A Game of Thrones Trailer to See Us On Our Way

Unfortunately, my friends, today is our last day with George R.R. Martin and A Song of Ice and Fire series.

But don’t worry. If you need your fix…the HBO series kicks off this Sunday at 9:00. To whet your appetite, here’s one of the trailers (I picked this one because I love the song in the back ground – that’s Florence and the Machine if you wann hunt it down….)

The Hedgehog and Feast for Crows – Incomplete Series Troubles?

I am of the general belief that revisions can wait until the book is done. Finish the rough draft, take a break, come back and rework the story accordingly. My reasoning for this is pretty straightforward: you don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve finished it. Though, yes, you can certainly revise as you go and make a more polished work – you’re still (probably) gonna have to revise big chunks based on where you went with the story. Holes and lost threads are kind of par for the course in this writing gig.

As my friend Deb puts it (and I’m paraphrasing here): That hedgehog you had on page five? Who knew how important that hedgehog would be? The hedgehog saves the story! The hedgehog is the linchpin! He holds everything together.

But when you wrote the hedgehog on page five, you didn’t know that. And! It could go the opposite way: you thought the hedgehog was going to be SuperImportant…but it turns out the hedgehog was just a hedgehog after all.

Which brings me to the book that most George R.R. Martin fans flung across the room. (My husband included.) This is book four in the series: A Feast for Crows.

The reason a lot of fans took issue – and in some cases still take issue – with this middle novel was because the main characters faded into the background. Martin made a very concious decision to focus on a set of characters in a certain geographical section of his world. Information had to be disseminated and, as the author, he felt this the best way to get it out there.

Now, I trust that Martin has a clear vision of his world. I trust that he has more of an idea where he wants to go with the story than his readers/editors/publishers because it’s his story. That being said, however, I can’t help but wonder – or worry? – that since the series isn’t actually finished it’s more like a rough draft than a completed work.

When you’re writing one book it’s difficult enough to know where the hell you’re going until you’re there. Now stretch that difficulty along the length of seven books. Sure, Martin has finished five of the seven books, and he seems back on track with book five: A Dance with Dragons. But there are two loose books out there.

How does he know what the hedgehog will do? Is A Feast for Crows going to turn out to be really unecessary? Or will it be the linchpin, the cornerstone, and the readers just can’t see it yet?

For example, looking back on another awesomely famous series: Harry Potter. Let’s examine Book 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I love Rowling. I love Harry. However. The only part of that entire book we, as readers, needed was the fact that Voldemort came back to a body. That’s it. The adventure was interesting – though convaluted. (I mean, what a pain-in-the-ass plan to get Harry to touch a portkey, right? Made me question the deviousness of the bad guys…can’t they keep it simple?) If there’s any unecessary hedgehog in that series, it’s in Goblet of Fire.

Some of this comes – I’m sure – from the writer not knowing what’s really necessary until the end. Threads get lost in the smallest books. A huge series with thousands of pages has millions of threads and, therefore, way more opportunity for meandering/getting lost.

However, Rowling pulled it off with a minimum of hedgehogs and I’m certain that Martin will too. How so? Well, I’m not in their heads, but I’m pretty sure that there are some techniques that control the potential chaos.

1. Knowing the end.
Rowling knew down to the last word the ending of Harry Potter. Sure, that word changed. But she had her vision and stuck to it. Thus, less hedgehogs. And Martin, I’m pretty darn sure, knows where he’s going. For all the Starks that die and shift and adjust – they’re still gonna be the big dogs at the end. (Ha! Dogs.)

