Category: Writing (page 1 of 81)

Lame of Thrones

Spoilers for Game of Thrones (the TV series) ahead. Fairly be ye warned.

But I need to talk about this, because it’s been bothering me ever since the end credits for Episode 4 of Season 8 rolled across the screen.

I have so many questions, and I don’t like any of the answers.

The biggest one is this:

If you are crafting a character-focused drama that has drawn in an audience because of the relationships between and development of those characters, why would you take a sledgehammer to those relationships and that development? I think I have an answer, but I’d like to lay out the basis for these questions.

Stay cool, Dany. Don’t let Dan & Dave make you into something you’re not.

Something that has been pointed out to me is that Game of Thrones has, up until this point, taken a chance in portraying the stories of abuse survivors — specifically, Sansa Stark and Daenerys Targaryen. Now, I’m going to say up front that portraying the circumstances by which the characters became survivors in the first place is lazy and often used for cheap shock value, in addition to being triggering and offensive for real survivors. Looking back, there’s something about the source material that’s always been a little too gleeful about the subject, a little too exploitative. But I’m not here to talk about the novels. That might be a subject for another time.

We appreciate Daenerys and Sansa because they survived. They found a way to stand up in the face of abusive and callous males who treated them as things. Dany, trapped in a marriage to a man with whom she couldn’t communicate clearly, found a way to have him regard her as more than a piece of meat for breeding. He fell in love with the person she revealed herself to be, and made an effort to show that love and be a better person because of her. And after he was gone, Dany built herself up, strength upon strength, until she became the Mother of Dragons and the Breaker of Chains. She stood on our own two feet, measured and self-assured in the face of nay-sayers and everyone who underestimated her because of her gender and stature. It’s a powerful, meaningful narrative.

And it’s been shot to shit just as much as her dragon was, and I could feel the writers evincing a similar amount of glee as their bastardized version of Euron Greyjoy as they did it.

Let me not take anything way from Daenerys and her grief and anger. Losing a child is hard is the worst trauma a parent can suffer. Then you have the callous execution of her best friend on top of that. She walks away furious, barely keeping control of her emotions, instead of mounting her dragon to immediately burn the whole thing down. She should be applauded for her strength.

Instead, Dany will be characterized as “unhinged” and “crazy”. Listen to the music, and consider the episode leading up to that point, how so many other characters have spoken about her, and most importantly what the perceptions of the majority of the typical target audience of epic fantasy would be of someone like Dany. Like so many male-driven narratives before, abuse and pain and loss have put a ‘strong female character’ in a position where she could be written into abusing her power and commit atrocities in revenge. I’d like to think that we’ll get something better than that. Instead, I fear we’ll get the “crazy bitch” out for blood. If that happens, it’ll be as lurid and exploitative as I Spit On Your Grave, just with dragons. Well, one dragon, now. One dragon and one “crazy bitch”, who the male characters are going to defame, betray, and destroy to put another male on the throne. The same way the writers abandoned Ghost, they’re also poised to abandon the whole point of Daenerys and her character development.

Dan & Dave, if you do that, fuck you.

Courtesy HBO
Look at this poor wintery boi. Look what you’ve done to him. Look at him.

I’ll circle back to Sansa in a moment. But first, I’d like to talk about another example of characters being driven completely off the rails to the sound of cackling and “Oh, this will subvert expectations! Check out how gritty and ‘real’ we are, we’re cooler than The Last Jedi in changing our characters, stay with us fans!” I’d like to talk about Jaime Lannister.

Courtesy HBO
“Burn them all,” Dan and Dave said. “Burn all the characters down.”

When we first met him, Jaime Lannister was the sort of ‘Prince Charming’ subversion that fit very well in the general Game of Thrones sentiment. “This isn’t your parent’s fantasy epic.” A golden boy with smug charisma and assholery to spare, at first he was someone you’d love to hate, just as much as his sister. But then he got lost. The hand that had defined his adult life, as one of the great Westerosi swordsmen, was cut off for a goof. He came face to face with cruelty and callous disregard for human life, the very thing that made him become the Kingslayer in the first place. And it seemed, for a long time, that he wanted to find a better life for himself. A more honorable life. A happier life.

And then he threw it all away for the sake of a person that we know, that he knows, is a toxic wellspring of spite, hate, and selfish ambition. “So am I,” he says to Brienne, the one person who has truly and thoroughly believed in his better nature and his ability to have it prevail.

Now, we still have two episodes left. Maybe Jaime behaved the way he did towards Brienne because he wanted to distance himself from her because a part of him knows that he won’t be making it back from King’s Landing. I’d like to think that his intent is to kill Cersei, not to protect her. And in treating Brienne so cruelly, it will be “okay” if he dies in the attempt. In his mind, he doesn’t want to be mourned.

