Lightbringer Series: Plot Examination, Part 1

I just “finished” a series, called the Lightbringer Series by Brent Weeks. “Finished” because I just completed reading the third book in the series; “finished” because the series isn’t yet done but won’t release another book until next year.

Overall, I like it. The originality is great. The complexity is great. And although the book is based on a foundation of lies and deceit, the reader isn’t shocked with a slap-in-the-face discovery but led through a plot that makes sense even as it astounds.

Because these books were gargantuan – each one over 700 pages – I would like to back track to review the plot. Because each of these books holds multiple POV’s, I want to pose the question: is each one necessary?

Basically, do they support the plot?

The foundation of this story is based on Seven Satrapies – seven countries who follow a religion that honors a single god, Orholam. In their legends, Orholam created mankind, also called the old gods, from light. And one of those original men stole the light, who is called the Lightbearer. He split the light into multiple colors and used it to create more men, human ones in his own image. The plot that follows in this series is many times later, where civilization has expanded to include certain beliefs and customs, where Orholam acts through the Prism to ‘chain’ the light. The main idea of these customs include that the people follow the Prism as their religious leader, and although his power is mitigated by the Spectrum (a sort of congress with each country/color represented by a different leader), the Prism is the one the people look to for guidance. Because he can balance the colors in the land, honoring color stability, most of the country looks to him for peace. (Weeks 478-479, The Broken Eye).

As further background, when light was split into multiple colors, this included paryl (similar to microwaves), sub-red (similar to infrared), red, orange, yellow, green, blue, superviolet, and chi (similar to x-rays), including two more “colors” called black (absence of light) and white (all colors combined). The idea is that, while most people of the land are normal ‘humans,’ others have the power to absorb one color and transform it into luxin – a colored substance that can form solid objects. For example, someone with blue powers can draft a blue sword by looking at a blue sky and absorbing it through their eyes into their skin. This power carries restrictions since each color has its own weight, tactility, scent, personality-influences, emotional-influences, and purposes. Some people can also draft more than one color, called bichromes (for 2 colors) or polychromes (for 3+). 

Also to note in Orholam’s beliefs, the legends say there will come a man named the Lightbringer – a man who “will slay or has slain gods and kings…is a genius of magic, a warrior who will sweep, or has swept, all before him, a champion of the poor and downtrodden, great from his youth, He Who Shatters” (Weeks 772, The Broken Eye). Basically, he’s a rescuer of the people, but the people have not agreed whether he has come already, is here now, or will come in the future.

SPOILERS!

This brings us to current day, where the current Prism “Gavin” has secretly replaced his brother, “Dazen,” during the Prism War over a decade ago. He is one of the main characters that the books revolve around, being that he plays a strong hand within the fate of the countries politically, religiously, socially…in every sense. He influences everything.

Because his importance is ingrained within the foundation of this society, he is a necessary character. Not only that, but through his simple lie – of changing places with his similar-looking older brother – he has changed the natural course of the Prism’s customs and his relationships with family and friends, none of whom know about his deception. Because Gavin has lasted for such a long time (16 years), with most Prisms not lasting beyond 7,14, or 21 years, he thinks he will last 5 more (13, The Black Prism). As such, he promises himself to fulfill five great purposes within that time. All these hopes fall apart when he reads a note, “I’m dying, Gavin. It’s time you meet your son Kip. – Lina” (13).

Who is this son of his? And is it truly his or his brother’s?

From this preliminary discussion, I think this was great perspective for the story, and by giving him depth, where he was interwoven in the land’s religious history, recent political history from the Prism War, and still has complex lies/deception within the lands current politics, his influence echoes throughout the series.

He is a great addition, and through a deep character study, new writers can learn a lot from him.

Weeks, Brent. The Black Prism. New York, NY: Orbit, 2010. Print.

Weeks, Brent. The Broken Eye. New York, NY: Orbit, 2014. Print.

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Seven’s Movie Sins

So I normally try to analyze books, but I know I’ve thrown in a few video games. I haven’t done a movie but that’s because I can’t stand sitting still to watch a visualized book. That’s just my opinion; you don’t have to share it. My attention span is pretty weak so that helps contribute.

