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Brandon Sanderson…and a divine problem

Posted by nightphoenix on February 28, 2010 in Books, Input, Novels, Output |

Brandon Sanderson has officially impressed me. I just finished Warbreaker, which I grabbed because the library had it sitting on their new book shelf. I said, “Oh, that’s the guy that’s finishing the Wheel of Time series, and does Writing Excuses (my favorite writing podcast).” And the inside cover blurb actually looked interesting, in a genre where very little catches my eye anymore.

Honestly, it wasn’t the most impressive or enthralling piece of fiction I’ve ever read, but it was good. I never had the urge to put it down and go do something else. The magic premise, BioChroma, was fascinating, and one I’m tempted to steal from. And he managed to successfully fool me into thinking the good guys were the bad guys and vice versa, which I enjoyed. I’ve seen funnier snark…but not much funnier, and not in the adult genre. YA tends to have more snark, and characters who snip at each other. Sanderson’s snark is sophisticated (which you won’t really find in YA), and I like that.

I picked up his debut, Elantris, from the library the other day, and also I finally got my hands on a copy of The Gathering Storm, which is the next Wheel of Time book. I’ll be reading those over the next couple of days.

Shades is coming along…slowly. Last night I went through the whole second draft, formatting it to send to my critique group. Well, of course, I can’t go through my writing without editing, and thus it took a lot longer than it should have. But I made some good changes…mostly tightening scenes, making them as clear as I can. I’ve been a little stuck at my current spot because I’m about to introduce Scisaxar as a character for the first time, and I really don’t know him very well.

The problem is, I haven’t found a way to relate Scisaxar directly to Raphel, or even to Saeli. He’s still drifting around on the periphery of my main characters, and is thus distant to me. Yuril is much easier to write now because she’s had some stage time, and she’s in love with Raphel. I don’t know how Scisaxar feels about Raphel, or Saeli, or any of the main characters. I’m going to drop him into the scene just after Yuril breaks Raphel’s fingers, and I know that Scisaxar is going to be pissed that Yuril has been blasting holes in his Temple. We’ll start with that, and see where he takes it.

Another thing that I’ve been pondering, and something that might help me with Scisaxar’s character, is that I’ve been trying to determine what the “inciting incident” between the two gods was. Why do they hate each other? What started the war in the first place?

Things I know: 1) On a much deeper level, the war has to do with Yuril’s and Scisaxar’s frustration over the Oath. They pit their followers against each other when in truth, both of them would prefer a direct confrontation. It frustrates them to have to work through mortals, and thus each blames the other even more for forcing them to sacrifice followers. This leads them both to be cruel and distant with their peoples. Cruel, because they don’t understand the source of their anger, and thus they take it out on their people. Distant, because they cannot afford to get emotionally attached to people they are sending out to die for them.

2) Both gods helped curse the Midplains. Raphel is right about that. What Raphel doesn’t know is that they did it as a desperate measure, to stop a certain secret society of people. These were the original gray mages, who knew how to build inter-world portals, who could summon both light and dark angelics, and who were delving into angelic and spirit lore that would have been better left alone. These experiments actually drew the attention of the Keeper of the Oath, who paid a short visit to Verre just before the Cursing. Well, that scared the you-know-what out of Yuril and Scisaxar. The Cursing was both a desperate measure and a panic reaction, and was perhaps overdone.

Now, I have a choice to make. Was the Cursing itself the two gods’ inciting incident, leading them to go to war for more than a hundred years…or did the disagreement start before that, and the gods temporarily put it aside for the Cursing?

If the Cursing was the inciting incident, then the resulting war is genuine. Both gods think that the other handled their part of the Cursing badly, or they blame the other for having to do such a thing, or whatever. They have a legitimate, relatively recent grievance against one another. However, if the gods put aside their conflict temporarily for the Cursing, then the resulting war would have to be a farce. In fact, it’s even possible that the gods were never truly at war in the first place, and their “hatred” is a cover-up to keep the world from discovering the truth.

