Chapter 12: Game of Thrones, Theories, and Lessons

As an epic fantasy writer, I am one of many people who recognize the talent of George R.R. Martin.  He has challenged the genre in many ways, despite his self-proclaimed difficulty with writer’s block.  (I must say, as well, that the fact someone so successful still struggles with something that I myself do is such a comfort in this trying profession.)  I’d like to begin by saying some of my own theories for the remainder of the season, and then finish off by saying what we as writers can learn from him.

My first theory stems from my biggest fear in the show: a dragon dying.  We all know it’s going to happen.  My only hope left is that it isn’t Drogon, which I doubt will happen this season because he’s Daenerys’s personal one, and I don’t see her going into the deep end the remaining two seasons.  Plus the poor baby was already injured in Episode 6.  So, what could be worse than them dying?  Them being taken over by the Night King.  As seen in the previews, Jon finds himself in a bit of a predicament up north.  I’m feeling pretty certain that Dany is going to send up either Rhaegal or Viserion to save him.  I think the rescue mission will end up being successful, with sacrifice of the dragon.

My second theory has already been proven partly true.  It stemmed from the fact that I’ve been upset on how focused on the Army of the Dead Jon has been.  Yes, it is obviously extremely important; however, he can’t just wish his other enemy into non-existence.  While it’s true that Cersei would be weary to travel up north to the snow, she’s proven herself to be resourceful with the help of Qyburn.  But then, I thought, wouldn’t Cersei like to know about the army marching toward her kingdom?

She showed that she already has planned to use this in her favor, but it’s unclear if she actually believes the army to be real.  Will her sentiments change when she sees the walker that Jon brings back?  Or will she remain just as heartless as she’s grown to become?  That’s not even mentioning the fact she just claimed to be pregnant.  So, here’s my theory:

The baby, if he/she isn’t just a lie Cersei conjured up, will be miscarried.  Why do I think this?  Because, quite simply, it’d be the last straw for Cersei to go full-on Mad Queen.  The only thing that ever made her a sympathetic character was her love for her children.  I don’t see them bringing her back towards sanity, so this would be just what she needs to not give a damn about the Army of the Dead.  Despite the proof that I believe Jon will successfully bring back, I think that she’ll still not care due to the miscarriage.  She’ll still manipulate Jon and Dany’s armies, with the hopes that they’ll lose men and give her a more even fight for the war to come.  I also think that will be the point that Jamie calls it quits with her and joins the effort to fight the north.  She’s going to do something so diabolical that he just can’t forgive her.

Now, what about the group headed up on this dangerous mission?  They basically put a bunch of bad ass characters together to make an epic team.  I’m fairly certain Jon will survive long enough to show King’s Landing the ‘live’ walker.  (If not, that’s just cruel…)  So, who’s going to die?  Let me just say, if the answer’s Gendry, the list will also extend to the writers of this show curtesy of myself.  There’s only two things known to kill the dead: Valyrian steel.  I’d like to think that Jon was smart enough to man all the people he’s bringing with the steel, but honestly with him who knows.

Either way, I’m sticking to my theory that the dragon is coming to save them, meaning there will be fire.  Who’s someone we know that is scared of fire, despite his recent vision?  The Hound.  I’m pretty nervous for his possible death, but to be honest his plot in the series has basically ended.  As an author, I don’t see what much else he could offer to the storyline, so they might as well give him a glorious fighter’s death.  I also don’t see the Brothers without Banners lasting long.  They’ve never been up north, and have no idea how to fend for themselves in that type of situation.  I think they’ll be part of the ‘sacrifice,’ and that was why the Lord of Light told them they have to go – so that Jon (and hopefully Gendry) can survive.  I’m iffy about Jorah’s storyline.  Personally I think he’ll survive, if for anything that I’m hoping that he has time to repay Sam for healing him.

I was hoping Jon going up North would mean that Bran would have time to tell him that he’s a Targaryen, but apparently Jon didn’t feel the need to go say hi to his two siblings he thought was dead before going out to his possible death.  Now, there’s always the chance that Bran wrote it in the scroll he sent to warn Jon about the marching army.  That could possibly explain his genuine lack of happiness despite finding out about his two favorite sibling-cousins being alive.  Or it could just be Jon being Jon.

On the subject of Jon being Targaryen, people were freaking out over how Drogon let Jon pet him.  “It’s because he’s Targaryen!”  Okay, but can than really be your logic if you don’t agree with the theory that Tyrion is also Targaryen?  After all, all three dragons decided to spare him when their mother was miles away.  Your logic can’t change based on what you want or don’t want to be a thing.  Rather than theorize over if Tyrion is a Targaryen or not, I’d rather try to think of where he would be in the family line – or in other words, what would his claim be to the throne if it was true?