But the other day, someone passed along a movie with high held regards, and I had somewhat high expectations. All the reviews online said 9 out of 10. 8 out of 10. And I’m thinking, movies are never that well rated. This must be good.

And then I watched it.

My interpretation of Seven is it’s supposed to be a neo-noir crime film. About a senior detective who wants to retire and a sidekick who just joined the force, the two try to solve a series of murders before more people die.

Unfortunately, by following the motif of the seven deadly sins, it’s a little predictable. Even while the ending is as BAM as everyone promised, I thought it was a little gimmicky for reasons I’ll explain.

First of all, the characters didn’t get their well deserved back story. I say it like this because I think stories were alluded to, but never described in detail. Yes, I know there were some in here. But did we actually concretely find out where mister assistant detective came from and why? Why did he not take his wife’s consideration before they moved? She was an elementary teacher. He had to have known it was hard on her.

And then the fact she practically got no screen time. Her pieces of the story were randomly inserted, where she said her piece and that’s it. You don’t hear too much of their marriage falling apart or struggling.

I’m simply a character person and it wasn’t as complicated as I liked. Not too mention senior detective always solved the riddles. You got evidence that assistant was smart when he found the same books, but he never did anything besides kicking down the door. Freeman always said what had happened. Not to mention they never solved the crime, and the killer handed himself in.

That I liked.

But that ending.

So the killer is envy and Pitt is wrath? I mean why did the killer go after Pitt’s wife? So far, the people are random. You never see a hint of before this. He was never envy. And why kill her? Doesn’t it break his killing pattern? It’s always been for a sin.

I think the plot is fine. Its definitely captivating and interesting to watch, even if there are things left unexplained. But I have trouble calling a movie amazing if the characters are left so under developed. Besides their current problems, we don’t hear too much history or see too many complex decisions. Most of the plot was handed to them, hence passive characters, which reflects back to my earlier ‘essay’.

Coincidence? I think YES

As I mentioned earlier, a good friend of mine wrote Xodus, and I’m really proud of her. Having taken two years to get through writing and edits, I’m impressed with her level of dedication. Of course, since we’re two different people, there’s things we agree/disagree on.

One of the things I’m not a fan of is coincidences:

The two spoke, and the man glanced over his shoulder in my direction. Though wide sunglasses covered the top half of his face, I caught a glimpse of his left cheek. It was marred with a terrifyingly familiar scar. (McPike 42)

When I read this, I was pretty upset. This was awfully a large coincidence, like a slap in a face to be worrying about this man and then to see him in the hallway in the school. I mean, seriously, what is he doing here? He doesn’t seem like a parent. We saw him earlier playing with guns, so what the heck is he doing at school with a child?

This was huge! And although I realize, if it’s probably this BIG of a coincidence, it’s probably on purpose, I’m more worried about how gimmicky it seems. I’m worried about the story, not the character. This feels awfully forced, almost ridiculous to insert him into the school when he doesn’t seem to belong.

But the catch to fix this feeling is what follows:

Questions swirled around me like a cyclone, their force enough to make me sway on my feet. He was following me – that much I knew. But why? Did he know what was happening to me? Did he know I’d seen him attack that woman last night? He must’ve hired Kai to pose as a student and keep tabs on me. Why else would he have glanced back in my direction while they were talking. (43)

For something like this, where the author wanted to equalize Kai with her nightmare, position him in a place of distrust, she had to stage this situation, and although gimmicky, it was corrected by having her character call it out.

And for this situation, it fixed that feeling immediately. Having the character’s notice the craziness of the situation, having Lali explain the wonk-factor for it…it fixed everything. She let the character reflect on the situation, and I definitely think it fixed that off-feeling I felt.

Let this be a lesson: If you have to pull something coincidental or something of similar feeling, have the character call it out. Having them recognize it as a crazy situation fixes most gimmicky feelings the reader may have.

McPike, KJ. Xodus. Seattle, WA: Fuzzy Hedgehog Press, 2015. Print.

Reminder: Recall and Remember

I’ve been noticing this more with books lately, but upkeeping your character’s train of thought is a good thing. For instance, the two books I just finished, they mention the character’s thoughts, reminding the reader what they’re thinking every number of pages or so.

I find this is good because it reminds the main character – this is happening. It reminds the reader, this is what we’re concerned with, and it helps explains actions/reasoning.

