Author Topic: Correcting Brandon (and Howard and Dan) (or, why they are SO wrong ;p)  (Read 4785 times)

fardawg

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Seriously though.  I have wanted to talk for a while now about several misconceptions that I think Brandon, Howard, and Dan have (or at least had at some point). I could be misunderstanding them, so correct me if I am wrong.
 

The first is the idea espoused by Brandon several times that Tolkien had World Builders Disease and that he was an outliner. It seems that Brandon thinks that the Silmarillion was worldbuilding backstory for the Hobbit and LOTR and that Tolkien spent too much time on the backstory compared to writing the “real” books. In fact, the Silmarillion is a collection of the “primary” stories of Middle Earth. The reason he spent so much time on it was that he couldn't get anyone to buy it. He actually tried several times to sell it, at least once soon after the Hobbit and then again along with LOTR (the idea of a sequel came from the publisher), but they wouldn’t buy it.
The Hobbit was basically an accident and not intended at first to be connected to his larger Mythology, but he then used some of the Silmarillion as backstory. He used more when he came to the LOTR.

As for being an outliner, it seems from what I have read of the original drafts of LOTR that he was very much a discovery writer and "eternal rewriter". Tolkien had no idea what the story was when he began (he didn't really want a sequel). He would write a chapter or so (if that), come up with another idea and start all over again from the beginning! He started with Bilbo but soon realized that it made no sense due to the way he ended the Hobbit. He then tried to use Bilbo's son (Bingo Baggins, I believe) who morphed into his nephew, etc. At one point the first appearance of the Black Rider turned out to be Gandalf. The history of the “One Ring” was also a surprise to him. It was just a magic ring in the Hobbit until he decided it could have a more sinister origin. He had to revise the Riddles In the Dark chapter for future editions because it (and Gollum) didn't have the sinister edge that it needed (He had a great in-world reason for the differences too: Bilbo was being influenced in a subtle way by the ring so he lied to Gandalf). He also made the briefly mentioned “Necromancer” of the Hobbit into Sauron. He then went back to the Silmarillion and gave him a backstory as a lieutenant of the original Dark Lord, Morgoth.


Next up: the portrayal of the the Hero's Journey.

I know that at least Howard has read (or heard) The Hero With A Thousand Faces and has a better appreciation of it now, but early on in the podcast (e.g. Season 2 Episode 7) they portrayed the Hero's Journey as if it was so rigid that it said the hero MUST have a humble origin ala Star Wars. However, some of the first examples Campbell gives are the Buddha, who was said to have been a prince guarded by his father from the harshness of the world, and The princess from the Princess and the Frog fairy tale. Neither of them are farm boys or all that “humble”. I think a popular misconception is that Star Wars IS the Hero's Journey rather than ONE  example of how it can work. I highly recommend The Writers Journey by Christopher Vogler. He uses films as varied as  The Full Monty, Pulp Fiction, and Titanic (and hundreds of others) as examples of the Hero's Journey.  He points out that the Monomyth isn't supposed to be rigid and can be adapted to any genre. 

Anyway, I still love Writing Excuses and can't wait for the Hero's Journey episode (is that still going to happen guys?)   

 

 
« Last Edit: May 26, 2011, 10:01:29 PM by fardawg »

fardawg

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No defenders? Does this mean I win?  :P

dhalagirl

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I actually agree with them about the hero's journey.  While Campbell's conclusions are correct, it's not the only path a hero can and/or should take.  Frankly, Campbell's tropic path has been done to death.  As for their stance on Tolkein, I don't know.  I'm not enough of a super fan to know anything that would support or refute their claims.

Inkthinker

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I'm not a Tolkien scholar, so I got no basis for participation on the subject.

fardawg

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"While Campbell's conclusions are correct, it's not the only path a hero can and/or should take. Frankly, Campbell's tropic path has been done to death."

Have you read Vogler?
I see the Monomyth as very flexible. Can you give me a story (one that is well known or I can look up the plot for) that you consider to not follow the Journey?   

I should have also noted that Tolkien's discovery writing was also based in his created languages. He would sometimes come up with a language and then create a character or culture for that language.
You can read about his process (and read some pieces of the early drafts) in the four volume  "History of The Lord of the Rings", part of the larger "History of Middle-Earth" series.
This site has great synopses of the individual "History of" books. http://tinyurl.com/6y3apwy  "The Return of the Shadow" is the first of the Rings books.
« Last Edit: June 07, 2011, 02:51:48 PM by fardawg »

Ari54

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I think I have to disagree with you, at least somewhat, on both counts.