Rhaegar (bless his soul) has so far shown himself to be the best of their bloodline, aside from Daenerys.  So, unless he decided to bang Lady Lannister in between his marriages, he wouldn’t be Jon’s older brother.  There’s also of course the age to reaffirm that.  That means that, if Tyrion is a Targaryen, he’d be son of the Mad King (or possibly one of his siblings).  Then that begs the question of if he is the older or younger than Rhaegar.  No matter what, he’s a bastard, and that weakens his claim on the throne.  But let’s be honest, Tyrion would be such a good king!

In Episode 6 there was clear tension between Arya and Sansa.  Little Finger, being the little cunt he is, saw this and is now trying to manipulate the two sisters into fighting.  In the talk after the episode, they mentioned how Arya is used to being the cleverest one, and that she’s not used to Little Finger.  They happily left out the fact that Cersei has been dealing with both Cersei and Little Finger the entire duration of the show.  She knows how they work, and has become a heartless entity in the making.  She can be paralleled with the Cersei back in the day – a power-hungry game player with only her family to keep her empathetic.  Although I will always love her, Sansa has been rather standstill this season.  So, with her knowledge of the game, and Arya’s over-willingness to kill, I’m looking forward to (hopefully) the two of them outsmarting Arya.  She was also recently given the dagger by Bran that was used to attempt his murder – the one that Little Finger claimed he’d given to Tyrion, although never proven.  Let’s be honest.  From the beginning, Tyrion was never someone who would send an assassin after an unconscious, cripple boy.  It’s pretty safe to say that was a ploy for Little Finger to start his chaos ladder.  Just think of the poetic justice of Arya using that dagger to kill him.

Now, with all that said and done, what can we learn as writers?  The first is pretty damn obvious: the power of a good death.  As authors, we often become attached to the characters we make.  Who wouldn’t?  We put a lot of working into their creation and development.  It means we look for any way possible to keep them alive, no matter how improbable.

Always take a step back.  How can this character contribute to the plot?  If they’re simply alive because you want them to be, take a look at what their death could do to the plot.  I’m not saying slaughter them by the masses (perhaps avoid weddings…) but sometimes a character can be more powerful for the storyline by dying than staying alive.  Look at your characters as a bystander who doesn’t know them would.

The second thing to learn from Martin is the power in overlying plot versus per book.  Throughout all of Game of Thrones, the biggest thoughts have been: (1) the overall fight for the crown and (2) the threat of the Army of the Dead.  As one of the plots comes to a close, the other is beginning to take full force.  Then, there’s the balancing act of fulfilling an entire plot with a great climax within each book/season.  Before starting a series, we as authors have to think: what do I want the end to look like?  This process is of course different for each individual.  For my current series, I just have a vague idea of who I want to have the power, and what nations I want to be left standing.  I’m about to write a timeline of what I need accomplished in each book for that to happen.  Otherwise, I put a focus into each book of an outline before shifting into actually writing.  Some famous authors have claimed to have written their stories backwards.  They knew how it wanted to end, and then they decided what could happen for them to get there.  However you decide to do it, realize what you want to be the central focus and themes.

It’s up to you where the focus shifts towards per book, but be sure to put some part of critical information to the overlying plot in each book.  Because, really, it should all tie together.  When you’re outlining your book, be sure to put in several key scenes.  Otherwise, you’re dragging your readers through muck instead of showing them insight on what they’ve grown to care about.  From there is where you should flesh out and expand into the plot of the individual book.  Generally thinking about the climax first will help you put in all the scenes to get there, and then editing, editing, and some more editing.  Flesh out scenes.  Give depth to characters.  The whole nine yards.

The third thing to learn from Martin is diversity in characters.  Ned versus Robert.  Tyrion versus Tywin.  Cersei versus Jamie.  Arya versus Sansa.  Robb versus Jon.  Varys versus Qyburn.  All those people started in basically the same position at the start of the series, and now look at them.  They all had key personality traits and then became detrimental when it came to the test.  Really take the time to get to know your characters.  If something happens in the plot, truly take time to realize what they would do in that situation.  And, don’t stop there.  How would that scene change them?  Reassess them as a person.  Your plot should be as complex as your characters, and they should complement each other to create the final masterpiece.  That doesn’t happen through forcing your way through and rushing your way to the finish line.

I’d like to end with some cool merchandise that you can buy!  To the bottom is a photograph I took personally after I received the bottle opener, with a pencil to the side for size reference.  If you want to be the Hand of the King/Queen, it’s an awesome but useful gift that you can buy here.  The other is the adorable dress (purchase here!) which is just subtle enough to be worn every day, but yet fully and completely showing off your inner Westeros lover!

 

 

 

 

Chapter 11: Questions to Ask When World-Building

To say it’s harder than it looks would be an understatement.  Your story is more dependent on it than you think, especially in both fantasy and science fiction.  You have world that are so complex like in Game of Thrones, more simple and based on this world like Harry Potter, and then complete universes like in Star Wars or Star Trek.  It’s always so beautiful to watch how the setting influences the characters.  But, how do you build it from the beginning?

