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2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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Jordan said he didn't really know, as he is constantly writing and cutting parts. He writes from the beginning of the story to the end, and then cuts and edits large chunks, pulling together threads. He doesn't even think about a working title, but lets the story determine it.
He says there will be at least three more books, maybe four.
Jordan knows the very last part of the final book, but doesn't know how long it will be till he'll put it in.
One humorous story mentions the quote saying he will continue writing until the day the nails are put into his coffin. One elderly lady apparently told him that she was a lot closer to that than he was so he had better hurry up.
With the final scene in the final book (which he eloquently said did not have to be identical with Tarmon Gai'don), all major plot lines will be resolved, and most minor ones. Some minor plot lines would still be unresolved, as a way to let the world continue to live and breathe. The surviving characters would still have lives to go on with, even if more "boring" ones. Robert Jordan though stated clearly that if he was going to write another book(s) in the WoT universe (something he thought was not going to happen), it would be placed at least 1,000 years apart from the events in the current books. There would not be any spin-off stories, or stories written by other authors set in the WoT universe, either.
No, not really. What I know is that we're heading for a final scene that I have known from the beginning. I could have written it before I wrote the first book. And it would be very little different from what I would write today. I know what has to happen—those major events, those mountains I talked about—I know what has to happen between now and that final scene.
I really don't know whether it's going to be another two books, or another three, or maybe even another four. I don't know. I'm not going to make any promises to anybody, or any suggestions to anybody, about how many books. I've done that in the past and seen it taken as promise: "Jordan said. Jordan said, it's going to be this many books." Well, no I didn't, I said it might be. But by the time it gets out into print, and on the street, it's Jordan promised. Well, Jordan didn't promise, and Jordan isn't promising, so there.
There will be a few more books, some, not a lot, hopefully fewer than seven more.
He knows the final scene of the last book, all the major events he wants to have happen and who will live and who will die. When he starts a book, he decides which of these events he wants to try to do and then writes it so they happen.
He will tie up all the major plot lines, but will leave a lot of the minor ones unresolved. He finds it too unrealistic for a series to end with all of life's problems solved. Expect the series to end with the major problems solved, but a lot of people will still have tumultuous lives ahead of them.
I believe—believe!—there will be three more books. I am trying to finish up as soon as possible, but I cannot see how to do it in fewer than three books. That isn't a guarantee, mind! In the beginning, I thought that there would be three or perhaps four books total, but it might go to five, or even six, though I really didn't believe it would take that long. It wasn't a matter of the story growing or expanding, but rather that I miscalculated—brother, did I!—how long it would take to get from the beginning to the end. I've known the last scene of the last book literally from the beginning. That was the first scene that occurred to me. Had I written it out 10 years ago, and then did so again today, the wording might be different, but not what happens. It has just taken me longer to get there than I thought.
I do have another series perking around in the back of my head already. Books generally have a long gestation period with me, so this is not at all too early. There isn't a word on paper, yet, of course. It will be different cultures, different rules, a different cosmology. Nobody likes to redo what he's already done.
The next book (#10) will be ready and in the stores...when I finish writing it.
There will be no more than five, but also no less than another three books to be expected to appear in The Wheel of Time series.
I know where I'm heading, but I need time to tie lots of loose ends together.
BEFORE you say "RAFO", and BEFORE you choose not to answer this next question, please consider the following and hear us out: You claim you've already written the ending of the series. You probably enjoy us squirming as we endlessly try to predict the outcome of the Last Battle. We've been patiently waiting for over a decade. Now that we're nearing the end somewhat, could you please, please answer this question: What is the last word of the last chapter of the last book? JK Rowling told the world that Harry Potter ends with the word "scar". Come on....we know you can give us something like that to chew on.
First off, a small correction. I have NEVER said that I had already written the last scene of the last book. I HAVE said that I COULD HAVE written the last scene of the last book in 1984, and that if I had done so and now chose to write it again, some of the wording might have changed, but what happens in that scene would be the same, now as then. Given that, as envisioned in 1984, the last scene would have ended with the word "world". Today, it might end with word "turns." Now what does that tell you? Not much, I think. I mean, you can extrapolate at least part of the final sentence of Harry Potter, at least part of what it will say, from JK Rowling's "last word." For me, it only means that I have to be careful how I end the next book, or some of you might think it's the last.
And, oh yes. I do like seeing you squirm.
You've said before that you know where this series is going to end.
I've known the last scene of the last book for 15 years. I could have written it easily 15 years ago, and it would be only changes in the wording, not in what happens, from that to now.
So will the male-female duality be resolved? Or is this a "read and find-out" question?
Read and find out. What I consider the major story lines will be resolved. There will be a number of minor story lines that will not be resolved, for the simple reason that there is no point to any real world where everything is resolved. That's always something that has irritated me about some novels—that you reach a point at the end of the book, and everyone's problems have now been solved, and all of the world's problems have been solved. I get the feeling I could put these characters and this world on a shelf and put a bell jar over them and go away. There's nothing left there alive.
That's the way it's going to be. I even intend to set a small hook in the last scene.
Uhm, no, there is no possibility that it will never end. I will wrap up all of the major storylines, I will wrap up some of the minor storylines. Other minor storylines will be left hanging, and I'm going to do worse than that. I am going to set a hook in the last scene of the last book, that will make some people who don't believe what I say, think that I am setting up a sequel. What I am doing, what I will be doing, is trying to leave you with a view of a world that is still alive. One hope that some fantasies have is that when you reach the end of the book, or you reach the end of the trilogy, all the characters' problems are solved. All of the things that they have been doing are neatly tied of in a bow, all of their world's problems have been solved. And there's no juice left, there's no life left. you think 'I ought to set this world on a shelf and put a bell-jar on top of it, to keep the dust off.
When I finish the Wheel of Time, I want to do it in such a way that you will think it's still out there somewhere, people still doing things. This story has been concluded, this set of stories has been concluded, but they're still alive.
The plan is to do a main sequence book—which I'm working on now, and then a prequel, then another main sequence book and another prequel.
