Adapting the Wheel of Time

I doubt they’ll ever make the Wheel of Time into a TV series — but it’s an interesting mental exercise, thinking about how they would do it. (I do this sort of thing a lot, because it makes me think differently about story structure and how to create the appropriate shape.)

Up front: no way in hell would they just film it the way they’ve done with Martin’s books, (roughly) one book per season; that would make for fourteen seasons of TV, and even in a hypothetical scenario nobody’s going to do that. Even allowing for reductions based on things like “you don’t have to describe clothing when you can just show it” and “we’ll go straight to the meeting between these characters, rather than spending an entire chapter setting it up,” you’ve still got too much. Even if you go further and cut out a lot of the side viewpoints. You have to make it smaller. We’ll give them seven seasons to play with: that should be enough.

The next thing is that you have to restructure it. You can’t just condense the material and then film it straight through, because you’ve got to make sure the beats fall where they should. The end of every season needs to have something significant happening with the protagonist. I said in my discussion of writing long fantasy series that you need to hammer in some pegs for major events, and then navigate a path between them; in this case that means deciding what’s happening with Rand at the end of every season, and then shifting everything else to form a good shape around that. Theoretically the same should have been true of the books, but — well. Because of the way the structure got out of control, there are several books where the actual climax of the book is in somebody else’s plot strand.

Going through the series, what are his big events at the end of each book?

1. He discovers he can channel.
2. He becomes publicly identified as the Dragon Reborn.
3. He officially proclaims himself the Dragon Reborn.
4. He officially proclaims himself the Car’a’carn and gets his Aiel army.
5. He fights Rahvin.
6. He escapes captivity.
7. He fights Sammael.
8. He fights the Shaido. (I had to look this one up in my posts.)
9. He cleanses saidin.
10. He does absolutely nothing, because he gets only fifteen pages of pov in the whole book. (Looked this one up, too. It’s Crossroads of Twilight, of course.)
11. He captures Semirhage, I think? Though that isn’t at the end.
12. He has an epiphany that turns him into Zen Master Jesus Rand.
13. . . . I’m actually not sure, and my notes don’t help.
14. He defeats the Dark One.

If I had to restructure this into seven units, I think I would do it like this:

1. Rand discovers he can channel.
2. He officially proclaims himself the Dragon Reborn.
3. He officially proclaims himself the Car’a’carn and gets his Aiel army.
4. He has a cool fight with one or more major Forsaken.
5. He cleanses saidin.
6. He has an epiphany that turns him into Zen Master Jesus Rand.
7. He defeats the Dark One.

The important thing is that those things happen; how they happen is subject to change. For example, if you’re keeping the Horn of Valere as a thing, you fold that into either the first finale or the second one, since the Falme-related finale is no longer in the outline. Which Forsaken is he fighting in #4? Eh, whichever one fits best. The rest can still show up; there are probably Forsaken involved in lots of these finales. But you don’t have the repetition of “and now we will have a throwdown with a Forsaken which is the only important thing going on here.” If you think fans will be disappointed by losing Dumai’s Wells, then fold that in; the Rand-in-a-box segment is a good setup for Rand’s downhill slide.

Then you do the same thing with the other major characters. Not all of them will get a big thing every season, of course — though Mat and Perrin, Egwene and Nynaeve might. For Mat, you’d probably say that in the first season he picks up the Shadar Logoth dagger and uses it at the end; second season he gets healed of that and blows the Horn of Valere at the end; third season he meets the *finn and gets his military knowledge; fourth season he forms the Band of the Red Hand and uses them in the fight; fifth season he deals with the Seanchan (even if you don’t have the Bowl of Winds plot, you can still arrange for him to be in Ebou Dar); sixth season he rescues Moiraine; seventh season he fights the Last Battle. Rinse and repeat with Perrin . . . and maybe when that’s done you don’t have the Shaido Plot of Doom! Etc.

Obviously this loses vast quantities of stuff — but as I said, that’s inevitable. It forces you to look at the whole of the story and ask, which parts of this are the most important? Not logistically important; you can elide that stuff far more than Jordan seemed to think you could. The Forsaken all have to be defeated, but a) you could skip the part where they come back from the dead and b) the less important ones can be bumped off along the way, without big, focal battles. You need the parts that are thematically important, the ones that change the world or the characters — preferably both. Once you have that, you ask yourself what’s necessary to make that go (e.g. you need to introduce the Aiel in S1 or S2 so that Rand has a reason to go to the Waste in S3). Once you’ve filled in that, you look around and see how much room you’ve got left, and what shiny things you can put in to fill it.

And if you read this post, you may notice that there’s a resemblance there. If you’re capable of outlining a story before you write it, then what I just described is also good advice for writing fresh material as well as adapting something that already exists. But I am personally not enough of an outliner to do that, with very rare exceptions; I’m more liable to say “okay, what needs to happen in this book,” and ask that question fresh every time I sit down to start a new novel. I would, however, know from the outset how many novels I was writing — and so I would pace myself accordingly. As I said before: PICK A STRUCTURE, AND STICK TO IT.

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