Chapter Fifteen: (No Spoilers. Sorry!)
When I teach writing, one of my major educational philosophies is that an author must understand his or her strengths. If you do something well, play to that strength. Write books that show off what you can do. This isn’t a reason to ignore, or to not work on, your weaknesses. However, like the opportunity cost laws of economics, the more time you spend on your strengths, the greater rewards you’re going to receive. That translates to better books, a better chance of publication, and better sales.
Every writer is different. We can’t all do everything perfectly. As a writer, one of the things that I don’t do is beautiful prose. I don’t think my prose is bad, but it is somewhat utilitarian. Some authors, like Orson Scott Card, can turn this minimalism into a strength itself. I’m not there yet–I still write with a more flamboyant style, I’m just not a brilliant prose craftsman like Gene Wolfe or Ursula LeGuin. I think I do other things, however, that are better than those two can manage.
Anyway, despite that acknowledgement, I occasionally write a paragraph that I just think is beautiful. The first paragraph of chapter fifteen is probably my favorite descriptive paragraph in the book. I love the imagery and language of it. Perhaps others will see it as trite–I had to end up changing the first line of the prologue, after all, which I also thought was beautiful. However, one of the nice thing about being published is that I can look at this paragraph in a bound hardcover and say, ‘I did that.’
Perhaps the most interesting of Hrathen’s internal thoughts in these chapters is his conviction that it’s better to do things that cause him guilt, as long as it saves people’s souls. This is a logical conundrum I’ve considered on several occasions. Taking Christian theology–which says that a soul is best off when it is ‘saved’–wouldn’t it be the ultimate sacrifice not to die for your fellow man, but to somehow sacrifice your own soul so that he could be saved? In short, what would happen if a man could condemn himself to hell so that another man could go to heaven? Wouldn’t that act in itself be noble enough un-condemn the man who unfairly went to hell? (Enter Douglas Adams, and god disappearing in a puff of logic.)
Anyway, that’s the logical fallacy I see Hrathen dealing with here. He knows he bears a heavy guilt for the bloodshed he caused in Duladel. However, he’s willing to take that guilt–and all the damage it brings–in order that people might be saved. He allows his own soul to bear the burden, rather than turning it over to the church. Again, I see this as a fallacy–but it certainly does make for an interesting line of reasoning.
One of the major post-sale revisions I did to ELANTRIS came at the suggestion of my agent, Joshua Bilmes. He noted that I had several chapters where Hrathen just walked about, thinking to himself. He worried that these sections made the middle of the book drag a bit, and also feared that they would weaken Hrathen’s character. So, instead, he suggested that I add Telrii to the book some more, and therefore give Hrathen opportunities to be clever in the way he achieved his goals.
This is the first chapter that shows any major revision in this direction. In the original, Hrathen simply walked along, thinking to himself. I added Telrii to the second half of the chapter, putting some of Hrathen’s internal musings into their discussion. I cut some of the more repetitive sections, and then left the others interspersed between lines of dialogue.
The result is, I think, a very strong new section.