The prince who has led a sheltered life IS a humble beginning- it's just that the inner journey is the one he's more obviously deficient in than the outer journey, because as a prince he already has social standing and recognition, but he has no idea about the world or life in general. You can't have a heroes journey without either a character in need of significant inner improvement, or external recognition, because otherwise there is no character to develop in the process of the journey. Howard, Dan, and Brandon are 100% correct in their interpretation.

As for Tolkien not being an outliner... discovery writers can absolutely suffer from World Builder's disease, it's just instead of getting it from outlining, they do it by developing the backstory too much, or being far too slow in realizing when their discovery writing is branching off from the story they want to tell. The former definitely describes Tolkien, as the Silmarillion was definitely backstory, even if he really did conceive it as a complete or independent work, and could never have stood alone without investment in the world of middle earth that we got from LOTR. You're absolutely right that what he was doing had no relation to outlining, however.

fardawg

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hum·ble
adj. hum·bler, hum·blest
1. Marked by meekness or modesty in behavior, attitude, or spirit; not arrogant or prideful.
2. Showing deferential or submissive respect: a humble apology.
3. Low in rank, quality, or station; unpretentious or lowly: a humble cottage.

The sense in which they have used "humble" is the 3rd one, which is why I mentioned Star Wars and "farm boy".  If they were correct in their interpretation (at least what they have said so far) they wouldn't have used the "farm boy" cliche to define it. The Prince was ignorant of suffering and piety, but that does not make him humble. I would say he was humbled when he was shown the outside world. His Journey included becoming humble.

As for World Builder's disease, I agree that discovery writers can have it (Though  I believe Brandon portrayed it as a problem more distinct to outliners). I wasn't making the assertion that he couldn't have it since he was an outliner. I was disagreeing that the Silmarillion was a symptom of it (at least in so far as it is a distraction from the "real" work).
I couldn't disagree more regarding the Silmarillion. As I said, the Silmarillion is not backstory. It only became backstory many years later.  No mater what you think of its publishability, that doesn't change the fact that it was written first, was not written as backstory to the  Hobbit and LOTR, and was considered by Tolkien to be the main work. It wasn't as if Tolkien had the idea for the Hobbit and started writing the Silmarillion to give it history. What became the Silmarillion was begun around 1914 and the Hobbit was begun in the early 30's. 
It's like saying that if Jordon couldn't get the WOT published and came up with another story set in the same world (which he considered lesser to WOT), that WOT was just backstory and that he had WBD because he spent so much time writing it before the "real" books.
« Last Edit: June 08, 2011, 02:18:35 PM by fardawg »

Peter Ahlstrom

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Tolkien wanted to develop his own set of mythology. He didn't have any intention to write a novel. When he did eventually write the novels, he used that mythology as the backstory for the novels. Backstory doesn't have to be something you come up with only after getting the idea for a novel.

I think Brandon has a very valid point (except that I haven't listened to the episode recently to be sure that's actually what he's saying). From the point of view of a novelist, a collection of mythological stories is useful only as a backstory. It's not a marketable work in and of itself. I highly doubt that Tolkien would have become the phenomenon that he became, spawning his own Tolkien scholars, were it not for the commercially viable novels that he eventually wrote. The Silmarillion or the stuff in the Book of Lost Tales collections, if he had put them out without writing the Lord of the Rings, would have soon been pulped by any bookstores that risked taking them on, and no one today would be talking about Tolkien.
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fardawg

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All I'm saying is that the Silmarillion was not meant to be backstory to the "real" books. I am not saying it was a novel or that it could have sold well without the Hobbit and LOTR. Brandon has portrayed it as if Tolkien had wasted time on Worldbuilding instead of writing the "real" books.  This is not case.

Peter Ahlstrom

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It's a matter of perspective, what the end intent is. From the point of view of a novelist, what Brandon said IS the case. Writing Excuses is advice for people who want to be commercially successful novelists. If you do what Tolkien did but want to be a novelist, you are wasting your time.