I honestly like the second option better, because it makes the ending to Shades more plausible. Having Saeli single-handedly convince two gods who genuinely hate each other to stop a war they’ve been at for over a hundred years seems unlikely. But if their conflict isn’t real, her job is much easier. However, it dangerously reduces any empathy one might have for these gods…because that means they’ve been sacrificing their followers for a lie. It makes it look like Raphel was right about them, which will make it difficult for the readers to empathize with them towards the end. It works for the overall story of Verre, because the gods really were preventing something that would be ultimately worse than a hundred year war. But Raphel doesn’t know that, and Saeli doesn’t know that, and so the gods are, to them, going to look like monsters. And the only way I can prove that they aren’t monsters is to reveal a whole lot of information and backstory that I don’t want to cover in this trilogy. That’s what the sequel is for.

Perhaps the war began as a farce, but then got personal for the gods. Scisaxar is winning, after all, when the story opens. Maybe he started to press his military advantage and broke the unspoken understanding between him and Yuril. But why would he do that? I have to pull this back to the Cursing somehow. He would have to have some sort of grudge, if not against Yuril herself, then against her followers. Several possibilities present themselves. The most obvious is that Yuril attracts more followers and Scisaxar is jealous. Or he honestly feels that her followers are degenerates, and despises/feels sorry for them. Or they did something that got a lot of his people killed. No, that’s too general. They did something that got one certain person that Scisaxar really cared about killed. That would be a very strong motivation for wanting to win a farcical war.

Ah, an idea. Scisaxar loved a pre-Cursing gray mage, one of the ones in the thick of the angel experiments. The gods decided, together, that the order of gray mages had to be destroyed and the knowledge buried. They devised the Curse between them and set it loose on the Midplains. Afraid for his love, Scisaxar pursued her and pursued her, and finally brought her around to his point of view. He made her a White Mantle, and thus thought she’d be protected. Then, while the Curse was still spreading, she and a whole mess of her cohorts got caught by Cowls. Both gods’ followers had orders to kill or convert any gray mage. Scisaxar’s love refused to become a Cowl, so they killed her. Scisaxar demanded retribution, but Yuril refused, saying that even though the girl had repented of what she’d done, she still had the knowledge. The knowledge had to die. Scisaxar’s grief leaked into the still-spreading Curse, and it devoured the land as well. Once they contained it, followers from both sides were shocked and confused over why the gods would do such a thing. Yuril suggested that they stage a war, and let each side blame the other. The true reason for the Cursing would surely be buried. Scisaxar, afraid of losing all his followers, agreed. The war began, both as a farce and as revenge, on the white god’s part.

That’s very vague, and I can probably tweak it. But it could have a number of ramifications. One, Scisaxar is going to hold a severe grudge against Cowls, and against Yuril for letting them do what they did. It’s not really her fault; Yuril probably wouldn’t have sanctioned killing the girl, but the Cowls didn’t ask beforehand. Scisaxar is going to make sure his own people follow a strict hierarchy that leads directly to him, and he’s going to make sure they never act outside of his jurisdiction. He’s going to be jealous that Yuril manages to attract more followers, but at the same time, he’s not going to take any pains to make himself likable. Something like how a grieving widower would feel about a sibling who gets a lot of attention…jealous, but unwilling to compete. That jealousy is going to be manifested specifically in how he feels about the Raphel problem…because he can see that Yuril loves Raphel the way he loved ____. But Scisaxar’s also the one who will be suffering the most remorse over the Cursing, because he essentially screwed it up. He’ll possibly be the one who is more willing to listen to Saeli in the end.

So the war is both a farce, and personal, but more personal on Scisaxar’s end. Scisaxar’s pain amuses Yuril, but she doesn’t allow herself to think about it too deeply…lest she be reminded of how she really feels about Raphel. And worse, Raphel is exactly the kind of Cowl the white god hates, because he’s a wild card. He does what he wants, and the gods can go screw themselves. It was those kind of Cowls who killed Scisaxar’s love. He’ll hate Raphel, and hate that a Cowl managed to steal yet another follower away from him (first Kaladan, then Saeli), and he’ll hate Yuril for wanting to spare Raphel, and he’ll hate that were the tides turned, he would do exactly the same thing as his sister. No wonder the gods have to abandon the scene…neither of them can act. Their hands are tied by their pasts, and by the Oath. And we’re back to the Oath again.

I think I have a handle on the white god now. Enough to start writing him, anyway.

Wow. Scisaxar is walking into this conflict with some seriously complicated crap in his past.

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