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Why were the Last Chronicles unusually difficult to write?

 
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 30, 2015 5:16 pm    Post subject: Why were the Last Chronicles unusually difficult to write? Reply with quote

I may be out of the loop here, but here's this thread anyway.

SRD has said that he knew that his conception of TLC back in the eighties was so difficult to write that he knew it to be beyond his abilities at the time. He has also said that he needed the intervening books to hone his skills enough to even attempt the daunting task. However, it's unclear to me what was so hard to write about TLC. I mean, I can see that the story (in my not-so-rare opinion) didn't work, but what eludes me is the aspect SRD found so challenging.

Some possibilities:
- The idea that "Thomas Covenant becomes Lord Foul" was somehow particularly hard to write. I don't see that one myself given the eventual treatment of the subject in TLC, which makes me think that SRD didn't have huge complex ambitions in that direction.
- Time travel makes the plot unstable. I can see how that would be a problem, but it's still only a plotting problem that could be dealt with with a careful outline, no multiple practice books required.
- SRD wanted to symbolize the weakening of the Arch of Time by wreaking havoc on the books' internal pacing so that there are multiple consecutive chapters of nothing happening, and then within a few pages a huge amount of stuff happens all at once. Now this one I can see as being incredibly hard to get right, to the point of being a downright bad idea from the very start.
- SRD wanted to reduce the Land to a boring backdrop and turn all secondary characters into boring and/or unlikable expendable extras for some weird reason probably having to do with symmetry. First the Land is way wonderful (thesis), then way horrible (antithesis), and finally way bland (synthesis), just like Jeremiah's pseudo-autistic behavior. This is another option that would be incredibly hard to write with good results due to also pretty much being an inherently bad idea.

The last two are the ones that make the most sense to have happened from the too-much-difficulty standpoint. If SRD really went for both or either of them, I don't think his literary ambitions succeeded.
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 30, 2015 10:13 pm    Post subject: Re: Why were the Last Chronicles unusually difficult to writ Reply with quote

Nerdanel wrote:
Some possibilities:
- SRD wanted to reduce the Land to a boring backdrop and turn all secondary characters into boring and/or unlikable expendable extras for some weird reason probably having to do with symmetry.


Hi Nerdanel,

I have no idea why SRD had difficulties writing the 3rdCronicles. I don't write books myself so I won't even hazard a guess. I'm sure others on KW can give good answers to your questions.

What did register for me was your belief that the Land is a boring backdrop. Doesn't that have a lot to do with Kevin's Dirt? A brume eminating from Mt.Thunder acting as a smoke-screen.

I've still to read Part II of The Last Dark so I don't know how our heroes solve the problem - assuming they do eventually figure out how to vanquish that viel of lies.
By this I mean that the Land, I'm sure, has endured far better than the characters have.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 31, 2015 4:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I disagree with your premise/judgement of the series, but that's a different topic...

But, assuming your judgment is correct, then SRD was right back then---it was beyond his abilities...and it always remained too hard, his abilities never grew enough.

Of course, there are a few other assumptions in your post.
For instance, it's pretty easy for you to say [and be correct, for a point to be] "TC Becomes LF." But that doesn't mean that there isn't plenty of ambition and complexity and difficult writing to make it come about.
[[[I have my own problems with that and how it happened...not just to the extent of folks that think the whole thing blows chunks]]]

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 31, 2015 8:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

On the subject of "TC becomes LF", I don't think it would have been that hard to achieve, at least not to someone with SRD's demonstrated writing skills.

Using the published story as the base, you can see how simple it is:
1. Foreshadow that it's possible absorb other people's souls and gain power thereby. Nom already showed this in a previous book, but this series should have something along those lines too. Say, SHE, probably with help from someone like the Harrow and a return appearance from Nom. But there are lots of ways to convey that information, really, so just choose what goes best with the rest of the plot.
2. Have a final fight that ends with TC absorbing LF.

It's true that the idea "TC becomes LF" sounds like it should be more deep and complex than that, but SRD intended to do more in this respect, it sure didn't come across to me from TLC.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 31, 2015 9:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If I had to guess what difficulties SRD faced in the 3rdChron's it might be maintaining a constant and unwavering vision of his central characters. I'm thinking of Linden's friends, before Covenant appears.

Liand for example is such a sweet innocent soul. But after Linden's experiences beneath Skyweir and Kevin's Seventh Ward, the deception and cruelity she was subjected to, then I sure as hell get suspicious of a character with big black bushy eyebrows.

Anele is another who tugs at the heartstrings. But for the life of me I would have strangled him long before Fatal Revenant. His petulant wimpering got overbearing, where it only took a little bread and cheese to magic away all the pain and the suffering.
He gives me too much cause for suspicion having known real-life characters just like him.

And Jeremiah ... ?
As I said before, I've not finished with The Last Dark yet so will reserve my opinions about his authenticity.

