The Wheel of Time– a vast sprawling epic that many find intimidating. But what if we take just the first book, The Eye of the World. On its own, it’s a simple story about villagers leaving home and being chased by evil creatures until they make some troubling discoveries. It’s a great example of how to write the first book in a series.
The Eye of the World has it all; fascinating characters, high stakes and a vividly imagined world. If you want to write books like that, then reading them is the best way to learn. Jordan’s work is somewhat controversial. Some readers criticize his writing as wordy, but many fans also praise it as easy to read, despite the sundry detail. These books aren’t perfect, but they prove that imperfect books can still be excellent. Writer-me finds that comforting.
Here are five things writers can learn from The Eye of the World:
1. Keep it Simple
This was my first time approaching Jordan’s work as a writer, and it was good to be reminded that complex tales can have fairly simple beginnings. I recommend reading this book if you are embarking on an epic story of your own. As a reader, I tend to hold the whole story of series I’ve read in my head. As a writer this sometimes makes me panic and wonder if my first book is delivering enough.
The Eye of the World is a simple story that hints at bigger things to come. That was still enough to hook millions of readers. In each successive book, Jordan adds characters and expands the world until it becomes a sprawling epic. He gives us time in the first few books to know his main cast and introduce key worldbuilding elements. This makes it easier for readers to feel invested in following the twisty, turvy, enigma-wrapped-in-a-mystery plots later in the series.
As I mentioned above, some people might beg to differ on this. Jordan’s writing style is wordy sometimes, but overall he does a fantastic job of showing us his world. Maybe we don’t need to hear so much about all the cats at the inn or have two pages describing a dress, but he doesn’t wax on about everything.
Many of his character descriptions are succinct and give an instant picture. For instance, he’ll write something like, “the man had a face like an anvil,” or “her mouth looked like she always tasted something sour.” These short descriptions tell us something of the person’s physical appearance and a little bit about their demeanor. Sometimes he’ll describe one key element of a city or country, like their architecture or food. He’ll use that one element to paint a picture of the culture and the state of the world at that point in the story.
3. Clarity of Vision
When Jordan was writing The Eye of the World, he meant his series to be a trilogy. Like every other writer, he changed things as he went along, and there are minor consistency errors still in print today. Despite this, it seems like Jordan had a clear vision of where he wanted Rand to end up. The dream sequence in Chapter 9 foreshadows many plot points and important pieces of Rand’s character arc. It also gives a clear summary of some of the central philosophical themes of the series. Having this clear vision for his main character helped Jordan keep the story on track (for the most part) while juggling thousands of characters and subplots.
Theme is difficult to talk about without sounding pedantic, but it is an integral part of literature. The themes of nihilism vs. hope, the balance between destruction and creation, light and dark, male and female, etc., come through clearly in The Eye of the World and every other book in the series.
Speaking of balance, the more succinct side of Jordan’s writing is displayed in chapter 9. It might take him two pages to describe a dress, but he can also encapsulate the series’ themes/ cosmology/and significant plot arcs in a couple of paragraphs. The truly genius thing about these moments is that they are subtle and natural to the story. A first-time reader wouldn’t know that the chapter 9 dream sequence is chock full of foreshadowing for later books.
4. Close Third-Person Perspective
Jordan has been called a master of close third-person perspective. His skill with this develops as the series goes along. Already in The Eye of the World, we see characters with limited information who act according to their personalities, opinions, and backgrounds. The characters always feel distinct, even in later books where he gives us several perspectives. I think that The Wheel of Time is worth reading for the sake of studying his mastery of perspective, even if you don’t appreciate other elements of his writing style.
Note that I’m not claiming his characters are perfect. Some of them, especially his female characters, tend to fall into caricature-like behaviors. Despite this, his cast is full of fleshed-out personalities who feel like real people, even when they do outlandish things.
Jordan’s world feels real because he incorporates so many types of people, and the full spectrum of human behavior into the story. His secondary and tertiary characters fill out the world, and it never feels like a city or group of people spring up for our characters to encounter and then cease to exist. His world breathes and lives even when our main characters are gathered in one hotel room.
Even though he introduces many elements that help him tell the story, he does so in a natural way. His primary and secondary characters make choices based on their weaknesses and perceptions. These choices complicate the plot of the story in ways that feel organic instead of contrived.
By grounding his world in some realistic elements, Jordan gives himself leeway to introduce all kinds of unrealistic things without losing his readers. I’ve heard many fans say that they return to the series again and again because of Jordan’s immersive, believable style.
Long story short, I think The Eye of the World is a good book to learn things from. If you like it and continue on with the second book, The Great Hunt, you’ll see how Jordan adds layers to the story and opens up the world. What begins as a fairly Tolkienesque tale takes on a flavor all its own. So if you are writing the first book of a big epic story, don’t be afraid to let it grow slowly and breathe a bit. Fans of The Wheel of Time were willing to read over 4 million words because Jordan hooked us on his characters in the first book and then kept amping up the action and sense of awe.
Have you read The Eye of the World? Let me know what you think in the comments.