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What I Learned About Writing This Week…from Brent Weeks

Shadow's Edge by Brent Weeks

Once upon a time, I read a novel. It was called The Way of Shadows, and it was penned by a gentleman named Brent Weeks.

Mr. Weeks did a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad thing (and for my description of said thing, I give a nod to Judith Viorst).

Mr. Weeks wrote a gritty, well-plotted, character-driven, gripping fantasy epic — and he had the audacity to leave it open-ended. Which meant, of course, that I would have no choice but to read the next book.

Oh yes. Didn’t I tell you? The Way of Shadows is the first of The Night Angel Trilogy.

Spiffy. “These writers,” she muttered. “How dare they leave me hanging and hungry for more? Inconsiderate jerks.”


Leaving Me On Edge

So yesterday, I finally finished The Night Angel Trilogy 2: Shadow’s Edge. And I discovered that in this novel Mr. Weeks did not only one but two terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad things:

  1. He wrote an epic high fantasy sequel that was confusing, convoluted, riddled with modern American slang, and POV’d by way too many characters.
  2. He added a twist in the very last line of the book that makes it impossible for me not to finish the series.


The Three Most Important Words

In case it’s too hard to guess, I’ll spell it out: I had some problems with Weeks’s Shadow’s Edge. It’s been long enough since I read the first novel that I couldn’t remember who all the characters were — and Weeks just dumped me right into their scenes and lives without a reminder of who these people were or how they connected to the story in Book 1. A character list of sorts would’ve been nice.

And I remember the American slang annoying me in Book 1, too…but in that novel, it didn’t bother me as much, because the story was so gripping. In Edge, however, I spent so much time trying to figure out who was who and what was going on, I was already out of the story enough that when the slang showed up, it bumped me right out of the fantasy and back into reality.

I had the same problem with “Xena: Warrior Princess” and “A Knight’s Tale”: Ancient, medieval, or fantasy characters just shouldn’t use the words “guy,” “golly,” or “gross.” Don’t ask me why I happened to remember examples that all start with “g,” because I don’t know.

So yeah — I’ve got my complaints about Weeks’s novel.


There’s still that twist at the very end. It’s a three-word sentence. Three little words is all it took to make me decide to ignore my frustrations and acquire a copy of Book 3 as soon as possible.

Three words.

Can you change a reader’s entire outlook and To-Read List with just three little words?

I’m not sure I can.

Do As I Say, Not As I Gripe

I won’t tell you what Weeks’s magic three words are. You’ll have to discover that for yourself. I will, however, break down the structure of the sentence for you:

noun (proper name)          verb (simple past tense)          adjective

And that’s it.

So what I want to tell you, my most darlingest inklings, is this: Pay no attention to my griping about convoluted plot, plethora of characters, or popular lingo. On those points, ignore me completely.

Instead, pay attention to Mr. Weeks. Do what he does.

Make magical hooks and cast them where your readers will bite.

Hook ’em where it hurts if they let go.

Write in something so unexpected, even the characters don’t see it coming. Bring back something from the beginning of the story, something the reader thought was resolved — and reveal that it’s really not resolved at all. Show how the main character gets everything he wants (for a terrible price, of course)…and then use your final paragraph to rip away the closure.

Weeks did it in three words. To demonstrate just how he did it, I’d have to load you up with a gajillion spoilers, and I don’t want to do that. Suffice it, I beg, to say that he uses each of the devices I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

And did I tell you that he does it in three words?

That is most definitely WILAWriTWe.

P.S. The Night Angel Trilogy is the story of Kylar, a boy who grows up in the slums of Cenaria City and becomes the apprentice of the greatest assassin who has ever lived. Along the way, he falls in love with the perfect imperfect girl, slays his enemies, slays other people’s enemies, and befriends the future king. It’s a pretty cool story, but it’s dark — so caveat emptor.

3 Responses to “What I Learned About Writing This Week…from Brent Weeks”

  1. A great lesson as always, Courtney. I hope someday I can be that gripping a writer. Also, I think the anachronisticisity (sp?) in Knight’s Tale was supposed to be part of its charm. I cannot say anything of Mr. Weeks’s intentions.

  2. Joshua Unruh says:

    This may be arguing. Or it may be a quibble. I can’t tell yet.

    I agree with gripping endings. I agree with gripping word choices. If he did that at the end, good on him.

    But it isn’t enough to save a crap book. The odds of me coming to a third book after a second book utterly annoyed me except for the last three words are slim and none. Slim, by the way, is smooth out of town.

    This is a thing that happens in comics a lot and that’s why I get kinda vehement about it. A really rock’em sock’em ending doesn’t excuse a mediocre or downright bad middle. You can’t retroactively make something awesome.

    Or, at least, that’s my not-so-humble opinion. 🙂

  3. KEG says:

    Those last three words are what put the exclamation point on my decision to NOT read the third book. Once again, as he did repeatedly through the book, he used in your face, horrible writing to say things that should have been stated subtly and didn’t explain things that were utterly confusing.

    He didn’t need those last three words. Read the paragraph right before them. That was enough for ANY person reading the book to get the cliffhanger…..BUT….he just had to state the obvious when he was better off not doing so. Those “last three words” made it sounds like the ending of a high school creative writing class essay.