Lessons from Elantris

This is not a book review because while book reviews may be amazing, they are just not good enough for what I want to say about Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy novel Elantris. 

I read Elantris with Writers as Readers Part Two hovering around like a guilty reminder in the back of my head, and I’m here to prove that guilt unjustified. Basically, I want to outline – in a (maybe) intelligible way – the biggest things I learned from reading Elantris. So while you aren’t going to get a plot synopsis, you will hopefully depart with a rightful conviction that you really need to read this book.

Okay, my rant is over. On to the list.

The most significant thing I learned from Elantris was how to write distinctive, complex characters. Oh, how much trouble I have had with this. Until I realized at last that a character isn’t just their emotional tendencies – it’s their life, how their stories reflect the way they are. Elantris does a wonderful job exhibiting this in several ways I found extremely interesting . . .

  1. Sanderson uses different nationalities to define people. These nationalities affect their temperaments, their speech, and their actions. I found the speech concept particularly intriguing. One character named Galladon comes from a different country than the rest of the characters, and he has a few expressions of speech that distinguish him from all the rest. Plus, he uses those expressions in the story so much that I’m probably never going to forget them.
  2. A character’s background also has a significant effect on their personalities. Please, I can’t emphasize this enough. Since this is so, I’ll pull out an example. The guy I mentioned above, Galladon, is an enduring pessimist who only sees the bright side of something when he’s forced to and then would never admit it. But most people from Galladon’s country are optimistic romanticizers – practically Galladon’s opposites. It is this man’s story that makes him who he is. No spoilers here, but Galladon has enough in his past to make anyone pessimistic.
  3. Complex characters should not be predictable all the time. Whatever it is that’s made them how they are, things are going to change at some point in the story and they’ll have to cope with it. All kinds of things contribute to how they cope, including their background as I mentioned, their personality, and their environment both at the time and in the past. Everything makes a difference, and all of it needs to be factored into how a character behaves.

And that leads naturally to plot twists. I tend to come up with plot twists at the absolute last moment, and then, no matter how good they may be, I have to go back through the entire story and scatter references. I don’t know if Sanderson had to do this, but in any case, there are enough references in Elantris to make the book worth several rereads even if it wasn’t already. Because who catches all those things the first time through? (Not me, obviously.)

So how does Sanderson get such brilliant plot twists? I have no idea. My method is basically just to take the expected and turn it around on itself. Think that person’s going to die? Nope, they survive the book and then actually end up living forever. Think that one’s going to marry the protagonist? Nope, they end up being the ultimate villain. You’re probably getting the idea by now. I’m not sure if this is what Sanderson did, but the result looks about the same. I’ll take it.

*    *    *

I have now discovered that if you press the wrong key in the middle of typing out a post, it automatically publishes. What can I say except ‘Oops.’ Thank you, WordPress.





3 thoughts on “Lessons from Elantris

  1. Pingback: Life Update #2 – Ink on Canvas

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s