including one that bears directly on the climax where I added a critical character I had neglected to place earlier in the story.

However, editing is a dangerous thing. The temptation comes from wanting to add too much, from not knowing when you have done enough and not giving in to the urge to over explain. When I write, I tend to be a bit “alpha-omega” in my basic design. I know how to start and how to finish the story, but getting from the former to the latter is a difficult road that often comes out half-formed on the page. In these cases, I realize even during the act of composition that I will have to go back and add scenes. I suppose that I could go back and make the changes as soon as I realize they are needed, but I’m scared of interrupting the narrative flow I’m counting on to get me to the end of the story.

In the meantime, you must also part with as much of the story as necessary, an act of addition by subtraction. This process is similar to a game of Jenga. In this popular game, the object is to remove wooden blocks from a tower constructed of them without knocking over the whole. The first draft is building the tower, stacking the blocks as quickly and as efficiently as possible in order to play the game. Editing is removing the blocks. Like in Jenga, you want to take out as much as possible without toppling the tower. Every word takes up valuable space in your manuscript and every last adjective, adverb, and prepositional phrase must pay for itself in the balance sheet of your story. Nothing extraneous must be allowed to remain.

That is the advantage of the first draft. When you finish, you can look back and see all the holes in your story, all the mistakes in the design, all the places that do not shine.

I’m looking forward to editing my book. As happy as I am with the rough draft, I do accept that it is just that–rough. There are elements that I want to add, places where I need to add, places I need to subtract. There are true groaners that, under closer scrutiny, will seem like pure ineptitude. Still, I accept the challenges these present. I accept the chance to shine.