Hello, Don’tRead faithful!
I’ve finished the first book of the Trilogy and I thought I ought to talk about it a bit.
This was a unique book for me—to put it concisely, Mistborn was a book I enjoyed and read through despite its deviation from some of the “rules” of writing. Of course we all know the only real rule of writing is “whatever works, works,” and we’ve seen successes who ignore the ‘commandments’ as it were, but it’s still a bit of a gamble to break rules.
Because of this, I’ve decided to make it a little mission of mine to find out what makes this book so pleasant to me.
First, a list of things which could have been better:
• Lazy writing – Things like “with incredible speed” pop up from time to time. This, while descriptive, sacrifices imagery. I can’t visualize “incredible speed” but I could see a character move so quickly they left a gap in the fog.
There are also a lot of adverbs. The reason for the rule is adverbs, while concise, detract from the movement, imagery, and characterization. “Maladroitly” is one I saw far too often. Picture someone doing something maladroitly. While “clumsily” would have worked, a little extra like, “She dodged the blow, arms flailing to keep her balance,” would be better. Show, don’t tell, after all. Adverbs tell.
• Missed Opportunities – There are several great places for hooks where one character lets a bit of critical information slip. These moments are great for building tension, but Sanderson repeatedly dismisses them by having another character say, “Well, it’s probably fine,” without any irony whatsoever! Nothing comes of it.
• Everybody gets along – I bet Sanderson is a big fan of Star Trek TNG because, like in that show, none of his main characters butt heads ever. Sure they might disagree, but before the scene ends they’re usually back to best buds for life. In a group of this many people there’s bound to be friction. I don’t expect a row in every scene, but an occasional, “I hate that guy,” apostrophe would help it feel more real to me.
On that note, Sanderson could trim some fat when it comes to showing his characters’ camaraderie. At least two scenes come to mind which are probably meant to be heartwarming (and do ultimately serve a purpose) but which drag on and on as the characters share a happy go lucky conversation. It gives me the sense that he really enjoys his characters, which is good, but it’s another “Get ON With It!” moment.
• Fight/Chase Scenes – This is a big discrepancy between movies and books. In a movie, the action is the point of interest—fight scenes, car chases, explosions—because it happens quickly and human brains love processing stimuli. In books the word “action” means the movement of the plot—it is also the point of interest, but it does not include fight scenes, chase scenes, explosions, or almost anything you’d pay to see in an ACTION movie.
This kind of action is boring in books because, instead of getting the imagery straight to our eye globes, we have to read what amounts to a choreography routine and interpret it into the scene in our minds. Not only is it a lot of work, it is very seldom necessary for the plot, which IS the point of interest. Fights are also the point at which the tension you’ve been building with your hook is released. Think about a fight you’ve been in—did you feel nervous before and relief after?—you don’t want your readers to be relieved until the climax. When they’re relieved, they’ll stop reading.
Sanderson overdoes MANY fight scenes where it would really only be necessary to describe a handful of blows.
Now some things he did Right:
• The Plot – This wasn’t your typical Rebels vs. Empire story; Sanderson crafted a more original plot, which kept me guessing until the end. And a lot of my guesses were wrong. Very refreshing in a genre with a prescribed formula. Even the premise is one we don’t often see–the aftermath of “the chosen one’s” failure/success.
• The Romance – Some argue no fiction can be commercial today without romance. Sanderson leaves it understated, which satisfies a requirement, while still allowing his female lead to be independent. Her focus is on survival and romance is an afterthought.
• The Characters – A few standouts emerge among the large main cast. Vin and Kelsier steal the show of course and I particularly liked Vin. I also like Sazed a lot. While there aren’t many more with as much dimension as these three, they are likeable and fun to be around. Also, his main two characters CHANGE over the course of the book. That’s the definition of a character, and it makes for a satisfying character arc.
• Tension – Despite his not taking full advantage of all his opportunities, Sanderson manages to keep the tension at an acceptable level throughout. Tension is what happens when the audience knows,fears, or expects something will happen, but is waiting for it to happen. Remember the Telltale Heart by Poe? That final scene’s a great example of tension.
Sanderson’s tension doesn’t often reach that level, but I think he’s able to keep his own tension up by making one main character both an imposter in society and an outsider to the core group. She’s always looking over her shoulder. Added to that, he made the other main character so secretive he never TELLS us his plan; he always SHOWS us the plan as he’s acting it out.
So why do I like it? I just do! Sanderson’s got some competence in storytelling, and in the end, the plot and characters are most important. Hell, cavemen told stories and their literary talents were less-than-sesquipedalian, but we’re still reading them on cave walls thousands of years later.
Fiction, like all art, is subject to a Gestalt Principle–the whole is greater than the sum of its parts–and I think that’s what’s going on here.
So go read it and tell me what do!