SRD just may have steered his story on a knife-edge all the way from the first chapter of the Runes, to the very end of the Last Dark. Something not possible for him to achieve previously.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 31, 2015 10:27 pm    Post subject: Re: Why were the Last Chronicles unusually difficult to writ Reply with quote

There are a number of different reasons that have been suggested for why SRD found the LCs so hard to write. One very personal one that he has confessed to a number of time is that he, literally, thought that he would die when he finished the series. This would kinda put an author under pressure, and maybe make you want to drag it out a bit.

wayfriend has a great post called, Fatal Musings: Epic Vision, that may suggest another reason. The difficulty may come from the ending of WGW, which left Covenant as a mythic figure having risen up from a hero in the lowly Ironic Mode. The problem is that returning to the series in anything less than Mythic Mode (think Tolkien's Silmarillion) risked feeling like a rehashing of the 2nd Chronicles.

Personally, one of the things that make the LCs hard going (and thus maybe hard writing) was that SRD seemed determined to remove any 'glory' that had been attached to his creation and strip it back down to a very 'real' setting/atmosphere. In TLD the final scenes basically involve a long slog up the back passage of Mount Thunder, then a fight through the Wightwarrens where the Cavewights are 'humanised' (they have children and homes etc.) and the once well nigh invincible Haruchai are slaughtered like cannon fodder.

This is the same Mount Thunder that we twice heroically quested through in the 1st and 2nd Chronicles, but it's no longer feels anything like what we knew (neither do the Cavewights, nor the Haruchai). I think that this is deliberate on SRD's part, but that it goes against his natural storytelling talents. (My favourite part in the whole LCs was when, in FR, we travelled back to the time of Berek. I loved the ease and fluidity of the writing and my response was, 'Yes! I knew that he still could do it!')

It's not that SRD had lost the ability to write well, it's that (for whatever reasons) he chose to write in a gritty, realistic style that, for me, is closer to the style of the Gap Series rather than that of the 1st & 2nd Chronicles. The difficulty though is that in an epic fantasy setting SRD isn't allowing himself to use his natural writing talents. And, for many of his regular readers this constantly grates (I literally read some of the chapters in AATE with gritted teeth).

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 13, 2015 9:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I always assumed the difficulty had to do with the intensity of Linden's emotions, specifically toward Jeremiah. After all, the first two novels in the LCs were completely different from the previous six books, specifically because of L&J.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 16, 2015 6:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Exactly what aspect of this series made writing The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant such a daunting task?

On every level, this story is both more complex and more intense than anything I've ever tried to do before. It's like sky-diving into The Abyss.

What would you say was the hardest part of the entire process involved in the writing of the various Covenant books? Each new addition reveals yet more depth to a saga which has shown just how rich and complex it truly is.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not I can write well enough to do this story justice: the single most demanding aspect of the project as a whole is internal consistency. Consistency of style. Consistency of tone. Consistency of character (and character development). Consistency of theme (and thematic development). Consistency of symbol. Consistency of logistics (is it actually possible to ride from here to there in X days?). Consistency of geography. Consistency of history (an especially complex issue because I don't use a "story Bible" to guide me). Consistency of magic and monsters. And so on.

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2015 11:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'll raise one aspect of TLD that became more unsatisfactory for me on a re-reading. This is the brawling slog through the innards of Mount Thunder in the face of resistance by Cavewight cannon-fodder, assisted by Giants who seem only to have been brought into the story late in the piece to provide extra bodies to engage in the brawling slog. I think that Baf Scatterwit is a character who needed either to have been developed further and given a more substantial role, or else omitted altogether. I suppose my feeling about this part of TLD is that not a lot of imagination seemed to go into it.

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2015 11:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think that a further difficulty arises from there being *three* primary ultimate protagonists in the Last Chronicles on the side of Good/Life, compared to two in the Second Chronicles and one in the First Chronicles. In the First Chronicles the denouement obviously centred on Covenant's confrontation with Lord Foul. In the Last Chronicles, Covenant, Linden and Jeremiah each had semi-climactic confrontations with adversaries, with Linden's confrontation with SWMNBN being perhaps the most significant and perhaps also the one offering the best prospects for a spectacle, but with no one single climactic confrontation/denouement.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2015 1:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

DrPaul wrote:
I think that a further difficulty arises from there being *three* primary ultimate protagonists in the Last Chronicles on the side of Good/Life, compared to two in the Second Chronicles and one in the First Chronicles.

I agree that that surely would be one of the factors. Not only are there three character arcs, but they need to mesh with each other (be plausibly simultaneous), and also they need to resonate with each other (share similar themes). And then, on top of all that, another story arc is needed for the three as a group.

That certainly addresses "complexity". "Intensity", I think, arises elsewhere.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2015 7:57 pm    Post subject: Re: Why were the Last Chronicles unusually difficult to writ Reply with quote

ussusimiel wrote:


Personally, one of the things that make the LCs hard going (and thus maybe hard writing) was that SRD seemed determined to remove any 'glory' that had been attached to his creation and strip it back down to a very 'real' setting/atmosphere. In TLD the final scenes basically involve a long slog up the back passage of Mount Thunder, then a fight through the Wightwarrens where the Cavewights are 'humanised' (they have children and homes etc.) and the once well nigh invincible Haruchai are slaughtered like cannon fodder.