For instance:

It was a dream! I wanted to shout at myself. I had to stop letting it get to me.” (McPike 33)

Just as in real life, when Lali has a disturbing a dream, she can’t help but think about it. It’s common for us to continuously remember something that bothers us since we can’t help but process and re-process it as we try to come to terms with what we experienced. I found this to be a very lifelike attribution within the novel.

Lexicon does this too.

“He began to feel unsure, because her face was strange. And then it came to him, in a fountain of dream that began somewhere unidentifiable and ended in his testicles: He should not be here. He should not have led men with guns to his girlfriend.” (Barry 11)

They’re both quite similar. Both books have their characters recall and remember before they react to the physical act of recalling. This is important, probably the most important part. I did not include it for Wil in Lexicon, but he wanted to run away, just as Lali wanted to yell at herself to forget it.

This lets the author remind their reader that although the plot may deviate, we’re still focused on this earlier detail. It helps crank up the tension when it may be draining due to more menial plot points. In Lali’s perspective, she was in school, necessary to meet an important character. In Will’s perspective, he thought he was safe in the car, but he couldn’t stop. We have to keep that tension going, have to keep the characters moving.

After all, we’re only human. And we never stop.

McPike, KJ. Xodus. Seattle, WA: Fuzzy Hedgehog Press, 2015. Print.

Barry, Max. Lexicon. New York, NY: Penguin, 2013. Print.

PS.

I want to encourage everyone to take a look at Xodus. It’s a new supernatural YA novel with lots of adventure and a tinge of romance that’s sure to come back. My friend just published it, and although she’s a friend, I truly did enjoy it. I found it original, since astral projecting is an uncommon power, and she has a good writing style. There is plenty of tension, and you won’t be able to put it down.

Reacting to “Lexicon”

I was really unsure when I started this book – the back cover sounded interesting, which I guess is a plus for the writers who wrote it – but when I started the book, you know nothing. Just like the character. This poor guy has been assaulted, kidnapped, in all senses of the word – tortured. I still have no idea who he is, what’s going on.

And it somewhat works. I’m still reading, mostly for curiosity at this point although I haven’t been entirely sated with the style. It’s been a lot of dry dialogue at this point, though the bathroom scene was slightly funny. I chuckled inside my head – mostly because people avoid bathrooms for scenes.

But I was truly impressed when I hit this paragraph:

A door opened. On the other side of it was a world of stunted color and muted sound, as if something was stuck in Wil’s ears, and eyes, and possibly brain. He shook his head to clear it, but the world grew dark and angry and would not stay upright. The world did not like to be shaken. He understood that now. He wouldn’t shake it again. He felt his feet sliding away from him on silent roller skates and reached for a wall for support. The wall cursed and dug its fingers into his arm, and was probably not a wall. It was probably a person. (Barry 8)

This is beautiful, mostly because the way it paints a picture – “stunted color and muted sound.” I love how it describes the feeling of being drugged, how he personifies the world with it “did not like to be shaken.” How he personified the wall because it was really a person. I felt like this was one of the most creative descriptions for being drugged, and I would love to see more personification for imagery.

I guess it’s some of my word/poetry love coming through writing.

Barry, Max. Lexicon. New York, NY: Penguin, 2013. Print.

Active v. Passive Character Debate

I’ve been struggling to edit. I find that piece of the process is one of the hardest for me because it’s all thinking. I have to sit at my desk, my hands hovering over the keyboard, and I become zombie-like, my eyes focusing off in the distance, staring at some invisible mark, wondering…

Did I do the right thing? Is this the best course of action for my characters?

Maybe it’s not the smartest, but it should fit their personalities, their background and history. And one of the things I’ve learned just as of late…”crazy” people stories are boring.

And I’m not talking about normal crazy. I mean full on crazy – the kind where you should be in a straight jacket, your arms stuck hugging your body.

See, I’m writing this story, and with a “crazy” story, your character is constantly reacting to their surroundings, reacting to things they may see, things that aren’t there. And that gets boring…quickly.

Just like a horror story, eventually, your character has to be active, a part of the story-building process, where they make a decision and follow it through, even if it’s a stupid decision.

That’s what I noticed with Until Dawn. 