Maybe I’m projecting a bit from my own experiences and the nature of my own inner critics, but no matter what the motivation or eventual ‘shocking’ reveals, this flies in the face of years of careful character development, of deconstructing and reconstructing a person who, like Khal Drogo, saw a flaw within himself and sought to correct it. Jaime stumbled and made mistakes along the way, for sure, but he finally saw Cersei for who she was and made the choice to walk away. Now he’s going back, and throwing away the one person who loves him not just for who he is, but for who he can be, and from all indications wants to be?

Fuck you, Dan & Dave.

Courtesy HBO
Sansa Stark is not having any of your bullshit.

For the most part, there’s aspects of the Stark children that feels true. Arya’s not a lady, and has never wanted to be, regardless of how she feels about Gendry. Bran recognizes how much he’s changed, and has come to terms with it because of how much he knows and recognizes the role he has to play in the world as it is. I’ll get to Jon in a moment, but first, let’s talk about Sansa.

Like Dany, Sansa’s trauma and abuse has been shown to us in all of its unvarnished cruelty. Like Dany, the portrayal of it was done with a disquieting since of gleeful exploitation. And like Dany, Sansa’s used her experiences to find her strength and develop herself as someone who knows that living well, and being one’s best self, is the most effective and rewarding ‘revenge’. As much as she doesn’t like Daenerys, Sansa doesn’t make decisions out of spite or a sense of competition. She’s shown herself to be someone who wants to be an ally to a fellow survivor, regardless of her misgivings. But Dany, for one reason or another, hasn’t really been willing to meet her halfway. It’s a huge missed opportunity to show how survivors can best support one another, and that stings.

When Sansa tells Tyrion the truth about Jon, it’s not because she doesn’t like Daenerys; she’s not jealous or ambitious. She’s concerned about the safety and sovereignty of her people, and she sees Jon as a better leader; not just because he’s family, but because he’s given her facts and evidence to that effect. In the same vein, she recognizes that in spite of the cruelty visited upon her by the Lannisters, Tyrion is at heart a good person, someone who’s seen her as a person from the start and who’s treated her with respect the best way he’s known how. She’s exemplary in that a ‘strong female character’ doesn’t have to be turned bitter and ‘crazy’ because of their trauma; they can grow in spite of it and become a better version of themselves in the wake of it. Where Dan & Dave went wrong with Dany, they went right with Sansa. It doesn’t make what happened to her or how we were shown what happened to her ‘okay,’ but it does feel like more of a success story, more of a true portrayal of what strength of character really looks like.

Now, Jon. Oh, Jon. I like you, my dude, but I hate what you represent.

Courtesy HBO & incorrectgotquotes
Bring back the incorrectgotquotes Instagram, you cowards.

Tyrion and Varys have a discussion about Jon and his viability as a candidate for the Iron Throne, and one of them (I forget which) says “he’s the best for it because he doesn’t want it.” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a bit. We’ve seen this sort of thing before, many times. Take Aragorn from Lord of the Rings — another reluctant born leader who shuns his own potential. Keenly aware of the weakness of his ancestors and other men like Boromir, Aragorn is very circumspect about seizing a role of leadership and a position of power. While in the novel, this circumspection isn’t quite as pronounced as in the film — Aragorn has Narsil reforged in Fellowship of the Ring before they even leave Rivendell — it still presents an interesting parallel to Frodo, another “hero” or “chosen one” who feels isolated and abnormal due to the circumstances that imposed their role upon them.

Jon’s story, and his portrayal in the show, are similar, but the difference comes in the surrounding circumstances. Tolkien focused on the nature of the quest at hand, and its influences upon the characters who took up said quest. Game of Thrones, on the other hand, makes it a point to play its characters against one another in political gamesmanship. And in its attempt to be ‘gritty’ and ‘realistic’, this means that men will conspire to unseat a woman in power to put a man in her place, especially if that man is seen as virtuous, even if that means derailing the female in question to make the man more appealing, to the in-story populace and to the audience.

This is bullshit.

Yes, it’s how things happen in the real world. Yes, it sucks. It would be one thing if Dany were still the sort of determined but measured person we saw in control of Meereen, instead of someone that the writers seem to be pushing to be just as unappealing a ruler as Cersei Lannister. This situation, as it is presented currently, make both Dany and Jon nothing more than pawns in the titular game which robs them of the agency that has made both of them so compelling for the last seven and half seasons. And from all indications, to the writers, the male pawn is the more important one, and is being positioned to ensure that the male empowerment fantasy is the one that will ultimately prevail.