If you want to do what Tolkien did, but for the same reason as Tolkien, then you are not wasting your time, since for you the worldbuilding is an end in and of itself. Which is fine but irrelevant to Writing Excuses' purpose.
« Last Edit: June 09, 2011, 04:29:51 PM by Peter Ahlstrom »
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fardawg

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"If you want to do what Tolkien did, but for the same reason as Tolkien, then you are not wasting your time, since for you the worldbuilding is an end in and of itself. Which is fine but irrelevant to Writing Excuses' purpose."


And that is my whole point. Tolkien was not writing because he had novels as an end goal, those were an afterthought. He was creating a mythology for England by writing poems and prose tales which were collected into the Silmarillion. To use Tolkien as an example of wb-disease is still missing the mark since it assumes that his goal was to write novels.
 I would still disagree that the Silmarillion is simply World Building though. World Building as I understand it (and as it is used on WE) is background information to flesh out the world of your novel. Its purpose is to serve the novel which is not what the Silmarillion was written to be. The Tale of Beren and Lúthien, for example, was written for its own sake and was not written so Tolkien would have something cool to allude to when he wrote about Aragorn and Arwen (if anything, it was the reverse!). Tolkein hoped that the LOTR would get people to read his real stories.
 I completely agree that WBD can be a problem for novelists; I just don't see how Tolkien is relevant to the discussion since his end goal was not that of a novelist. 
« Last Edit: June 09, 2011, 06:20:16 PM by fardawg »

Peter Ahlstrom

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Because to some fantasy writers the Lord of the Rings is still their favorite fantasy novel, so they think that to be a successful novelist they should emulate Tolkien. So it's extremely relevant to the discussion.

Worldbuilding is not just about backstory. It's about exactly what the word seems to mean, building a world. There can be many reasons to build a world. You could spend a long time building a world in order to make a good RPG setting, as was done for Forgotten Realms. You could build a world to make a setting for your conlang (constructed language) if you are a conlanger. You could do it simply as a thought experiment. Or you could build a world simply to build a world because worlds are interesting.

Tolkien said he wanted to construct a mythology for England. But I think the mythology he constructed had very little to do with England and was just concerned with its own world. There are some vague parallels in there and I assume a Tolkien scholar could point out a lot more, but as far as the layman is concerned it's just a world unto itself.

The worldbuilding in the Silmarillion was not just a list of facts and dates. Tolkien built the world through poems and stories about events in the world. But worldbuilding is certainly what Tolkien was doing, constructing a mythology about a place and time that never existed. He wasn't just writing individual poems and stories; by setting them all in the same fictional time and place he was worldbuilding, giving a picture of the whole through its parts.

I have Brandon's worldbuilding document for the Stormlight Archive, and parts of it are written as historical-sounding stories. He could have gone the route of just writing the history of Roshar and releasing it to the public. But that's not what he wanted to do, because he's a novelist.
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dhalagirl

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Worldbuilding is not just about backstory. It's about exactly what the word seems to mean, building a world.

Precisely.

I'm working on a story that takes place in modern day Paris and even though it's not an otherworldly location I still have to do some world building. Just because everyone is familiar with the city doesn't mean they know what it's like to live there.  It doesn't matter if I do it through poetry, dialogue, exposition or pictographs. I still need to do it.

fardawg

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Because to some fantasy writers the Lord of the Rings is still their favorite fantasy novel, so they think that to be a successful novelist they should emulate Tolkien. So it's extremely relevant to the discussion.

Its relevant when you don't misrepresent the facts.


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Worldbuilding is not just about backstory.

Sorry, I was using backstory to encompass all of that. I meant it as the "story" of the world. I should have use background.

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Tolkien said he wanted to construct a mythology for England. But I think the mythology he constructed had very little to do with England and was just concerned with its own world. There are some vague parallels in there and I assume a Tolkien scholar could point out a lot more, but as far as the layman is concerned it's just a world unto itself.

It had a lot to do with England, actually. For instance, Rohan was a horse culture because he believed the Anglo-Saxons could have defeated the Normans if they had a strong cavalry.  Middle-Earth itself was from the Anglo-Saxon word middel-erde which is their name for Earth.  It doesn't mater what the perception is though, because my point was that he had a point beyond building background for novels. That is the only reason I brought it up. I was not implying that he wasn't building a "secondary world", as he called it.

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The worldbuilding in the Silmarillion was not just a list of facts and dates. Tolkien built the world through poems and stories about events in the world. But worldbuilding is certainly what Tolkien was doing, constructing a mythology about a place and time that never existed. He wasn't just writing individual poems and stories; by setting them all in the same fictional time and place he was worldbuilding, giving a picture of the whole through its parts.

