Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dieselpunk

With George R. R. Martin, we talked a lot about world building and genre-blending. What better send off than Twit Publishing's call for Dieselpunk submissions?

"What is Dieselpunk? Dieselpunk is a re-imagining of the diesel-era (the post-World War I era to the early 1950s). It's gangsters, bootleggers, swing, Mexican revolutionaries, Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde, U-Boats, the Depression, the end of the Wild West, Bolshevik agents, greasers, zeppelins, jazz, art-deco, roadsters, hobos (anything that fits into this era of time along with cross-genres), and the Red Scare. It is the beginning of mechanization of the military and the beginning of the mechanization of the factory."

Come on, how fun is that? Mobsters and wizards, bootleg potions... the list goes on. This weekend, I challenge you to step up to Twit Publishing's challenge. The deadline is April 30th, so you'd better get started today.

Happy Writing!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

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....)


 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Last Minute Stories and Editing: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

It's Spring Break, so I almost forgot it was Tuesday. Time to be held accountable!

Here is what I did last week:

1. As Ali posted on Saturday, Hayden's Ferry Review has put out the call for their "In the Dark" issue. Oliver and I decided that would be a fun experiment for our writer's group and extended it as a challenge...which Ali then passed on to you guys here.

At first, I wasn't going to do it. I didn't have an idea. But then Oliver threw down and I can't just send out a challenge without participating in the challenge. So on Saturday I came up with an idea, worked it, and then worked more on Sunday right before the group.

Oh yeah, it's a last minute thing. But I have a new short story! Yay!

2. Wrote more stuff on The Line. Got through two scenes - so about 2000 words. (Sounds pathetic, I know. But the short story writing time cut into it.)

3. Finished a rewrite of the first chapter of La Llorona.   And let me tell you something interesting about that experience:

Way back in the day, Ali was reading the early chapters of La Llorona and I remember her saying something along the lines of "The sentence structure is off." You see, I was being all 'literary' and she didn't get my genius. So, of course, it was her problem.

Then I was re-reading this stuff, marking it up, pondering it. And thought: I don't understand what half these sentences mean. I got the gist, but it wasn't easy reading. Most of my marks were cleaning up weird grammatical things - not incorrect, just...weird.

There are two things to take from this:

The first: You've heard that bit of advice about needing distance from a piece before you revise. In On Writing, Stephen King recommends at least six weeks. (Which, to many writers, seems an impossible long time. To you I say: It's not, and it's worth it. If you can hold out even longer, better.) I have never had a problem with this waiting gig - it makes sense to me. But I think something else goes along with it.

Practice.

Between the time you put a piece down and the time you pick it up again, you should have written something else: a short story at the very least, but maybe even a whole different novel. 

If you do nothing between the time you drop your novel and the time you pick it back up again, you have learned no new skills. You have learned no new techniques. You are the same writer. You haven't improved. If you haven't improved, why on earth would you think you could make your manuscript better? You learn something with everything you write - so write a lot.

The second: Assuming that you don't have the time to wait (hello Deadline!), you have to trust your early readers, especially for the grammar thing - that kinda stuff isn't as open for debate as storyline or character motivation. Readers have the distance, and they have a different skill set than you do - so they have the two things needed in order to edit gracefully: distance and practice.

That's all for me! What'd you guys do this week? (I gotta tell you, we're re-doing the upstairs bathroom this week...so I can't guarantee big word counts for next week.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

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?  

Saturday, March 24, 2012

In the Dark

Tomorrow is this month's writers group and Jenny and Oliver challenged us all to submit a story that fits the Hayden's Ferry Review call for submissions. The theme is "In the dark" and I'm curious to see how many people in the group took the challenge.

Also, I'm passing on the challenge, because the more the merrier, as they say. Today you should pick out the pen with the blackest ink and get to writing something you think Hayden's Ferry Review will publish.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

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).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Revising the Plan: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

Happy Tuesday, writerly folk! Tuesdays are accountability day here at Place for the Stolen...so time to see what we accomplished writing-wise this past week:

1. Okay, so I know last week I said to hold me accountable for the End-of-April rough draft plan. I'm here to say that perhaps that was a smidge hasty. I've been re-evaluating the speed at which I can compose gracefully (read: without pulling my hair out) and have come to the conclusion that slower and steadier wins the race. I'm now aiming for the end of July as the rough draft due date for The Line.

And this past week I've added another 2400 words to the novel. Huzzah!