Seriously, Dan and Dave. Fuck. You.

Courtesy HBO
“You want to dowhat to my mother’s character? BITCH I’M A DRAGON, I WILL EAT YOUR ASS.”

All of this leads me to one conclusion. I could be wrong. I’d like to be wrong. But the facts are what they are, and as far as I can see, it all leads to one thing: pandering. Viewers, the vocal ones on the Internet at least, don’t want to see female characters prevail. They’re intimidated by strength and growth in those characters. So the writers make Daenerys unhinged, put Yara on a bus (okay, it’s a boat, but the trope stands), and leave Brienne broken and in tears. To avoid being lumped in with The Last Jedi which portrayed Rey in a way that had her be accused of being a “Mary Sue” and left those entitled viewers feeling betrayed because Luke Skywalker was an understandably jaded and thoroughly exhausted man, they’ve derailed one character after another. In a world where Marvel and even DC are showing that narratives can be wildly successful without cis white males as main protagonists — see Black Panther, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel as evidence to that effect — Game of Thrones goes the lazy route of pandering to a demographic that’s been pandered to long before television or film was even a thing. One hopes that this isn’t necessarily what George RR Martin had in mind, but we won’t know if he’s just as bad as Dan & Dave until we finally see Winds of Winter on store shelves. You’re on notice, GRRM.

As for Dan & Dave — shame on you, you lazy fucks. What you’ve done with this narrative and these characters is disgusting, cowardly, and lame. Even if Jaime ultimately kills Cersei, and Daenerys course-corrects before becoming an evil as bad as or worse than her father that “needs to be put down,” you couldn’t have done a worse job in your lead-up to the big final battle if you’d tried. And you didn’t. You didn’t try. You went the easy route. You got scared. You let your fear hold your pens. And what squirted out is such weaksauce even people who don’t like their sauce spicy in the slightest are reaching for the salt. And they’re right to be salty.

If this is how this television series is going to end, I for one am glad it’s ending. Again, maybe I’m mistaken, and things will happen that will pull the narrative and these characters out of this tragic, disgusting tailspin.

But I’m not holding my breath.

Write Place, Write Time

Pictured above is Chuck Wendig’s writing shed. It’s a completely standalone structure made to do one thing: isolate a writer and make them write. It’s a deliberate, concrete manifestation of disconnecting from the world around us, and exploring aspects of how our world was before or could be in the future. Perhaps new worlds are being created in this tiny booth of creativity and frustration. It’s hard to say, until either the writer emerges with manuscript intact, or you go to the door and you knock.

Just be prepared if you knock, because writers are most definitely a frustrated lot.

Being able to isolate oneself is, in my experience, rather essential to the process. I’m sure there are writers who thrive on doing so in the midst of a crowd. Somewhere out there, there’s a novelist who can’t make the words happen unless they’re sitting on a bench in the middle of Grand Central Station getting bombarded by people and PA announcements and smells and odd looks. More power to them, I say. I’m more of a “writing shed” kind of person.

The best I can do is walk up a few blocks to my local library and get in on one of their little work rooms; failing that, use a public terminal that doesn’t have about a thousand distractions a click away. Because let’s face it: writing is incredibly frustrating work, and most writers I know are more than happy to do things that are not writing. Writers are avid gamers, outdoors enthusiasts, movie buffs, even parents… all of these things take the writer away from their writing, and unless they’re isolated to some degree, most writers I know would opt for those not-writing things instead of disconnecting from the world and getting the writing done.

Even this blog post is an example of this. I’ve gone back into my previous entries on writing to see if I’m repeating myself — I’m sure I am to some degree. I’ve looked at other writers’ Twitter accounts to see how far off I am — not all writers are the same, after all. I’ve been distracted by Discord, Facebook, the traffic outside, the sound of the TV in the flat’s main room. I’m thinking about my phone interview in half an hour. I’m thinking about Mad Max Fury Road, and Dungeons & Dragons, and…

Well, you get the idea.

If I were trying to finally put some damn words into the manuscript that’s been very patiently waiting for me to finish it, it’d be even worse. If I weren’t sitting in a place free of most distractions, save perhaps for some good mood music, I’d be getting nothing done and I’d end up frustrated over that. I know I can close my distractions as easily as I can open them. I try to do so whenever I need to get something like this done, let alone laying out hundreds of new words in a story I need to finish. In one particular case, there’s a definite need there, and despite its lengthy gestation period, I think this novel is becoming more relevant as time goes on, not less.

But that’s literally a story for another day.