Ironically, much the same as you do a book.

Outline the big stuff.  Is it all in one country?  Several?  Know where they are in relation to one another as far as north, west, east, south.  Simple enough, right?  Next step is to put that into Microsoft Excel.  Set each country to a different color, and put a key to the right accordingly.  (I’ve put a picture as reference from my latest book for what I mean as far as using Excel, minus the key.  I don’t mean to have it so detailed and laid out in the beginning.)  This outline should be completed while you are outline your main plot.

Once you have your basic outline of the main plot points (Again, I’m going to have to suggest Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland if you’re having problems.), then it’s time to delve into the culture.  If you already have a clear image of your characters in mind, this part should’ve technically been at least part way done.   Now it’s time to go more into detail.  Make sure to put sub-races within the same culture.  Look at America, Germany, France.  There’s people of every skin tone.  If your culture is ‘pure’ like the Japanese, why?

Do they celebrate religious holidays?  What different classes does it compromise of?  How is violence looked at?  Gender equality?  Religion?  Liberal or conservative?  Monarchy, democracy, anarchy?  Animal life?  What’s their main source of food?  What’s the weather like there?  How does that affect your plot?  What’s their take on honor?  What do the buildings look like?  How do they view art?  Do they have their own language?  What type of job does a ‘commoner’ have?  What sports do they play?  All of this might not make it to your book, but nonetheless it works in your favor to show a well-rounded nation.

Now that you have your outline, time to go into the subplots.  If you already have some in mind, how’s your map effected?  Do you need to put in mountains?  A lake?  River?  Sea?  If you’re struggling with creating subplots, refer to the last paragraph.  If it’s all within one or two nations, delve more into it.  How could the answers you come up with affect your protagonist?  If you’re going across many countries, create a whole new one.  Make it drastically different than your protagonist.  What’s the worst type of culture they could stumble upon?  Now, create it and add it into your map.

Look at your excel sheet.  Think about natural geography.  What’s missing?  Add it.

Once that’s complete, look at the new countries you’ve created.  How do they affect your general plot?  If there’s a war, why aren’t they helping?  Could they help?  How would that change things?  What’s their relationship like with the surrounding countries?

 

Chapter 3: Me Vs. Them

We’ve all heard it.  “Oh, you’re an artist?  Draw me.”  “You’re a singer?  Sing something?”  “You’re an author?  Make me a character in your book.”  If I’m being honest, the closest I can offer is killing a character that reminds me of you.  (That sounds quite graphic, but if you’re an author, chances are you understand.)  Then, there’s the somehow even more popular one to hear: is the main character based on me?

Now, I think it’s safe that George R. R. Martin is not quite as murderous as his set of characters, and as far as I know he doesn’t have ambitions to claim any thrones.  Nor can J. K. Rowling relate to the “Chosen One,” and I sincerely doubt she has the stomach of Ron.  However, I would be rather big-headed if I compared myself to the king and queen of modern literature.

So, what do I do?  I take a part of myself and morph it into its own person.  For the book I finished last year, I had four main characters.  Their names will mean nothing to you now, but for the sake of clarity, their names are Logan, Abigail, Trevor, and Makenna.  I have Logan’s sense of always wanting to do what’s right, Abigail’s need to always be right and be the smartest in the room, Trevor’s dorky awkwardness, and Makenna’s inability to completely open up to anyone.  I started from there, and then worked towards creating them into their own three-dimensional characters.  However, that’s as close as it gets.

Otherwise, I have to take the time to get to know my characters like in any relationship.  They’re as real to me as anyone else.  There’re characters I naturally click with, and then there’s one who I have to put in effort to open up to me.  A good portion of the time, when I have writer’s block, it’s because one of my characters is being difficult.  I need the plot to go a certain way, but they’re not reacting how I want them to.  Some people might say, “You’re the author.  They’ll do whatever you tell them to do.”  But, they won’t.  That’s the start of a very poorly written novel.

Something I struggle with is the male perspective.  They’re like a whole different species to me.  I understand them as much as I understand quantum physics, or in other words not at all.  All I have is observations I’ve made throughout my lifetime.  I don’t really think my male characters are girlie or anything, but I always feel like I don’t make them as strong as they could be.  As a feminist, I believe in equality.  But, that means that I want all of my characters to be strong – not just the females.  (With that said, you will not find a single of my works without a strong female lead.)  Whenever I want to develop them more, I’m always hesitant.  Do their minds work anything like ours?  Hell if I know.

I’ve an entire world in my head – multiple actually, thanks to a long history of unpublished work.  They’re worlds that I want to share with this one.   However, anyone I share it with can never see it quite like I do.  It’s basically like they’re looking through a window that hasn’t been washed; they can see enough to connect some dots but everything’s still a little blurred.

So, no.  I’m not my characters, and they aren’t me. I’m merely the person in between, trying to make the window that much cleaner.  Maybe one day I’ll even be talented enough to open the door.