***Oh! And because I like making predictions, and because I’ve only read the first two books so I feel cocky enough to predict the end based on the beginning…Jenny’s predictions for the end of the series!:
1.) Bran will ride one of the dragons = war hero. And, if both Jon and Danerys bite it…he’s gonna be the big leader.
2.) Jon and Danerys are gonna be the big leaders – one or the other might die and one or the other might rule…or (this is my real bet) they fall in love and rule jointly. Either way they’re not only going to be the big leaders, but they’re going to care deeply for each other.
3.) Tyrion’s probably gonna die. Sorry. But it will be one of the more affecting deaths because it’ll be near the end in a glorious victory that he created. Bittersweet.
4.) Sansa…well, I don’t know about her. She seems like someone who will grow into the manipulative Cersei, but for good instead of evil. Wouldn’t surprise me if she’s some kind of bard-like character who tells the story. She is fascinated by fairy tales and legends, after all.
5.) Arya – she could go one of a million different ways. Struggling with her a bit. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if she was the one who took out Tyrion somehow….***

2. Tracking
Ali keeps her Book Bible. I’m 99.99999% certain that Martin does too. Perhaps it’s a shoebox full of ideas and scraps – like Rowling – or perhaps it’s a three ring binder that contains maps and character sketches and scene orders. But I’m willing to bet money I don’t have that he’s got something, somewhere that works as an outline/guideline. Because if he’s keeping all this world information in his head – I want his brain.

What other techniques can writers use to track their work? How do you control the chaos that results from rough drafts/lengthy series details?  

Themes of Strength and Weakness

Robert Baratheon, Eddard Stark, Jamie Lannister, Tywin Lannister… What do all of these characters have in common? Power and strength. These are the guys who have the guts, the glory, and/or the gold.

Arya Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen… Here are the underdogs. They don’t have the strength, they don’t have the political clout, and most of them have been pretty poorly treated by those who are supposed to support them – like Daenerys being sold off by her brother for the promise of an army.

I love the way Martin draws these characters because they’re both extreme, and balanced, which is no small feat. Robert Baratheon, the conquering hero, has everything. He’s got the gorgeous wife, a whole kingdom, a life of luxury, and Eddard Stark, the strong and loyal friend. The only problem is that for every strength, he’s got a matched weakness. His gorgeous wife hates his guts and is having an affair, the kingdom sits on the brink of unrest, and Robert’s love of the physical pleasures of life prove his undoing.

Eddard, well, Eddard was doomed from the start. He was too honest, too just, too fair to survive in the cuthroat world he got tossed into. A little more political savvy, a little bit of manipulation, and maybe he would have gotten out alive. But, if he had done those things, he wouldn’t be Ned Stark. His best qualities proved to be his doom.

On the underdog side, let’s talk about Arya. Arya was instantly one of my favorite characters. The little girl with a little sword. Hardly anyone takes her seriously. She doesn’t have much physical strength, she’s a young girl, she’s very much her father’s daughter, and once Ned is executed, she’s in an incredibly vulnerable position. And yet… Arya is a scrapper. What she lacks in other areas, she makes up for in pure force of will. This is one determined gal and those who cross her better watch their backs.

Tyrion, portrayed excellently by Peter Dinklage, has an obvious physical disadvantage. His father, as a result, treats him with disdain. Everywhere he turns, Tyrion is underestimated, mocked, and ignored. People are constantly blowing him off. The only thing he really has on his side is the family money. Oh, and his razor sharp mind. By turns callous and compassionate, Tyrion pays attention to what others miss and those who underestimate him pay the price, including his father.

In Martin’s world, the characters with the most obvious strength often have the biggest vulnerabilities and those with the most obvious disadvantages turn out to be the characters whose good side I’d most definitely want to be on. This balance means that although the world is larger than life and run through with magic, the characters stay real. Like real life, nothing, and no one, is black and white. So, we can’t help it if, every now and then, we root for the “bad” guy or find ourselves apalled by the “good” guy. We also can’t help it if, as we read, who we consider to be the “good guys” vs. the “bad guys” changes.

It keeps things interesting. It keeps us turning pages (or watching episodes).

Westeros The Super Map!!!

Oh, this is good, people. For those of you who love Game of Thrones you must go check out this kickass map of George R.R. Martin’s fictional world!

You may now go about your business.

