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The Summer of Something New

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This was the summer of fantasy – with the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson.  I thought it might be fun to try something different, because that is how we grow both as writers and as people.  There are plenty of reviews out there, so I won’t repeat that information beyond a basic premise; rather, I’d like to explore what I learned from reading these books and how they affected me as a reader and, ultimately, as a writer.

Mistborn was one of Sanderson’s first books, and, in it, we find our protagonist, Vin.  She is a thief, scared and friendless, but she will discover not only a hidden power but also learn much about herself and the very essence of trust and friendship.

What struck me about this book (well, actually, 2 books – I just started reading book 3 in the series) is just how true the characters are.  Great characters are so important to a story.  Can anyone forget Gollum in Lord of the Rings or Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet?  But characters can be tricky.  I see so many writers fall into the trap of making a character fit into their plotline, but a character should live and breathe and be alive.  They should above all else be true to who they are.  Sometimes, that means that they do things as characters that we might not like as readers, and that is ok.  They can change over time, but only in believable ways and usually only gradually.

In this, Sanderson excels.  His characters sometimes leave us wishing we could whisper to them through the veil of the page, but they act in exactly the way that someone in their situation would act.  This gives them not only believability, but, as a reader, I found myself hoping that they would not only survive and thrive but also find those qualities that they most needed – qualities that would allow them to redeem themselves.

Another thing that struck me are some of the twists.  They caught me by surprise, and surprise is the delight of the reader.  That said, I hate when the twist is really convoluted, and here, also, I found them surprisingly deft.  Things unfolded naturally (with one notable exception that Sanderson explains and handles explicitly), and when the author threw absolutely everything he could at the protagonist, I found myself rooting all the harder for her to succeed.  Even with the twists, the book is completely re-readable because the essence of what makes the story great is how the protagonist deals with extreme adversity.

Reading through Mistborn proved to me that great writing – and enjoyable reading – need not be confined to a single genre.  There is something for all of us to learn by reading well-written books from all sources.  In fact, leaving our usual genre makes it even easier to spot and reinforce our skill as writers.  As another great writer, Frank Herbert, once observed, “new experiences awaken something deep inside us.”  Try a new genre and let your sleeper awaken.

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