It hasn’t been my favorite video game, for many reasons, but as I sat there watching the game, I realized, these characters have to do something, even if it’s something stupid. Because if they were to do the smart thing and wait until dawn, nothing happens.

They have to make a decision – to go get the lift key, to go rescue their friend because that is an active decision, where the character is in some form of control. And we’re all human – don’t we all like to be control of something?

Even if we’re all crazy? 😛

That’s my active versus passive debate. I’m not saying passive is bad, but there should always be a balance within your story. Balance is key. 

Introduction in a chapter, for a character

Most of the time when writers talk about their characters, it’s about their personalities or physical descriptions. We try to round out the characters in our head before we get them on paper, but we forgot that readers need an introduction because they can’t see them as well as writers can.

Think of it this way – you judge somebody within the first few seconds of meeting them, whether you want to or not. You judge them based on what they where, their skin color or the first thing out of their mouths. But when it’s all on paper, we’re reading those descriptions. Even though it changes the transfer of information, readers still judge them.

Which is why, I consider this one of the finer introductions for a character (even though we learned about him some in the previous chapter).

“In his secret heart, Steve fancied that he was a Buddhist. / A couple years ago, following a whim, he’d picked up a copy of Buddhism for Dummies at the bookstore.” (Hawkins 34).

I loved how it introduced the character with a thought – not even a main thought, just one of those errant thoughts you get in your head as you wonder if something is or isn’t true, maybe you should try it but you’d be crazy if you do… that kind of thought.

The kind where I want to try backpacking for a week or so, but I’m scared of bears eating me in my sleep even though I know that probably won’t happen.

I think it also leads to a great transition because the character is force to mule over the thought, which explains that he wants peace and tranquility and why can’t he do it – because he has a real job as a plumber in Virginia. It gives a great background of the character without outright just stating, Steve is a plumber and he’s a peace-desiring person. It shows rather than tells.

Hawkins, Scott. The Library at Mount Char. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 2015. Print.

Flashbacks, like a story within a story

I don’t believe I’ve talked too much about flashbacks, mainly because most stories I’ve read traveled progressively forward. If there’s back story we need, then we start with that. Maybe add a hint or two through a sentence or paragraph. Even most of the stories I write are linear, which sounds awfully boring now that I think about it. But it can be quite useful when well done.

While I was reading The Library at Mount Char, I got a flashback within the first chapter, which does a great job at outlining some of the characters and their history, including their relationships with each other, and this is of great importance, since the book is about a battle between the siblings – although not all of them know that at this point in time.

It starts with a single sentence, “Carolyn and the rest were not born librarians” (Hawkins 5). A single fact.

It continued with a little back story to set the scene: “But  one summer day when Carolyn was about eight, Father’s enemies moved against him. Father survived, as did Carolyn and a handful of other children. Their parents did not.” (5)

Readers get a short scene in the midst of the summary, to help paint the picture of Father’s control, the children’s catalogues: “But Margaret’s tears were streaked with blood, and when Father pulled her back into the stacks she wet herself” (6), before it launches into the main meat of the flashback with Carolyn and her deer, learning their language.

This flashback was critical for the story. By this point, readers might realize that the whole story starts in the meat of the conflict, so Father has already been removed from the library, either missing or dead. This flashback helps iterate what kind of father he was, to illustrate who may want him dead – either his enemies or the children he forced to suffer. It helps create a bit of a mystery – who went after Father?

I think this is a good way to show how/when to use a flashback – to help flush out history between characters in order to help create backstory, to help create a mystery around the conflict. I really wanted to do this with one of my books, and I definitely think I will have to try something like this. When done well, I can tell it immediately adds a sense of depth to the novel.

FYI: Flashback ended with this: “Carolyn rose and stood alone in the dark, both in that moment and ever after” (9).

I like the visual ending, especially how it tries to tie that moment’s feeling to her current feelings through the metaphor of darkness. Puts a lot in that one sentence.

Hawkins, Scott. The Library at Mount Char. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 2015. Print.

Flow within thoughts

I really love to talk about character’s thoughts (or reflections) within writing, mainly because I think this is a hard thing to achieve realistically. With the way our minds work, we can only thing of one thing at a time, but our brain works so fast, that we may have already thought 50 things within the span of a few seconds. It’s what makes writing stream of consciousness so difficult.