See, now, that is probably one of the major causes of our disagreement on the success/worth of the LC's.

I think the stripping down to grit was intentional and a good thing.
Because it makes possible the final restoration of the full glory and then some. The problem I have is that the glory is too suddenly restored, and too briefly given to us, and in epilogue. I didn't need to see a lot more of the remaking...but done a bit differently. The three shouldn't have risen in glory...they should have risen armed and armored, and then ascended/ended in glory. And in between didn't need a big battle/description/process description [as someone somewhere suggested]...but instead some visions of things that they couldn't save because there was just too much, so moments of hard choices between 'we can save this, or that, but not both'...and both things being worthy and wonderous.

But I like the humanization of the Cavies.
I think the Haruchai as meat shields is a misreading...perhaps because SRD didn't do enough to show the odds they faced, and the price they exacted from their opponents in the exchange.
[[And I'm sorry, the idea of a Har surviving, gaining wisdom, and then dedicating his life to aiding and embracing those who have been their opponents for almost ten thousand years? And said survivor remembers all of those millennia? That's brilliant. That's glorious.]]

Nevertheless, I think the idea of digging in the dirt before rising was the only decent way to do the series. [the climb through the mountain could have been better, though, no doubt.]

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2015 9:49 pm    Post subject: Re: Why were the Last Chronicles unusually difficult to writ Reply with quote

Vraith wrote:
ussusimiel wrote:


Personally, one of the things that make the LCs hard going (and thus maybe hard writing) was that SRD seemed determined to remove any 'glory' that had been attached to his creation and strip it back down to a very 'real' setting/atmosphere. In TLD the final scenes basically involve a long slog up the back passage of Mount Thunder, then a fight through the Wightwarrens where the Cavewights are 'humanised' (they have children and homes etc.) and the once well nigh invincible Haruchai are slaughtered like cannon fodder.


See, now, that is probably one of the major causes of our disagreement on the success/worth of the LC's.


I think the stripping down to grit was intentional and a good thing...

I don't object in principle to the stripping down of the story (that's basically what GRRM does with his style of epic fantasy), but my reading experience of the LCs made me feel that SRD's gifts didn't extend to being able to realise that stripped down world with any sort of fluency or ease. He signalled very early in ROTE what his intention was ('Kevin's Dirt' was a big clue, and Linden referencing the toilet facilities in the cell the Masters put her in).

SRD can write epic fantasy excellently well, but it is of a 'heroic' kind that is reflected in the world it occurs in. In the 2nd Chronicles, even though the Land lay under the Sunbane it still had a deformed majesty. The putridness under the Sun of Pestilence impacted you personally/morally but it didn't stick to your skin like gritty slime. 'Kevin's Dirt' does, and that is acceptable in a fallen heroic world, but that doesn't mean that the writing, pacing and characterisation has to have that same clogged gritty feel.*

u.

* In poetry a common mistake that new writers make is that brokeness can be reflected in uneven and broken rhythm. In most cases that just a defence for bad writing. Brokeness can be best represented by stark accurate unflinching depiction of it (as someone like Sylvia Plath does).
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2015 9:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting topic. I like SRD's answer. Everything was more complex, but especially the character development. I've never seen him attempt to dive so deeply into a character as he did with Linden in the LC. Ultimately, I think the attempt caused the rest of the series' features to suffer (e.g. pacing, other characters, etc.), but I've got to give him credit for the attempt. It was definitely ambitious.

I think he achieved a greater balance between various features in the Gap series, and that was due to a more even balance between characters. As we received roughly equal character development between Nick, Angus, and Morn, we saw more of their perspectives and hence more of the various facets of the plot. There was also greater attention given to secondary characters. The characters were the point, not as much the themes. Also, the various characters had their own agendas, and didn't exist solely to help Morn.

Time travel didn't seem to present many problems for the LC. It was the best part of the series, and seemed the most effortless.

Having Jeremiah exist as a MacGuffin for most of the series was a big mistake. SRD tried to have it both ways: a motivation for Linden, and an independent character. He wasn't really successful as either, since his value as a motivation depends on his success as a character. It's hard for us to care about him as much as Linden does, and thus hard for us to appreciate her main motivation during the first half of the series. Also, with Covenant being absent for half, and then not entirely or equally there when he was present, made him not as successful as a character, too. The ease at which SRD killed off characters or simply failed to develop them (Roger, Liand, Anele, Esmer, Joan, etc.) was the biggest problem, and it probably arose from giving Linden too much space in the story--which again brings us back to the issue of Donaldson's lofty ambitions for this character.

So I'd say the hardest part of writing this series was an issue of balance. SRD was juggling too many balls, and dropped most of them. But on top of that, he was also concluding a story that built his career/fame, wrapping up all the loose ends and presenting the finale. That's a lot of pressure. Fulfilling our high expectations as well as satisfying his own creative goals must have been a daunting task.
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