I hope—please God, are you listening?—that there will be only two more books in the main sequence. When I started out, I thought it was only going to be five books. I thought I could fit the entire story into five books—maybe it might take six. When I finished The Eye of the World, I realized it was highly unlikely I'd be able to finish in six books.
The problem is, although I know what I want to happen, every time I begin a book, I realize I can't fit into that book everything I wanted to get into it. Some things had to be left over, to be taken up in another book.
I'm now at a point where I think I can see the end. For which I'm very grateful. It's been about 20 years of my life I've given to these books.
I posted that other email I got that was somewhat negative, but the overwhelming majority are very encouraging and thoughtful. I got one piece recently from a reader named Matt which got me thinking. It relates to A Memory of Light, and so I figured I'd answer it here.
Brandon—My name is Matt, and I have been following your blog posts and website since you were announced as the writer for A Memory of Light. A question to ask occurred to me today that I don't think I ever saw in any of your interviews/posts about being selected to write the book. As a fan, is a part of you disappointed to read the ending of the story the way you did, that is through RJ's notes and not after reading an entire book?
Excellent question! My answer follows:
It was indeed a different experience to read through the outline and materials, with the holes and occasional vague sections, rather than reading a complete novel. A little bit of me is regretful. Of all the readers and fans out there, I'm one of the few who won't be able to experience this book for the first time in its complete form. Mr. Jordan's assistants and wife have probably been in that boat for years!
And yet, I am a writer, and I don't look at an outline the same way that a regular reader might. The closest approximation I can make is to origami masters. If you go and look at their websites, they will often release 'patterns' that go with a new piece of origami they've developed. The pattern is just a sheet of paper with lines on it. I look at that, and all I see are lines. But to another origami master, that pattern reveals the exact method used to create the piece. They can look at the pattern and see the finished product.
This outline was kind of like that for me, particularly since the ending was the most complete section. I could look at it, and my mind filled in the gaps, adding the foreshadowings and character climaxes that had come before, taking the hints and the outline chunks that Mr. Jordan wrote and putting them all together. It didn't feel like reading a complete book, but I felt like I could SEE that complete book as he would have written it, and that has become my guide in writing it myself.
(I might also note at the end here that one thing I forgot to include in my email to him is that while I didn't get to read the final book like you all will, I DID get to find out what happened at the end of the series a good two years ahead of anyone else!)
This is a good one to answer now, since I HAVE read the outline (obviously.) Actually, there's a good story here. When I first went to visit Harriet, I recall walking in the door and—even before eating—asking if I could have two things. The ending Jim wrote (he finished the last part of the book himself) and the answer to who killed Asmodean.
I wish it were possible for me to express just how much I enjoyed reading those final written words that Mr. Jordan left behind. I was satisfied. I think that's the perfect word for it. Satisfied. It ends the way it should. Not, perhaps, the way I would have guessed—or even the way you have guessed. But it's the RIGHT ending. I was very pleased.
And it made me sleep a lot more easily once I got to see that the ending was there, and that I wouldn't have to do that part myself. I'm a 'goal driven' writer. I develop an outline for myself that generally focuses on my ending, and then my writing pushes me toward that goal. Already having the ending makes this book possible.
I guess the only other thing I'd like to note that I was feeling was this: Reverence. This is the last work of the master. It's like holding a play penned by Shakespeare himself—one that nobody else has read, and that you get to perform for the first time.
Brandon, you are noted for your fairly concise epic novels. But I am curious about how the final volume of The Wheel of Time, which was envisioned by Robert Jordan as a final and single book, got to be so long? Not just a little longer but incredibly longer (possibly over 900,000 words).
1. Did Robert Jordan totally miscalculate the size his final book? Or didn't he get too far writing it and had no idea of how long it would be?
2. Is it including every note Jordan had on the subject because no one is sure what he really wanted to use?
3. Is it being turned into a self-contained trilogy because a lot of people (like me) haven't read the entire 11 book series (or by now have forgotten the story), and it has to include some back-story?
I've wondered this myself, actually, in some form. As a long time reader of the series, when he began saying it would be one book, I was very curious how he'd pull it off. And then I saw the notes, and I was left scratching my head a little bit.
It's not option three—I was doing a little bit more of this, but Harriet requested that I scale it back. Her opinion (and it was Robert Jordan's opinion) is that the series is much too long to spend time recapping in every book. She was right, and I trimmed a lot of it.
#2 might have some influence here. Robert Jordan could have chosen to cut out characters and leave out scenes he had in the notes; it doesn't feel right for me to do that.
But I think, overall, it's something that you didn't mention at all. Robert Jordan knew this was going to be a BIG book. He began promising it would be the last, but also that it would be so big that readers would need a cart to get it out of the store. I think he was planning a single, massive book at 800k words or so.
But he DID want it to be one book—partially, I suspect, because he knew his time was short. He wanted to get it done. If he hadn't been sick, however, I don't think he would have started calling this the last book.
Harriet has told me on several occasions that she didn't think he would have done it in one book, if he'd been given the freedom to approach the writing how he wanted. In the end, there is SO much to do that it was going to end up like this no matter what. Unless I crammed it all in and forgot about a lot of the characters.
Would Robert Jordan have been able to do it in one book? Really? I don't know. I think that, if he'd lived, he might have worked some magic and gotten it done in one 400 or 500k volume. But I feel the need to be very careful and not ruin this series by strangulation. It's not going to go on forever, but it does need a little room to breathe.
It's actually not as simple as either of those options. The notes range in how detailed they are. In some places, he finished complete scenes, which is great. He finished several complete scenes, which will be scattered through the three books, including the ending itself.
In a number of places he gave dictations. Over his last few months, he spent a lot of time dictating to the family things that should happen. These are very interesting scenes in that they read kind of like a screenplay, because they transcribe the dictations. It's a lot of the dialogue, but it's him saying what should happen instead of actually writing it out. "And then, Egwene says this, and then he says this, and then this happens." And so the description isn't there, but the dialogue and the blocking all are. As I said, like a screenplay.