2. Part of the revising my plan is also that I'm starting another draft of an earlier book - my La Llorona book for those who care what I'm working on. It occured to me that The Line won't be ready for submission this year no matter how much I bust my ass - and I want a submittable-to-agents draft of a novel this year. That way I can at least build experience in the querying gig. Plus, I like this book and, after seeing Woman in Black, feel that a good, old fashioned ghost story is the way to go. (For those that have read some of it - you realize this means some definite retooling.)  

I whipped out my handy-dandy calendar and figured out a way to gracefully (read again: without pulling my hair out) do a new draft by the end of August.

So far I've marked up the first three chapters, cut another chapter, and have typed in a new two pages. Huzzah!

*Interesting note: I work better in the morning on the flat-out new stuff. Revisions are more a late afternoon/early evening thing. At least it keeps the days interesting, huh?*

That's it for me, kids. How about you guys? Revising? Working on something new? 

Monday, March 19, 2012

When the Learning Curve is Steep - Sometimes HBO Can Help

Confession time: I watched the entire first season of the Game of Thrones HBO series before I read the books.

I know. I know. It was very Impure Reader of me. I should be thrown on the hellfire that awaits those who use CliffsNotes to write research papers. (Yeah, I know! There are people out there that do that! Not readers of this blog, of course....But they are rumored to exist.)

My friend John will not be meeting me in that .5 level of hell. Because he decided to read the books before seeing the series - if he ever, in fact, watches the series.

For the readers who are pure of heart and pure of intent...I give one warning whilst pursuing A Game of Thrones as a reading adventure: it might take a bit to get into the story. George R.R. Martin has this uncanny ability to write about a whole new world. Perhaps that should be Whole New World. Operative word: Whole.

He has a cast the size of four or five armies. He has the lineages of those characters stretching back five generations. He has two continents worth of weather, culture, clothing, courting, and infighting to tell you about. And all of this stuff is richly imagined and well-executed.

But it is a lot.

Once upon a time, while taking Shakespeare, my professor told my class that utilizing CliffsNotes, watching the Bard's plays - or the movie versions of the plays - and using Wikipedia to help us gather the plot details was not a cheat. His argument was that Shakespeare's language wasn't familiar to most people and that as soon as you got past "What the hell is going on?" you could get to the meat of the matter. He told us to utilize whatever was at our disposal in order to facilitate understanding. Then the discussions could really get going.

While I won't go so far as to say Martin is Shakespeare - after all, he's writin' in easily understood English - it might speed the process of getting into the first book if you have witnessed the relationships between the characters with your eyes. Martin does a great job of creating these characters but sometimes the names are tricky: relatives are named after one another, just like in real life; some character names are spelled very similarly (i.e. Tywin and Tyrion); and there's always a House of ________ surname to try and keep track of. Plus, if you watch the show, you have the added bonus of knowing how to pronounce all the names.

The important thing to know: once you're in the story, you're in the story. It's a rare book/series that makes you blink when you turn the last page, surprised to see the real world staring back at you. ("Hello, children. Where did you come from?")

I might have considered this steep learning curve a negative for the book series, except there's such a work ethic embedded into the text - you just know Martin did a crap-ton of work and that should be respected...and you just know deep down in your readerly soul that it'll pay off.

So have you guys ever 'cheated' and watched the movie version before the book? Have you ever read a story where the details were increadibly focused? Where the world seems like it could exist right now, just on a different planet?  That's some imagination right there! 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

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.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

First Lesson

Today's prompt is a quote from Game of Thrones. Write a story/scene that starts with the following:

"First lesson. Stick them with the pointy end."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

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.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Getting After It: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

Welcome to Tuesday, dear writers. That means it's time to tell tales about what we've accomplished this past week.

As for me:
1. Filled a notebook! Yahoo! You know the only thing better than filling a notebook?

Starting a fresh one! Which I have also done this week. I've resigned myself to the fact that I will have to do a lot of typing-in because I've made the decision to plunge ahead and fill as many notebooks as possible. This means an exceptionally long type-in session of novel writing. And I'm not the quickest on the keyboard...so I'm hoping to take my time and let the type-in assume the role of Second Drafting.

Well, it sounds good to me.

2. Finished a short story. Sent it off to a couple readers to read. So I've added to my submittable short story pile. (And I'm pretty sure you guys have heard how short that stack was getting, right? Well, if you haven't hear...it was getting short.)

