Kelly saw me sitting in the office on Monday, tears streaming down my face. “What’s wrong?” she asked. I hesitated. I was a little embarrassed and not sure how to respond. Finally, I said, “It’s this book I’m reading.” The book in question was Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson, book four of THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE. Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the book and are planning to: the scene I’d just finished was one that involved Teft and Moash toward the end of the book. If you’ve read it, you know the scene I’m talking about.
I finished the book on Monday. As it turned out, those tears were the first of many that I shed, some sad, some happy, in the last 200 pages of that 1,200 page long book. In fact, I can’t remember crying as much as I did in the last 200 pages of the book than in the last 20 years of my life. To me, that says a lot about the story. Set aside the genre, the writing style, the writing itself. If a story can draw those emotions from a reader, well, there’s something there. I wish I could tell a story that well.
There are writers that are good with endings, they can stick the landings. Others not so much. I’ve heard readers complain about Stephen King’s endings, although I don’t mind them. The end of 11/22/63 always brings me to tears (“How we danced!”). And I should know. I’ve read the book 7 times. The same is true for the end of Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov, which I have read at least 5 times1, although for slightly different reasons. As Janet Asimov wrote in I. Asimov, “Forward the Foundation was hard on him, because in killing Hari Seldon, he was killing himself.”
It takes skill to build up a story to the point where readers care enough about the characters that they affect them emotionally. Thinking back over the stories that I have written and published, there is only one that, upon re-reading, has the potential of doing this to me: “Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown.” The ending of this story gets me on the rare occasions that I re-read it. I did something right in this story. I’d like to be able to find that again.
I began reading THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE last November, and raced through the first three books (more than 3,000 pages total) before 2020 was over. Then I moved onto other things, before I decided last week to try to catch up and read Rhythm of War. When I finished, of course, I wanted to read book 5, but as far as I can tell, the next book in the series isn’t due to be released until sometime in 2023. Probably late 2023.
It’s always difficult to finish a good book and find another good one. I struggled, as I often do after finished a good read. I finally settled on The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North. By the time you are reading this, I should have finished that book.
I find it amazing that words on a page can produce these emotions. Screenwriters, actors, directors, and musicians combine their talents on screen and on stage to produce moving stories, but there, you have images and music to manipulate your emotions. With a book, it’s just you and the words on the page. I think that’s what I love so much about being a writer. How can I make someone feel with just words on a page? It is also what is perhaps the most intimidating thing about being a writer, at least for me.
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- I say “at least” because I read it at least once before I started keeping a list of everything I’ve read in 1996. ↩
“She was tall, I was taller.” Kills me every time!
Last book that made my cry was The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain. Cried in the public library!