In other places, there are fragments of scenes, where he wrote a couple of paragraphs, and then another couple of paragraphs. And just like a shattered plate, there are pieces missing. In other places, there are sentences he's written, "and then this happens"—where "this" is a sequence of four chapters' worth of events. In other places, he left a paragraph or two, and in some places there’s just a big hole. There're characters here and there, and then there are a lot of really detailed notes for the ending, saying where everyone ends up, who lives and who dies—it's very detailed, and is where I think the bulk of the material is. But sometimes, we'll know where someone is at the end of Knife of Dreams, and then at the ending he says that person is doing something else, but the intervening space is a big hole.
Yes! That's one of the reasons why we felt we needed to split the books. It was partially because the outline detailed so many things for us to do, and Robert Jordan had been saying for some time that it was going to be an enormous book. And part of the reason also was that I needed some legwork—time to set up all of these things that were going to happen. If you look at the end of Knife of Dreams, you've got characters scattered to the far reaches of the world, and we know—we've all known as fans for a while—that they're going to have to gather back together for the Last Battle. It's got to come, but they're still scattered all over the place. He started to draw them back together at the end of Knife of Dreams, but we really needed a staging book to bring some of these things back together, and to accomplish some of the goals he had set forth. That's really what The Gathering Storm is: it's focusing on several of the main characters who need to be in a certain place, both spiritually and physically. As characters they need to be in a certain place mentally, in who they are, and physically they need to arrive in certain destinations, and so I focus a lot on that.
In many ways, it's a more personal book, in that it's more focused on several of the big main characters.
No, but I'd like to.
We're in a little better shape. Jim actually finished scenes. We have a lot more to work with. He wrote the end himself! He left landmarks to follow from here to the end. Not specific details, just "strong stuff" to get us to the end.
"There are no characters that we don't know how they end up."
There are about 50,000 words of secondary plots that Sanderson wants to include in Towers of Midnight. He's just not sure all of it will get into the book. If something gets cut, he'd like to get to his fans on his website.
This lead to quite a bit of discussion about Towers of Midnight. It will be a very different book from The Gathering Storm. The Gathering Storm was very intentionally focused. Brandon felt strongly that a 'hit' wasn't good enough, that The Gathering Storm needed to be a home run. (At the table, we all thought it was a home run.) Towers of Midnight will need to catch up many plot threads and will be much less focused. This will have its problems and it will be a big struggle to find the right balance—they aren't there yet in the writing process. Brandon mentioned a few plots as examples which strongly suggests they will be in Towers of Midnight—Loial, Lan, Fain, Taim, Logain, Elayne, if Mat does what fans think he will, etc.
After this wonderful panel, we had an amazing treat. As many of us know, before Robert Jordan died, he spent one evening and the better part of the next day telling his close family/friends exactly how A Memory of Light goes, and they captured it on tape. Alan, being the computer whiz he is, cleaned up the first 17 minutes of audio, and we got to listen to it. Aside from Robert Jordan's preamble that he would be talking mostly out of order as things came to him, he said "but I will start with the prologue." We then were treated to the Great Bard himself telling us the first scene of The Gathering Storm.
Now, I know exactly what people are hoping for here, and I am going to say: no. Aside from the fact that no recording devices were allowed in the room for legal reasons, I know that I myself could not do justice to what I heard. It would be a cruel parody and fall short. I trust Brandon will have translated the scene description we heard into wonderful prose, but what we heard was exactly that, a description of action and scene, not the text we will all see soon enough, and that should only ever be in Robert Jordan's voice. So, sorry guys and gals, you had to be there.
But, I will tell you this: our reaction. When it was finished, the room gave a standing ovation. This, of course, was expected and not spectacular from us. What was, though, was that when the clapping stopped, we all sat down, and dead silence filled the room, even though we knew the reading/panel was done, and even still after Harriet and Alan said "that's it." We did not know what to do with ourselves, our brains were churning and wheeling and grinding over what we heard, and many people left with tears in their eyes. I still get goose-bumps just thinking and writing about it.
OK, I’ll start by saying Brandon did not tell us any names/characters who are going to be where, so I will have to be as vague as him. Although, I think I saw a chart somewhere that will give us an idea, if someone wants to be investigative.
So, the story as stands at the end of Knife of Dreams has four "plot arcs" that are more or less related through "geography, fate, thought, etc." At the end of each of those arcs was a giant chunk of joined material that was "Tarmon Gai'don" and made up roughly 1/3 of the story. Brandon started writing these plot arcs like four separate novels with the intent to intersperse them. He had finished the third arc and hit 400k words when they decided they had to split it.
So, what they are doing: the first two plot arcs he wrote are going to be MOSTLY included in The Gathering Storm, as well some set-up/teaser of the other two. Then, in the second book (Working title The Shifting Winds, by the by, but we were promised it is going to be changed) is going to continue from that set-up/teaser of the third and fourth plot arcs, and including the final setup of the first two so that everyone hits at the same point and is ready for Tarmon Gai'don. Book three (working title is Tarmon Gai'don, but it might be A Memory of Light), will be, yes, Tarmon Gai'don. So, there ya go.
Immediately after this was what was billed in the program as "A Reading from A Memory of Light", and the panelists listed were Harriet—and Robert Jordan. I may have been the last person to clue into what this meant. I had assumed that Harriet was going to read something from the book that Jordan had written.
What I got was quite different.
Wilson was there, too, and got up and told us how, a few weeks before Mr. Rigney died, Wilson was sitting with him when Mr. Rigney suddenly began to talk. He was describing a scene, and as soon as Wilson realized what he was hearing he jumped up and ran into the next room and got Harriet and Maria, so they could take notes, and dashed to Wal-Mart to buy audio recording equipment. Because Robert Jordan was telling them the end of the story.
I don't mind telling you, when I realized they were going to play some of the audio recording for us, I got chills.
Wilson told us that what we were about to hear was recorded twenty days before Mr. Rigney passed, and is a description of a scene in the Prologue of A Memory of Light. I'm not sure, but it may be the very first scene in the book. You could have heard a pin drop in the room when he sat down next to Harriet and started the recording.
