Middle Volumes Are Always a Problem

Middle volumes are always a problem. (I’m going to have two middle volumes in OTHERLAND, so I’m cranky.) They’re not the ending and they’re not the beginning. Things have to happen, but nothing really resolves.

One of the things that kept me sane while writing STONE OF FAREWELL was that I’d never done it before. This was really only the third book of my career, so everything was pretty new, but the middle-volume problems in particular were happening to me for the first time. The other sanity-preserving factor was that I allowed things to develop on their own. The beginning and ending of my original outlines were pretty detailed, but I really hadn’t had much idea of how I would get from the former to the latter. That meant I could just sort of follow the characters in STONE and see what developed, which meant it was almost as much of a surprise to me as it was to the readers.

I had no idea when I started that I would spend so much time in Yiganuc. Neither did I know quite what was going to happen to the Lector, and how Miramele’s relationship with Cadrach would change during the course of this second volume. I certainly didn’t know I would spend quite so much time in Jao e-Tinukai’i, either.

Writing Simon’s trip to the home of the Sithi was actually one of the most enjoyable parts of STONE for me. I tried to pay a little bit of a tribute to Roger Zelazny’s AMBER books in the actual journeying — Aditu takes Simon through the Summer Gate by a process of shifting reality not unlike Corwin’s first trip to Amber — but still make that section my own, and for me, that and the first trip to the Yasira are among my favorite parts of the trilogy. Writing about immoral, alien characters is always difficult, so it was an entertaining challenge to try to make the Sithi seem genuinely different from humans.

I haven’t looked at the book for awhile, but just now I picked it up, and while browsing through saw lots of things I remembered fondly. I am still pleased with Josua’s wedding and the escape from the Thrithings — “I am married and an outlaw!” was always one of my favorite lines, if it’s not too embarrassing to quote oneself — and the incorporation of the famous old British legend, “King Alfred and the Cakes”. And, of course, the horrible fate of Brother Hengfisk and the first sight of the ghants and the kilpa.

Someone once pointed out to me that many of my best monsters can be directly traced to my personal loathing of seafood.

In fact, it’s funny: most of the people who like vast fantasies, and even a lot of the people who like mine, seem to enjoy the big sweeping stuff most — battles, magic, things like that. But when I look at what I myself am proudest of, it’s usually small stuff — a nice turn of phrase, a touch of transcendence, a character who becomes suddenly real, or just a weird little idea that does nothing but sit in the middle of a chapter and make people stop and stare.

My very favorite moment of THE DRAGONBONE CHAIR, for example, is the part where Simon and Binabik are exploring the burned abbey, and Simon finds a bible (well, a Book of the Aedon) that belonged to one of the monks, and reads the inscription, then has a minor spiritual experience. But I’ll bet ninety percent of the readers don’t even notice that as they go past.

Ah, well. We writers are strange folk, anyway.

Tad Williams © 1996
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