3. (Which doesn't seem writing related but totally is): Called around to find out about enrolling the youngest in preschool. Preschool time for youngest child = writing time for me. Sure, she won't be able to go until August, but I anticipate a large increase in productivity around that point.

And that was my week. What'd you guys get done?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Scene Breaks: Martin Doesn't Do 'em

Recently, in the critiques I've been giving for my writers group, I've taken to pointing out that we, as a group, don't generally use scene breaks. (Have you ever noticed you start pointing out bits and pieces in other people's writing that you think you might need in your own? I do that. A lot.) This strikes me as problematic because a story without scene breaks gets bogged down in the minutiae. You start to show the characters going through every single door, you show the characters as they dress, as they change television channels, as they do all the boring things that have nothing to do with the story.

You've heard, I'm sure, of the idea that shorter chapters = faster reads? I believe the same kinda deal goes on with scene breaks. You leave the reader hanging; you leave the reader wanting more. That way they turn the page and Voila! they get to your satisfying end. Seems to be a way to go.

And yet, here is George R.R. Martin. Bestseller.

He doesn't use scene breaks. At all.

Turn to any chapter in the Song of Fire and Ice series. At this exact moment I have A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings sitting right beside me. I've read both. Just this past minute I flipped through several chapters, just looking for the little gap of white space that indicates a scene break. I was to be thwarted in my search. Except for the chapter breaks, it's one long narrative. No scene breaks.

The question is: Is this a problem?

Well, I'd say yes and no. Yes, because the books do go for a long, long, long time. Both of the books are over 700 pages. Part of this might be that Martin - to this reader at least - gets bogged down in minutiae. I love that his world is so developed...but do I really need to know the details of every single outfit? For example, from a "Bran" chapter in A Clash of Kings:

"The sight of Bran in his basket drew stares from those who had not see it before, but he had learned to ignore stares. At least he had a good view; on Hodor's back, he towered over everyone. The Walders were mounting up, he saw. They'd brough fine armor up from the Twins, shining silver plate with enameled blue chasings. Big Walder's crest was shaped like a castle, while Little Walder favored streamers of blue and grey silk. Their shields and surcoats also set them apart from each other. Little Walder quartered the twin towers of Frey with the brindled boar of his grandmother's House and plowman of his mother's: Crakehall and Darry, respectively. Big Walder's quarterings were the tree-and-ravens of House Blackwood and the twining snakes of the Paeges."

And there are quite a few passages like this in both books. Again, great world-building detail, but I think it mostly unecessary.

That being said, I think Martin -in general - gets away with a lack of scene breaks because his chapters are very focused on single characters, and watching the interplay between the characters - understanding their maneuverings - creates tension in his story.

Martin's chapters, as focused as they are, aren't long either. (They're not short, but they're not long.) He keeps the scenes tight - so there's really not a great need for scene breaks. There's action in his scenes. The characters don't just sit there, so whenever a new character pops up, the reader is interested in what this guy is gonna do this time...and how will it effect the efforts of the other characters you just read about?

He creates movement. This is a skill that writers must develop, regardless of whether they use scene breaks or not. For as many words, as many pages, and as many characters as Martin has created, there's actually a surprising lack of superfluous information. (Like clothes.) Flipping through the pages, it was kinda hard to find the passage above as a useless piece. Every time I thought I'd found a piece that could be cut I found a reason it should be left in: this passage is all character development, that passage paints the scene - the fighting will be confused if the reader doesn't understand where that tree is. A led to Z almost every time.

Do you guys embrace scene breaks? How do you decide to structure your scenes?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Casting Call

Since we're talking about TV and movies, today's prompt follows right in line. Take one of your stories/novels and write out your fantasy cast list. Since it's a fantasy list, your dream actors don't need to be their real-life ages, or even alive. So, if you think Marlon Brando, age 32, would make the perfect John Smith, plug him right in there.

The goal here is to spend some time thinking about character, as well as thinking about which aspects of your characters would translate the best to screen.

Extra credit for those who share their cast lists ;)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

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.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Filling Notebooks: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

Tuesday sneaks up on me sometimes. Time to be accountable! Here is what I have done this past week:

1. Glorious news! I have almost filled a 120 page notebook with new novel words! The rough kind of words, but words nonetheless! Next week I should be able to say: filled a notebook. Such almost-satisfaction. I can see the end. I'll be done with the notebook in just a couple days. Things are trucking along...and I think I can see the last hill I have to climb before I'm finished with the whole rough draft of The Line.