That makes my point. Of course he was worldbuilding Middle-Earth. My point was that the Silmarillion was not simply a collection of worldbuilding material for the "real" stories. They were the real stories!

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I have Brandon's worldbuilding document for the Stormlight Archive, and parts of it are written as historical-sounding stories. He could have gone the route of just writing the history of Roshar and releasing it to the public. But that's not what he wanted to do, because he's a novelist.

First: You lucky.....!  ;)

Second:
Brandon didn't sit in a ditch in WW1 and write tales with the goal of keeping himself sane while his friends died around him and with the hopes that he could build a mythology for his homeland that was sorely deficient of one; Tolkien did.

Brandon's best friend didn't ask that if he died Brandon would carry on with their goal of writing the kind of stories they wanted to read; Tolkien's did (and his friend died in battle that day, as did all but one of his other friends). (See the real note at bottom)

Brandon wasn't grading papers one day when the first line of Way of Kings came to him and then wrote it as a children's story for his kids not connected to his grand heroic tales of Roshar, pulling very small bits of his real storytelling in as background (not using "Roshar" once in the story btw); Tolkien did.

Brandon wasn't bugged by his publisher, while he was working on his real stories, to write a sequel to the accidental book; Tolkien did.

Brandon didn't realize as he discovery wrote that he could connect his real stories more deeply to the silly children's book (what Tolkien thought of Hobbit) by setting it firmly in Roshar, both deepening his interest in the sequel and hoping that it would give him an excuse to sell his real stories before or alongside it; Tolkien did.

Brandon Wasn't disappointed because he could only sell the sequel to his silly children's story and had to wait until he died until there was interest in publishing his "background" Roshar material of the grand sequel to his children's story (you know, his "real" work); Tolkien was and did.

Brandon has very different goals than Tolkien did. I think it is unfair to hold Tolkien to his standard and miss the point completely of what he was trying to do. Yes, you can tell people what Tolkien was doing and explain to them that he wasn't looking ahead to writing The Hobbit and LOTR and that the Silmarillion, therefore, is NOT an example for how to build a novel.  That is very different from falsely portraying Tolkien as taking too long on his "backstory" instead of getting to his "goal" of writing novels. I don't think Brandon is doing this consciously (it is an unfortunately common misconception that Tolkien himself was depressed by), I just don't think he knows this.


The note ---
My chief consolation is that if I am scuppered tonight - I am off on duty in a few minutes - there will still be left a member of the great T.C.B.S. to voice what I dreamed and what we all agreed upon. For the death of one of its members cannot, I am determined, dissolve the T.C.B.S. Death can make us loathsome and helpless as individuals, but it cannot put an end to the immortal four! A discovery I am going to communicate to Rob before I go off to-night. And do you write it also to Christopher. May God bless you, my dear John Ronald, and may you say the things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them, if such be my lot.
Yours ever,
G.B.S.
-A letter written to J.R.R. Tolkien by his friend G.B. Smith on the day of his death.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2011, 03:18:35 PM by fardawg »

fardawg

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I'm working on a story that takes place in modern day Paris and even though it's not an otherworldly location I still have to do some world building. Just because everyone is familiar with the city doesn't mean they know what it's like to live there.  It doesn't matter if I do it through poetry, dialogue, exposition or pictographs. I still need to do it.
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See above for what I meant by "backstory".
I never denied that worldbuilding was necessary, believe me I know. My entire point is that the Silmarillion was not written to be background for LOTR. Its purpose was to be a collection of the stories based in Tolkien's mythologized England. It was more like an anthology. It was only because he couldn't get it published that people thought Christopher Tolkien was publishing his dads "quaint background notes" on the "real" story.

Imagine writing an epic book that you loved with a passion but nobody wanted it because it wasn't "modern" enough. You then wrote a silly short story for your kids that had tiny bits of your real book in it and that got published. Then you finally get the real book published (or you die and one of your kids publishes it) and people think it was worldbuilding for the @#$& kids book! Not only that, but they criticize you for "wasting time" on all that "worldbuilding" instead of writing more sequels to the "real book"!!! Congratulations, you now have a small taste of how Tolkien felt.   :'(

« Last Edit: June 10, 2011, 03:06:08 PM by fardawg »