I can't claim that I specifically remember what Mr. Rigney's voice sounded like when I met him five years ago, but I would have remembered if it had sounded any different from what a big, self-assured man generally sounds like, so hearing what he had sounded like near the end was something of a shock. The voice on the tape was hoarse and cracked and exhausted and determined, and altogether... I hesitate to use the word "eerie", for fear it seems disrespectful, but, well, I can't think of another way to describe it. Combined with the scene he was actually describing, which was entirely for the purpose of creating a sense of ominous foreboding, the effect was... I don't know what it was.
The scene was simple, with largely nameless characters who are unlikely to appear in the larger narrative, starting with a farmer sitting on his porch, watching a cloud bank in the distance, one which is behaving in a manner unlike any clouds the farmer had ever seen before. I won't go into more detail (though it may be that others will), because we were asked beforehand not to employ recording devices, and though a written summary is certainly not breaking that rule, I feel that I should adhere to the spirit of the request. And besides, a written summary wouldn't do it justice.
The thing I remember most was the repeated phrase: "The storm is coming. The storm is coming." He said that over and over again.
I had choked up the moment the recording started, and by the time it was over, I was unabashedly in tears. This may seem like a rather strong reaction, but perhaps it is a little explained when I tell you that by entirely random coincidence, Mr. Rigney had died barely a month before my own father did; my father was only a year older than Mr. Rigney, too.
Meaningless coincidence this may be, but grief doesn't truck much with logic, and... and I don't have much more to say on that topic. Let's just say it struck a raw place, and leave it at that.
All other considerations aside, whatever else I felt at that moment, I also feel privileged to have been there for it.
Fortunately for this con-goer, there was a ball later that evening. With a bar.
Did the ending of WOT bum you out?
No, it didn't, but it helped since that is how Brandon generally writes, which is to write the ending and use an outline. However, Brandon doesn't get to read A Memory of Light like a regular fan, which was a little disappointing since he is writing it (counter-balanced by the fact that he knows the ending before anyone else).
He did say that when he first went to Charleston that before eating dinner, he insisted on finding out who killed Asmodean, and how WOT ended!
I'm gonna RAFO that. Because that's talking too much about the core soul of what the book is. And honestly, you're going to have to decide that. I'm going to have to see what people think of it after I write it, if that makes sense. I don't think I can armchair decide if people are going to feel that this is . . . how people are going to feel this is. It's going to be a good book, and it will feel slightly different from Gathering Storm and slightly different from Towers of Midnight, just like each book in the series has felt slightly different than those before them.
There are a lot of loose ends to tie up, though Robert Jordan has in his notes specifically several to not tie up. He says, 'this does not get resolved'. And so those will not be resolved. He wanted the world to keep on living and breathing even after the series was done. We are tying up pretty much everything that he did not tell us not to tie up, if my double negative worked there. And so the pace is going to be fairly quick-paced is basically what I can say, but I don't want to say anything more than that.
The ending itself was already written by Robert Jordan, and it is a fantastic ending. The notes that Robert Jordan left include a quite extensive list of what happens to each major character, and I'm writing their fates according to his wishes.
It will definitely be hard to know that when the final book comes out, we won't be seeing any more of these characters who we have come to love since the first book came out. But it would have been much harder if we never got to see the end that Robert Jordan had planned. I'm honored to have had the chance to get inside the characters' heads for a couple of years, though it's still a bit sad for me that I don't get to read a new Wheel of Time book at the same time everyone else does.
I read somewhere that RJ said the final story wasn't set in stone, and was fluid depending of circumstances, feelings, etc. Are the notes that he left older notes from the beginning (original thoughts), or newer notes from right before he passed (changed from his feeling in the beginning of the series)?
RJ never actually said that; see the tags for 'the last scene' and 'how will it end?' to see what RJ did say about it (mostly that the outcome was entirely set in stone, but some of the details on how to get there were not).
I have both. There is a lot of flexibility, because often he implied things like: "I'll do this, or maybe this. The tone I'm looking for is this. Make it feel that way."
Some are hardfast. He wrote the last scene of the series, for example.
Did RJ leave notes intending that somebody else would finish the series? Or are they notes to himself?
Most of the notes were to himself. A large chunk are things he dictated on his death bed in the last weeks, after changing his mind and asking Harriet to find someone. (Originally, he had not wanted anyone to finish it for him.) Some of those dictations are directed more at me.
I felt, reading it, that Robert Jordan's ending was deeply satisfying. I liked it a lot. It is also weird to know that, to one extent, it's all over.
I realize this is an older thread, but I just wanted to say how pleased I am to see this comment. Before I found WoT I never thought I'd enjoy reading. I grew up with this series, and I'm so happy to hear the ending is a good one.
I am a huge fan of your work; especially Mistborn and The Way of Kings. Thanks for doing the AMA :D.
My pleasure. Thank you for reading.
The question that I have for you is, now that you know the ending of Wheel of Time, after the final book has been released will it be a world that you could set a game in? Or will it be like Tolkien where after the end of Lord of the Rings the world is pretty much over? I ask because it looks to be a great place to set an RPG and I want to know if I should be looking to a time before The Eye of the World or if I should run a new age?
I'm going to stick pretty close to things Mr. Jordan has said or implied regarding this. Things he has said have implied strongly that it is not going to be like Tolkien; though the Wheel will eventually turn to a point where the One Power is forgotten and the land becomes like our world, that is NOT the Fourth Age. I think it would still be a fantastic place to set an RPG game.
Extending back to the first clear thought I had that I can say led into the Wheel of Time was maybe 10 years before I began writing. I'm not saying I knew 10 years before I began writing what it was going to be, or that I was actually on to something that would become the Wheel of Time.
I thought I had a story set in my head, a set of stories, fixed. And when I began writing the Wheel of Time—The Eye of the World in particular—I realized I didn't have as much of it as clear as I thought I did. There were things that I needed to work on. So The Eye of the World took me four years to write. I guess you could say, in a way, it was about 14 years of development to get the thing set.