It’s a Kind of Magic

You know, for a fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire doesn’t have tons of magic. In plenty of fantasy, the magic is front and center. Magical creatures, magical people, magical wars, magic, magic, magic…

But, Martin plays it subtle. In most of the first book, there’s hardly anything magical at all. A hint here and there, a couple of ghost stories, but nothing major. Granted, it gets bigger as the series continues and more of the supernatural crops up. But, as a part of world-building, Martin really treats magic as many other writers would treat electricity in a modern setting. It’s useful, it can affect characters and plot, but it’s not the main attraction.

It’s an interesting choice. Why’d he do it?

My theory: I think it’s because Martin is really interested in historical fiction and he wanted to write a historical story. Doing it in the fantasy genre allowed him to hold on to all the fun stuff with historical fiction, yet mix it up a bit by creating his own settings, politics, religions, etc. In a sense, I would almost call the series less a fantasy series and more a historical fiction series that just happens to be set in a world that Martin made up.

The payoff: In fantasy, as with any other genre, there are those who do it well and those who do it poorly. When fatansy is poorly written, the magic becomes the be-all end-all and it sets up deux ex machinas and all of that other nonsense that happens just because it’s convenient to the story. Why did the character do that terrible thing? He was cursed! It’s not his fault. So, you get the terrible act, but no real consequence, because he’s absolved of guilt. Poof! Done. Boring.

When you downplay the magic, and use it to make problems instead of solve them, then you’re making life more complicated for your characters. When you look at Martin’s books, the cost of magic is high and you don’t always get the outcome you expected. Usually, characters who get tangled up with magic find themselves in more trouble than they started out in. They have to fight harder, struggle more, and in turn, we get more invested.

As Seen on TV!

Whenever you translate a book to TV or a movie, there’s danger that it won’t translate well. However, there are times when it translates beautifully, and it seems that is more often the case when books become a series than just a one-off movie. More time for plot and character development and the nuances that are in the book.

That said, translating A Song of Fire and Ice into an HBO series is total genius. There are three reasons for this:

1. Episodic format fits well with the structure of the books. The books switch between settings and POVs, essentially chunking the epic novels into smaller bites. The show does the same.

2. TV trims some of the bloat. Jenny’s got an upcoming post that will address where some of the bloat creeps up in the books, but the jist is that there is a lot of description of mundane details. Part of it is necessary for world building, but there’s a lot about small details of dress, accessories, food, family ties, etc. When you change the format to a visual one, you’re ditching long descriptions of how things look and letting people just see it.

3. It’s easier to keep track of characters. Martin has oodles of characters. They can be hard to keep track of. But, if you tie that character to an actor, suddenly you’ve got a face, a voice, etc. that remind you who people are. You might not remember everyone’s name right off, but you know that one guy is Sean Bean.

Not all stories translate well to the screen, but this one translates fabulously. Whoever first said, “Hey, let’s make it into TV” has totally earned the tons of cash he/she is no doubt raking in now.

Character Twist

In honor of George R. R. Martin’s complicated characters, this week’s writing prompt is all about character twist. One of the my favorite characters that I love to hate is Jamie Lannister. He starts off as a total creeper and then you see a few more things that really make your skin crawl. I mean, total ick factor, people. But, then, Martin reveals the real motivation for the killing that earned Jamie the nickname Kingslayer and it turns out that Jamie has one or two redeeming qualities after all. Martin likes to muddy the waters, and it makes for fabulous reading. “Good” characters do bad things and “Bad” characters do good things.

This weekend, you should try to do the same. Take a character you’ve created, either one of your heroes, or one of your villains. Next, you’re going to write a scene where your character does something that contradicts that archetype. Your hero betrays a friend. Your villain performs an act of self-sacrifice for the benefit of an innocent. Or, whatever else you can think of that would be suitable.

Keep in mind, that the trickiest part of this kind of exercise is writing it convincingly. It’s not going to do you any good unless your reader believes the act is sincere and authentic to that character. Dig deep on this one.

Happy Writing!