I actually was watching a let’s play for a video game – Until Dawn – and I found myself laughing at it in places. It’s just…even though it is one of the most beautiful life-like renditions, I find myself at odds with the characters’ decisions, where no one in their right mind would do such a thing. For instance, there were two characters hiking through the woods together, enter a mine shift, and almost get killed, and then the girl makes a sexy comment to her boyfriend. I mean, seriously. You get killed and the first thing you think of is sex? Or, what made you go in a condemned mine anyways? What’s a condemned mine doing by a hotel/inn?

There were a lot of points where I had a hard time believing the character’s reactions, which doesn’t bode well for my overall favor for the game.

While this book, The Library at Mount Char, I thought it did a pretty good job. The characters sounded older, like themselves and their personalities, and with such a range. There were average Joe’s, people raised by “aliens,” people raised in the army, even a lion…the range of characters made the feat itself difficult, but all of them turned out to be realistic. I’ll include one short example that follows not long after the introduction.

…”Just a mess at the barn. One of the horses.” There was no barn, no horse. But she knew from the smell of the man that he would be sympathetic to animals, and that he would understand their business could be bloody. “Rough delivery, for me and for her.” She smiled ruefully and held her hands to frame her torso, the green silk now black and stiff with Detective Miner’s blood. “I ruined my dress.” (Hawkins 4)

To me, what made this thought realistic is the flow. Notice she mentioned horses and then she thought of horses, how she lied about them because it seemed the most believable lie to give the guy.

I think all thoughts need to flow or have good transitions. It helps the realism.

Two, the thoughts were framed according to the character. Having just committed a murder, she is going to want to blend in – that’s what she was taught to do, as we say later in the book. Hence, the believable lies.

These two things will definitely help when writing thought processes. And, this entire book is full of them! I would definitely recommend it.

Hawkins, Scott. The Library at Mount Char. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 2015. Print.

How to Write an Introduction

I’ve heard a lot of advice over the years, but I think the most worthy advice to me was from a writer who once said, the best way to start a story is with a single truth.

And although this has worked well for me, another favorite method I use is to start with an image. For me, there’s no better way to enter a story than with a picture. And the book I’ve just started – The Library at Mount Char – truly supports this.

Carolyn, blood-drenched and barefoot, walked alone down the two-lane stretch of blacktop that the Americans called Highway 78. Most of the librarians, Carolyn included, had come to think of this road as the Path of Tacos, so-called in honor of a Mexican joint they snuck out to sometimes. The guacamole, she remembered, is really good. Her stomach rumbled. Oak leaves, reddish-orange and delightfully crunch, crackled underfoot as she walked. Her breath puffed white in the predawn air. The obsidian knife she had used to murder Detective Miner lay nestled in the small of her back, sharp and secret. (Hawkins 1)

This by far has been one of the most brilliant introductions for a book. Already within the first sentence I get the main character, an image, a hook for curiosity, and some characterization. With only two words – blood-drenched – the reader is brought into the story with a sense of wonder and curiosity, thinking what has happened to the woman so far? She is covered in blood?!

And by calling other people the Americans, we know that Carolyn does not identify with that group of people, already posing her as an outsider.

This paragraph only continues to get better, describing the scenery around her, showing her adoration of human qualities, like cooking, where she reflected on the guacamole. The simple paragraph already showed the simplicity of her life with her stomach rumbling and an obsidian knife, oddly crude in a society that is crowded with manufactured steel knives, etc. Obviously she doesn’t live within civilization.

Then the paragraph ends with the answer for our previous question – who was hurt: Detective Miner. Now we have to keep reading because we have to know why.

Who is this woman that kills with so little remorse? Who is she that she lives outside of society – all the answers contained with the definition of her profession: librarian.

This beginning paragraph did so much with setting, characterization, imagery…it instigated so much curiosity and personality within Carolyn that I was taken with the story rather quickly. I want to thank Scott Hawkins for taking so much care with his beginning because it truly shows.

This paragraph is a great lesson on how to start your novel, and to practice through mimicry is a great way to model your learning.

Hawkins, Scott. The Library at Mount Char. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 2015. Print.