Did you ever think it was going to turn into this epic series?
No. The story is the same story that I set out to tell. I knew before I began writing what the story was. There were details of how it worked that I didn't have fixed that I thought I knew and suddenly realized I didn't. But, I knew the beginning and the end and the things that I wanted to happen in the middle. I literally could have written the last scene of the last book before I began writing The Eye of the World. The problem has been over-optimism.
In what way?
Well, when I went to the publisher with this at Tor Books and I said, "Look, this isn't a trilogy that I'm talking about. It's going to be four or maybe five books." I said. "It could be six. I don't think so, but it could be." And I really believed that. But the over-optimism has been, "How much of the story can I get into one book?"
With every book I start out thinking I can get more of the story into this book than I actually turn out to be able to. I suddenly realize that I have to stop here or I'm going to have to write another thousand pages to really make it fit together. Or I realize that I'm going to have to take some things and do them later or I'm going to write a 2,000-page hardback, which they really would have to sell to people with a shoulder strap.
About the end of the book, as we all know, Jordan explained that he has always had the series’ ending planned. However, he was also careful to mention that he didn’t want all of the minor sub-plots to be neatly tied up at the end of the series. I think he may have been implying that such sub-plots might also make for great (long) short stories and mini-epics.
Regardless of whether or not this is true, it is clear that much will still go unanswered and leave us much to debate about, even after the series is through. In reality, every situation does not get neatly tied up and patched at the end, and after so much conflict in Jordan’s fantasy world, he doesn’t want something that unrealistic to happen there, either.
Robert Jordan often said that he intended to plant a 'hook' in the last scene, a teaser for an unresolved issue. Was this 'hook' something he planned to explore in the outriggers?
Yes, and he actually wrote that part. You'll see it when the book comes out, and it's one of the lines that will go in unchanged. Sorry!
I was really satisfied with it. It was the first thing I read out of all his notes; when I got to Harriet's house for the first time, I read that ending, and I was very satisfied. I really... I think it ties up well.
Jordan does have his detractors. Disgruntled fans—and not a few critics—question his verbosity, and many have wondered whether he could be losing control of the story.
"No, I never feel that it's getting away from me," Jordan said. "I certainly am telling it in more detail, in which case, I think it's good that I'm telling it in more books than five. Trying to compress it into five would have made it not as readable or enjoyable."
He insists that he has known what will happen in the last scene of the last book before ever setting down a word. And while he will not speculate on how long it will take to get there, Jordan does have definite plans for life after the "Wheel of Time" has finished turning.
The next question was about the tying up of all threads, to which he said it was not going to happen. He then told how he didn't like it when in most books all the sub plots are tied up and that you could put the world in a bell jar and put it on a shelf. He wants his reads to imagine his world still living after the series is finished. He said that he was going to set a hook at the end of the last book and walk away.
He again stated that he only worked on one book at a time.
Something which just occurred to me was that, other than editors, advance reviewers, etc. the first people who will get their hands on the conclusion to The Wheel of Time will be the audiobook narrators—including Kramer, who has been a constant voice in the series. You've written that the final words in the series are Robert Jordan's—can you give away whether the final voice on the audiobook might be Kramer's?
Ha! I can't give you something like that. I'm sorry. Nice try, though.
I thought I'd manage to dodge a RAFO with this setup, but of course to answer it he would have to confirm Rand's death or otherwise.
The last battle strategy and body count were in RJ's notes, the specifics not. So he did specify who'd die but not how. Help was gotten from Bernard Cornwell. (woohoo!)
RJ set up the whole layout of the battle, who would be where and who would not make it out but he kept insisting that he'd write the Last Battle on the fly, so to speak. Apparently Bernard Cornwell lives kind of close to their place so one day Harriet asked him over for coffee and he had a few good pointers for the battle (which I personally think is great because his battle-style has a very similar immediacy in scale as RJ displayed in Dumai's Wells and while I also think that BS writes good battles, he's better at the one-on-one type things and not so good with the massive event that the Last Battle would be).
Wow I am amazed that you actively Reddit, how in the name of the dark one didn't I know this? If you have the time I just have one question! Is WoT really going to end this next book? there seem to be SO many loose end that, if the series is tried too be ended in one book, will be rushed or left unacknowledged/uncompleted! Anyway thanks for yor amazing work I loved the latest books!
Well, I guess "active" is a relative phrase, as I only now saw this.
Yes, this is the ending. No, not every loose thread will be tied up. Robert Jordan left instructions for some to be left open.
It doesn't feel rushed to me, but we'll have to see what the fans think.
Oh yes. There will be NO doubt in anyone's mind what Rands fate will be at the end. It will sure to surprise and amaze people. When Jim (RJ) told me how the series ended I just shook my head and said, "Bubba, that is just beautiful. Just beautiful." So yes, you will all know.
Ok, I was afraid that might get a read and find out type answer so thanks for assuring us that Rand's fate will not be open-ended for interpretation.
Yep, there will be a definite confirmation by the end of what happens to him.
What was your reaction to reading Jordan's notes for the series' conclusion?
I was very satisfied. I was very satisfied with the ending.
How would you characterize the ending?
I really don't want to give any spoilers, and I'm worried that anything I say here the Wheel of Time fans will read to much into. I would characterize it as the right ending for the series, and that's basically all I can say.
Yeah, the battle scenes were the toughest part of A Memory of Light, definitely. At least the toughest for me, because it's not necessarily something I naturally excel at. I think I'm okay at it. I've read a lot of books...but I've read a lot of books. I haven't done it. Fortunately, Alan Romanczuk has done it. He was a soldier and Jim was a soldier, so I'm really relying a lot on him for getting it to feel right. You know, my book learning only gets me so far in the way that tactics are done and the way a battlefield plays out. So, that's been one of the big slow-downs for this. The other big slow-down for this has been just making sure we get everything in there. There are a lot of things that need to go in the book and there are some things that aren't going to make it. Jim said that certain things don't get resolved, and there are certain things we just didn't have time for and we said, "Okay, this just doesn't get resolved." And I'm sorry about that. He warned you, I will warn you: there are some non-resolutions.