*the crowd cheers*

(Admittedly, it's just seeing the last hill...still gotta climb it and hope to heaven that there isn't some kind of mountain range behind it. I'm sure that happened to the covered wagon trains when they saw the Sierra Nevadas: "We've crossed plains! We've crossed a huge mountain range! We've crossed an unbearably hot desert! Look, it's a hill! One more thing! Oh. Wait a sec." That had to be a rough day.)

2. Started second drafts of two short stories. So, yay for progress.

Soon I'll be able to add to my list of stories I'm submitting. My submittable short story list has been woefully short for a while. When you're focusing on novel-length work, the time to create new short stories (and actually revise and polish them) is tight. But I've recently felt the need to say that something was finished. That I'm making some kind of progress.

Because working on a big ol' novel sometimes feels like you're spinning your wheels...even when you're not.

3. Got some new short story ideas, and one idea for a play. My buddy John has recently been super-active in our local theatre community. Going to these play recently, I have been inspired. I had a one-act play produced when I was in college but haven't embraced the challenge of a full-length. Sometimes you've gotta mix it up. (Just ask Neil Gaiman, right?)

And how have you guys been? Got a lot done?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Giving Characters Their Arc

I'm always hesitant when it comes to a Dramatis Personae list anywhere in a book. What it means to me is this: there are too many characters to handle. It means there are too many threads to follow through to a full conclusion. It means that there is so much information gathered in the text of a novel that you need notes in order to understand it.

Generally, this turns me off.

And George RR Martin has a loooooong cast list at the back of his books.

When I picked up A Game of Thrones, I was very nervous about it. My brain didn't seem up to the task of handling such a large group of people. And, honestly, if I hadn't seen and fallen in love with the HBO series, I would have been beyond lost. It took a while to put the names with the characters for me - even with the visuals provided by the television series.

However, I was greatly, greatly impressed with how Martin handled his characters. After a little effort, they were easy to track and follow.

I think the ease of adjustment came from how Martin created complete arcs for each of his characters - especially in A Game of Thrones, the first book in the series. And the best example is of  Daenerys, the exiled heir to the Iron Throne, in this case. She goes from a child, with a child's sensibilities at the beginning of the book, to a believable leader of nations by the end.

This arc for Daenerys is so complete that Martin lifted her sections bodily out of A Game of Thrones and created a whole novella: "The Blood of the Dragon." It proceeded to win a Hugo award.

Daenerys's story can be marked Point A to Point Z in A Game of Thrones.

SPOILERS!:
She is an innocent married into a barbarian horde, she learns to fight and love within that horde, she faces down her bullying brother, is faced with the death of her child and husband, confronts and kills the person who murders her child and husband, and then hatches dragons...earning her heir-to-the-throne rank rather than just having it handed to her. Pretty badass.
END SPOILERS!

I've never tried to lift a whole storyline based on one character before, but that's probably a good exercise for revision -

Here's what I've come up with...

Pick a character, any main or semi-main character in your story. Find all of his/her scenes. Pull them out (i.e. copy and paste them into a new document). Read it through. Does it read as a whole story? Is there a beginning, a middle, and an end? Is there some kind of growth cycle or does he/she remain painfully unchanged all the way through? Adjust accordingly.This also strikes me as a useful revision technique because it forces you into some distance from the main plotline sometimes. And in order to revise gracefully, we all need some space from the original story.

What do you guys think? Have you allowed your characters their full development? Have you decided that not all characters will get a full development? (Because that's totally legit too.)

Friday, March 2, 2012

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!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

March Mentor: George R. R. Martin

I was first introduced to George R. R. Martin a couple of years ago when someone said, "Hey, I got this really good book. Do you want to read it when I'm done?" That book was A Game of Thrones. For those of you who are familiar with it, you know it's not a slim book. Yet, I sped right through it. I likewise read the second and third books in the series in no time flat. Recently, I had the chance to watch season one of the HBO series based off of the books. I was impressed at how closely the show follows the books and how well it translates all of the best aspects of Martin's writing.

What are those wonderful things? In a word: messiness. There are good characters who do terrible things and dark characters who have moments of redemption. The lines between what's good and what's bad never hold still. As the series progressed I found that some of the characters I loved to hate had turned into characters that a part of me was rooting for. It's the kind of character development you can really sink your teeth into.

When Jenny said we should do Martin as a mentor, I thought it was a fantastic idea. March is going to be good, folks. Get ready.