With the weather in Seattle being its more temperate summer days of late, days of mild temperatures and little precipitation, going to a library for a few hours seems like a likely prospect until I secure more steady dayjob work. The challenge for me is making the time and devoting the energy to do so. Job searches are soul-crushing, heart-eroding, mind-grating things, and I think this is the longest one I’ve been on. I can’t yet sustain myself on writing alone, and the competition for freelance work is just as breakneck as it is for salaried positions, if not moreso. I’m not giving up, but I’m also reminding myself that I still want to write, need to write, and the only way to do it is, to use an old metaphor, “sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

I’m going to be working to find the right time, and go to the right place, to do just that.

Don’t worry, I’ll clean up afterwards.

500 Words on Carving

No, we’re not carving you up, little calf. It’ll be okay. Here, have some sprouts.

We cool?

Okay, then.

Last night, I went to see Chuck Wendig. He’s an author I’d had the privilege of meeting once before, way back in 2009, at a tiny game convention in Philadelphia. We played a role-playing game together, jammed about writing, and I tried not to make an ass of myself. No small feat, back in those days. He was excited to see me again, and we talked about Seattle and writing with another man I’m very glad to have finally met, Phil Brucato, mastermind of Mage: the Ascension and a game I’m dying to try out called “Powerchords: Music, Magic & Urban Fantasy“.

All three of us, at one point, talked about carving the time out of the days in order to write.

“In large, bloody chunks,” I recalled Chuck writing at one point.

Both men gave grim nods.

From professional novelists to fanfic enthusiasts, writers cannot merely find the time to write. We have to make the time. That’s just as difficult as the writing itself. The world at large makes all sorts of demands on our time and energy. There’s always another chore, another commitment, another distraction. We want to give ourselves a break, try to get other things done, clear our decks to do nothing but write.

The insidious truth is that such a state of being, where nothing but writing happens, rarely if ever exists.

Writing happens in a particular space, a conflux of physical, mental, and emotional states, and we writers need to assure ourselves that we can, and should, ask for that space. It’s possible to think that you don’t deserve it, because you haven’t been writing anyway, or those dishes have been stacking up, or seriously I need to spend more time with my partner. It’s also possible to feel that you’re somehow entitled to it, and shirk everything else just to write, which is arguably worse than the former possibility.

Bottom line? You have to carve out the right slice of time, and make the most of it before you balance it with something else.

We cannot, and should not, exist in a vacuum. We have our writerly spaces, sure, from libraries we prefer to sheds we build just for writing — and perhaps slugging whiskey and howling and throwing poo at the walls. What happens in the Mystery Box stays in the Mystery Box. Thing is, we can’t always be there. How can we relate our words to the world if we’re not in the world more often than not?

“Carve the time,” Chuck admonished me when he wrote in my writing journal. A reminder that while the world makes its demands, I deserve to make the time to write. I shouldn’t seek to let writing dominate my time, either. I can strike the right balance, with my sharpened metaphorical knives. That’s a skill in and of itself.

He wrote something else, too.

“Finish thine shit.”

On Fridays I write 500 words.

Photo courtesy The Dodo.

500 Words on World-Building

I’m very much looking forward to introducing more people to Dungeons & Dragons. The published materials for that purpose within the Starter Set are quite fine, but even moreso than the content within the books, I appreciate the flexibility of it. It’s been a while since I’ve put together a world into which others will be introducing characters with their own motivations, drives, fears, and goals. I want to flex those muscles again.

As much as I like the Forgotten Realms setting, what’s the harm in creating what might be considered a parallel world on the Prime Material Plane? Similar, but different in many ways. Same maps, different names. Similar factions, different motivations. A history all its own that resonates with the high points of established materials. If nothing else, it’s a great exercise in world-building.

Even when set in the modern era on Earth, authors tend to create their own worlds when they set out to tell a new story. Look at Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Seanan McGuire’s October Day, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards, Lev Grossman’s the Magicians — the list goes on. I know that these are all fantasy examples, but considering this pontification is rooted my D&D ambitions, they’re what come to mind for me. I’m sure you can think of your own.

Speaking of D&D, there’s been quite a bit written about the Starter Set called Lost Mines of Phandelver. For my part, my desire is not just to integrate it into a slightly different world of my own creation, but also deepen and flesh out the characters within the adventure. Even within a D&D campaign, I’m not terribly fond of one-dimensional characters, be they cackling villains or glorified vending machines. These are, for the most part, people; people have thoughts and feelings, they have hopes and dreams, they make mistakes. To me, it’s important to convey those things and demonstrate that the protagonist (or in this case, the player character) are not alone in the world in terms of beings with agency and identity.