I don't know how other people would feel about that, but I kind of enjoy that. To me, that's where a fandom would go. We can continue to speculate and wonder and think about.
Yeah, it gives us something to talk about. We can ride that or like ten years at least. (laughter)
JordanCon will be good for a while. We'll have a lot of talking panels on that one.
I will try to keep them quiet. There are two deleted scenes from the book that actually covered very interesting things. And after the books are out I will give you guys some hints and then you can spend the next ten years deciding what was in them.
Yeah, we'll ask you some really weird questions over the next ten years. We used to do that to Robert Jordan. We'd ask him very oblique questions, hinting at the thing we really wanted to know, because we were like doing process of elimination, and logic trees and...yeah, he caught on.
For the fairly sizable contingent of Stanford rasfwrj-ites here, there's an RJ interview in the bookstore newsletter; I probably shouldn't post it here, but I found his last quote interesting enough to risk posting...
Jordan quickly points out, however, that the Wheel of Time is not literature in which everything always works out to fairytale perfection with good always triumphing over evil. "But," he adds, "I always try to leave hope at the end."
That's an interesting little morsel; the rest is fairly unremarkable, singing the praises of WOT, an attempt at a two-sentence plot summary, a brief RJ biography, and the standard "I-don't-know-how-long-it-will-be" bit.
Somebody asked if he killed any characters against RJ's wishes.
He said that there was one character who he was going to let live but Harriet insisted should die. And there was another character whose fate was not spelled out in the notes (I didn't quite hear what he said there) and that he killed that character himself. Other than that everybody who dies, dies by RJ's hand. I think he talked about this in other interviews so this is probably not new.
Excellent question. I read the ending—Robert Jordan wrote it himself, the last chapter, and I have put that into the last book unchanged—I read it and I was deeply satisfied with it. That is the word I always use: satisfying. It was a satisfying ending. And I didn't read that and ever think, "No, we're going to change this." I don't think it ever needed it. What I did is I said, "That's my goal. That's my target. I have to get us there in a satisfying way to match this ending." And my goal all along is to live up to that ending. The nice thing is, being a creative person, there were certain holes. There were things that he, you know....I know where that last chapter is, but there are big gaps along the way, some places where I got to say...I get to do some things I've been looking forward to doing, looking forward to having happen in the Wheel of Time, and that was really a treat to be able to sit down with that outline and say, wow, there's a place here for the thing I've been waiting as a long time as a fan, he doesn't say either way. I can make it happen.
And so I got to do a lot of those sequences, and then there are a lot of ones he left instructions on as well, and so my goal has been to...always my default is, if Robert Jordan said it, don't change it. However, that said, you can't do a book like this without being willing to be flexible in your outline. I never wanted...never changed that ending and I never have, but there are things along the way, particularly when he would say, I'm thinking of doing this, or maybe this other thing that's opposite, and sometimes I'll choose between one of those two, and sometimes it's neither one and it has to be a third thing. In a creative process, you really have to be willing to do that; you always have to be willing to toss aside what you were planning to do when something better works for what you're building, so and that has been that process. And after the books are out, I hope to be able to be much more forthcoming about what those things were and show some of the notes, if Harriet will let me, and show how they were adapted. I'm not sure if she will let me. It's really her call. Her argument has been that she doesn't want people's last memory of Robert Jordan to be his unfinished things, which is a really solid argument, and so hopefully she'll let us see some of it, but I can talk more freely about this after the last book's out.
As far as you know, have you finished all the plot threads with the last book? How did you keep track? Were there certain threads that RJ forgot about in his final telling to his family that you had to figure out on your own?
I have not finished all of them. There are a few that got cut from the book during the revision process, for example. (I'll reveal what these were after the book is out.) In other cases, RJ asked for certain threads to not be tied up.
My goal has been to tie up as many as I can, respecting Mr. Jordan and leaving alone the ones he said not to. He left many unexplained in his final telling—his last months were spent on the major plot cycles, and many smaller things were left to me.
At the end of A Memory of Light, I assume you're going to leave some questions unanswered intentionally. Will any of these have canonical answers that simply aren't shared, or will you try to resolve all the open questions?
There are canonical answers that are not in the book. (Mr. Jordan sometimes said in the notes "Here is the answer to this, but it isn't resolved in the last book.") He didn't want everything answered because he wanted the world to live on in people's minds. All major plot elements are dealt with, but some smaller ones are left open.
So there's going to be a new acronym after RAFO? Like YNFO?
(Probably left this too late to expect a response but...)
Will you (or anyone) ever provide those answers? Whether it be by blog/new "world of RJ's WoT" or Q&A?
I will try to answer some questions once the book is out. I'd like to do some blog posts talking in-depth about the process, and about the notes. But it will depend on a lot of factors.
Even Maria's large reference book won't contain those secrets?
The reference book will contain some of the things not resolved in the book, and I've given clues about some others. Other things...well, he wanted them to go unanswered. So they will be. (And some we don't even know the answers to.)
Thanks Brandon! I am excitedly and sadly awaiting the final book. After so many years, it's going to be rough finishing it, and closing a chapter of my own life.
A question I had, if you're still answering. I believe you said on your blog that the "very last scene" is Robert Jordan's, and touched very little by you.
Could you please specify what you mean in this? (Last scene of the main story arc, last section of the epilogue, last section of the last chapter, etc)
Thanks for all the work you have put into the series!
It's the last scene of the book. RJ had a large influence on the ending as a whole, but when I say "Last Scene" I'm referencing the final 1000 word section with the words "The End" following it.
Cool, thanks! : )
Just opened the document, as I figured I could give some hard statistics on this. The chapter is just shy of 79,000 words. It contains (by my quick count) 72 scenes—but only 31 distinct viewpoints, as numerous ones repeat. (There are eight Rand scenes, for example, and six each for Mat and Egwene. Three or four each for another eight characters.)
It is not the last chapter of the book, but is a very important one, as you might have guessed. From the get-go, I lobbied Harriet to let me do this sequence as a single, massive chapter as I felt it fit with what was going on in the book as well as fitting with the series as a whole. I'm very pleased with how it turned out.
This may be a silly question, but what exactly is it that defines a chapter? Why the reluctance to break it up?
This is a tough question to answer because what defines a chapter is dependent upon context. I have done chapters a paragraph or two long, and I've done some (well one) at this length. In addition, if I were to go into depth about what makes this chapter a single chapter to me, I feel it would give too many spoilers. It has to do with the pacing, the sensation I wish to convey, and the attempt—through prose and the form of the storytelling—to evoke the same emotions in the reader that the characters are feeling.
It's really a weird experience. I discovered fantasy when I was 14, and the Wheel of Time books were the first series that started when I started. I have been following it all through, and it's also one of the few series that continued with me: I enjoyed it both as a youth and as an adult. Wheel of Time has always been there through my whole career, so I understand completely how [fans are] feeling about it.
But it is also a weird experience for me as a fan. I read Robert Jordan's ending in December 2007, so part of me has had the Wheel of Time done for five years now, and the rest of the world is finally getting to catch up with me. I think that people are going to feel a lot of what I felt when I read that last scene; I was very satisfied. I loved the scene, but there was also this deep sort of sense of, "Wow, it's actually over." The series has been going for 23 years, and we have joked in Wheel of Time fandom for 22 about when the ending would come. It's a reverent feeling, it's an excited feeling, and it's also a sad feeling.
In a lot of ways the "why" or the "how" was not said, and in other places in the outline there were just empty holes where a character is in one place and 800 pages later, then another place.
[In the final book] we've got a lot of questions that still need to be answered. Robert Jordan did leave me instructions on which ones, in some cases, not to answer. There are things he wants to leave unresolved, and there are other things he said do answer this, and there are some things that he said either way. He left a lot of instructions about who lives and who dies, but there are also plenty of cases where I got to make the judgment call. It's a big, cool, awesome, scary thing, and all of the gloves are off. Anything can happen in this book, because I don't need to worry about setting up any future books.
So what can we expect?
"I can tell you a few things as Robert Jordan was once asked what the series was about and he said that 'It's about what it's like if you're a normal person who is told that the world is going to end unless you try and save it.' This end book is what everyone has been expecting. They call it the Last Battle, so it's the last showdown as there's this massive war going on. You can also expect the last chapter written by Robert Jordan himself. He always promised fans that he knew what the end of the series would be, so he sat down and wrote it before he passed away. It's gone into the book virtually unchanged by me. It's the goal I've been working towards all this time.”
How extensive were the notes that you had to work with? Were all of the plot lines tied off, or did you have to find conclusions on your own for some of them?
Since Robert Jordan wrote the last scene, that actually made this whole project mountains easier. I had a target to shoot at. While I didn't have a ton of written material from Robert Jordan that I could actually put in—there were about 200 pages worth of scenes and notes that needed to become somewhere around 2,500 pages—a lot of those 200 pages were summaries of scenes he wanted. Robert Jordan wrote by instinct.
He was what we call a discovery writer, so what was handed to me was a big pile of half-finished scenes or paragraphs where he wrote, 'Well, I am either going to do this, this, or this. I was thinking of this, but it could be this.' Yes, cracking an ending is hard, and Wheel of Time had a lot of loose threads. My job was to take all those threads and weave them into an ending, which was a real challenge.
Fantasy and science fiction fans have every reason to be skeptical about the endings of long-running sagas, many of which never materialize or prove resoundingly disappointing, but Sanderson hopes A Memory of Light will be the exception. Certainly fans have high expectations, with some lining up at Sanderson’s first signing as much as two weeks in advance.
"It's not particularly pleasant outside in Utah in December and January," says Sanderson. "These are real troopers."
Listen to our complete interview with Brandon Sanderson in Episode 77 of Geek's Guide to the Galaxy, in which he reflects on his 50,000 unread e-mails, explains why so many Mormons write science fiction, and talks about whether this is really the end of The Wheel of Time. Then stick around after the interview as guest geek Douglas Cohen joins hosts John Joseph Adams and David Barr Kirtley to discuss movies based on the works of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian.
It is... It's very strange experience since it's been such a part of my life for so long, to not have it to work on... But I do intend to be a part of the fandom for the rest of my life. So, there is that.
I know a lot of people are looking for it, and there will always be more theories. I do remember last year when I spoke with you, you did say there will be loose ends, so people will be theorizing on those for a while.
Yeah, there will be loose ends, and I can talk to that when the book comes out.
Alrighty then! You'll just have to come back to Toronto then.
Okay, well that's a deal then.
Alright, I think that’s it... Thank you!
And I understand that he—the last scene, which I think you're referring to—he wrote that completely himself?
Did he have that in mind the whole time? Because I have to tell you, when I got the book in the mail last week, I turned to the end and read the last scene. I'm that kind of person.
(laughs) Yeah, I think he had it in mind the whole time—from before he started The Eye of the World. He thought very far ahead. I remember once we went out to lunch just after he'd finished The Eye of the World, and over lunch he wanted to talk about what would happen to a Maiden of the Spear who had a child. And that doesn't turn up until where? Book four?
I don't think so, yeah.
But he worked far ahead. And he did have the overall arc of the story in mind all the time—think of the prophecies.
That's true, yeah.
When asked about the ending he said he thought Robert Jordan left it open so the reader could fill in what happened for themselves. Then he said that he thought Rand probably did go talk to Tam before he left but maybe not Lan.
Harriet's going to be at the signing with you—I imagine that there's going to be a real overall tribute to The Wheel of Time at this event.
Yeah. What we usually do is the Q-and-A with fans, which is probably the last time they’ll get a chance at a signing like this to ask whatever they want, so we want to give them that—what it was like working with Robert Jordan, how the series came to be. A lot of times, fans are very excited to see Harriet and give her standing ovations. She was the driving force behind this—she discovered Robert Jordan as a writer and was behind The Wheel of Time getting published in the first place.
There’s a lot of tributes to her and Robert at these events, and they get pretty emotional, because for fans, these books were part of our lives. I started reading these when I was 15. I’m 37 now! The Wheel of Time has been with me longer than anything else. It’s been with me since before I wanted to be a writer, longer than I’ve known any friends that I’ve had.
That's got to be a hell of an emotional experience for you.
Yeah. The end it all is really weird . . . just to be at the end. And it's bittersweet, in more than one way, that I got to see it through to its ending, that I got to be part of it, but . . . this is it! There are no more Wheel of Time books to wait for. And that's a surreal feeling, to realize that it's all done now.
And it's got to be doubly overwhelming for you, as a fan and a writer.
Yeah. Granted, I had more time to steel myself for it. I got to read the ending Robert Jordan wrote, the epilogue . . . wow, back in 2007. I was one of the few who got to read that, to see that ending, and know how it ended.
There was still a lot of work to do, but I knew, "This is the ending, and I've got to prepare myself for it, because I know what it is."
For the fans, what they're feeling now, I started feeling it in 2007.
Brandon then came up and spoke. Here are some of the highlights:
"I read the WoT books all through my career, and all through college. I loved them, and at times hated them. Anyone else remember when Book 6 came out and it wasn't the end? I was not happy. I went through everything WoT fans seem to go through—the appreciation, and the transition from waiting for the ending to just letting Robert Jordan do what he wants to do.
In 2007, when he passed away, I was as surprised as anyone was. For me, I became a fantasy author in part because of my love for his books. I learned to write novels by reading his books, and I chose my publisher because it was the one that published the WoT books. So it was the end of an era. We talk about the end of the Third and the start of the Fourth—well the end of that age for me was when Robert Jordan passed away. I didn't think for a minute I would be here, five years later. It has been an amazing journey, and the last five years have been unparalleled.
I can't tell you how awesome it was to look through [Jordan's] notes and see things in the middle of their progress. As a writer, I haven't grown as much since writing my first book. It was amazing and wonderful, but over it all there was this cloud, that I couldn't have done this if my favorite author hadn't passed away. People ask me how I feel; it's a weird mix of emotions. It's probably similar to the emotions you will have reading the last page [of A Memory of Light]. It's wonderful and awesome you got to be part of this, but now it's done, and there's sadness. It's like Christmas: you've opened all your presents, and now what?"
You were the person with the Moiraine question. RJ wrote in his notes that main purpose of Moiraine is to prevent a war between Rand and Egwene. And then she was to go with him into the Pit of Doom, but in the Pit of Doom there was nothing for her to do. And I felt bad about that, but that's what he instructed. It was hard to come up with stuff for everyone to have a part and a role. But I did what he instructed. It was a good question, people wondered. She did have an important role to play.
Egwene, was that your idea or Robert Jordan's?
I haven't been telling people about that one specifically. Almost all the deaths in the book were RJ's instructions, but I did choose a few of them. So, it could been either one of us.
And the decision to exchange the bodies at the end?
That was his (Robert Jordan). And it began with the crossing of the balefire streams, way back when, and continued on through the series up to here. He actually wrote those scenes at the end himself.
Was Robert Jordan's original draft of that as bloody as the way it came out?
A lot of the deaths, he didn't write any of the actual death scenes, he just indicated who lived and died. I just upped the ante somewhat. I wasn't going to have the Last Battle come without substantial losses, and so, where he didn't instruct me, this person lives, I had some measure of, yeah. And so, I did up the body count. I know he was planning to kill off a number of characters, but he also, killing people, and letting them stay dead was not one of Jim's strong suits. He was very fond of his characters, and I know there were lots that he was planning to kill. I don't think that he would have killed as many as I, maybe. I don't know. It's what we felt the story needed, in talking to Harriet and Team Jordan. Maybe he would have. I did what I thought made the best story.
What about Cadsuane being summoned to become Amyrlin?
Cadsuane was going to give up the three Oaths, and go live forever. Cadsuane's fate was not my idea.
After Knife of Dreams, there's going to be one more main-sequence Wheel of Time novel, working title A Memory of Light. It may be a 2,000-page hardcover that you'll need a luggage cart and a back brace to get out of the store. (I think I could get Tor to issue them with a shoulder strap embossed with the Tor logo, since I've already forced them to expand the edges of paperback technology to nearly a thousand pages!) Well, it probably won't be that long, but if I'm going to make it a coherent novel it's all got to be in one volume. The major storylines will all be tied up, along with some of the secondary, and even some of the tertiary, but others will be left hanging. I'm doing that deliberately, because I believe it will give the feel of a world that's still out there alive and kicking, with things still going on. I've always hated reaching the end of a trilogy and finding all of the characters', all the country's, all the world's, problems are solved. It's this neat resolution of everything, and that never happens in real life.
I originally thought I was signing up for a 10 or 15K run, and somewhere along the line I found out it was a marathon. So yes, I would like to cross the finish line on this thing and get on to what's next. I'm not that old, and I've got a lot of writing left. There are two more short prequel novels to be done at some point, but aside from that, I have said I would never write again in this universe unless I get a really great idea—which would have to be an idea that would support two or three of what I call "outrigger" novels, not part of the main storyline. Well, I may have had one! But I'll have to set it aside for a year or two because I've already signed contracts for an unrelated trilogy called Infinity of Heaven, which I'm very excited about. I've been poking that idea around in my head for 10 or 12 years.
I've also thought about doing a book set during the Vietnam War, but Jim Rigney will probably never write the Vietnam book. If I did, it would be history now, and I decided a long time ago that Rigney was going to be or contemporary fiction, and my name for historical novels is Reagan O'Neill. Maybe Jim Rigney will never become a writer!
There have been some computer games and comics, and a movie based on The Eye of the World is still in the works (with contracts that allow me a lot of involvement), but nobody else is ever going to write Wheel of Time books. For after I die, I've purchased an insurance policy with a couple of guys who have a kneecap concession in the southeastern United States, and they have rights to expand this concession should it be desired. For a very small fee, they have guaranteed that they will crack the kneecaps of anybody who writes in my universe, and nail them to the floor!