Not long ago, I began running an adventure for some friends at a neighbor’s house. Upon a cursory reading, I got a notion for how the local innkeep behaved and what his relationships were like. On the fly, as the players interacted with him, I created the character’s partner and began role-playing their interactions in front of the players. It was just a little flavor, a bit of color splashed into the black and white text of the pages in front of me. And it went over incredibly well.

I can’t overstate the importance of taking just a little time to flesh out parts of your world, whatever you’re creating it for and however you’re creating it. Tolkien and Martin might at times get carried away with descriptors, but would we care so much about their tales and their many characters without those passages, that depth? Their worlds persist because of the way they were built. Don’t you want the same for yours?

On Fridays I write 500 words.

Admiration for an Admiral

“No one is immune from failure. All have tasted the bitterness of defeat and disappointment. A warrior must not dwell on that failure, but must learn from it and continue on.”

I’m trying to think of a villainous character that has affected me as thoroughly and deeply as Star Wars‘ Grand Admiral Mitth’raw’nuruodo.

Writing villains seems deceptively easy. Give them a plan of conquest, add some mustache-twirling or overtly abusive behavior, make them cruel to underlings, plant petards on which to hoist them. Wipe your hands, done and dusted.

Not so with Thrawn. Yes, he’s diabolical in thought. He’s ruthless in executed action. He’s the direct and diametric opposite of our heroes.

But, especially in the “new canon” — the Rebels animated series and especially his origin novel by the inimitable Timothy Zahn — there’s something admirable about the admiral.

The Empire, in Star Wars, is just as much a stand-in for Nazi Germany as Sauron is a stand-in for the Kaiser, or Adolf Hitler. It is a brutal, xenophobic regime, dedicated to a ‘purity’ within the galaxy and the utter destruction of unrestricted thought and the usage of power, not for its own sake, but for altruism and introspection. The Empire is always looking without, never within, and assaulting the opposition and the misunderstood with seething hatred and disgusting self-congratulation.

And hither comes Thrawn, an alien, a warrior, and seemingly, the last thing the Empire would want.

Thrawn is a free thinker. He is just as much a philosopher as a tactician. He is aware of how clever he is, but he applies that cleverness to his goals, which is always the defeat of his enemy. He has his moments of weakness, and of failure, but he uses those moments as lessons to be applied to future encounters. He respects his enemies. He despises incompetence and foolishness in his would-be peers. In an Empire full of hotheads, egomanics, and demagogues, he is cool, measured, respectful, meticulous, and, in species as well as thought, alien.

I find these qualities admirable, and I wonder: is he truly villainous?

Yes, he works for the villains. Yes, he exhibits ruthlessness towards the heroes. Yes, he employs occasionally brutal tactics to achieve his desired goals — which, as befits a warrior, is the destruction of his enemies.

But does he do these things out of malice? Blind hatred? Ignorant, projected rage?

No. He wages war because he’s good at it, he finds it a fascinating application of his abilities, and, in the end, he likes it.

Not inflicting pain, mind you. He’d much rather defeat an enemy expediently, demonstrate that they will lose, and offer them a chance to surrender and save lives. He is an artist, his medium is warfare, and his materials are the ships, troops, and officers at his command. He’s loyal, dedicated, charismatic, and cool under fire. He has the wherewithal to admit to mistakes he makes, admire his opponents, and do whatever is in his power to improve himself and those around him for the betterment of all.

Aren’t these qualities we often find in protagonists, in heroes?

We don’t really attribute honor, introspection, and respect for others to the Empire, or the Nazis for that matter. More often than not, it is those we admire and those cast as positive protagonists in our stories that exhibit such qualities. And, according to Zahn in the new canon novel, Thrawn may indeed be more than just another villainous tool in the Emperor’s arsenal. I’ll put this bit behind a spoiler tag.

[spoiler]
Thrawn explains to the Emperor that he was exiled from the Chiss Ascendancy due to his use of pre-emptive strikes. This is a lie. The Chiss sent Thrawn as a scout, to suss out the Empire’s abilities and strengths and evaluate them as potential allies in battling threats from deeper within the Unknown Regions. This is a huge risk for Thrawn: if he is caught or killed, he will be unable to relay anything to his true superiors. That, to me, is a heroic undertaking. By the same token, he shows a great deal of trust in Eli Vanto, sending the human officer to the Chiss as a contingency a calamity befalling Thrawn personally. A friend and confidant, Vanto can inform the Chiss of a great many things, and bridge the gap between the galactic powers if Thrawn is unable to do so.
[/spoiler]

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m biased towards antagonists who favor brains and cunning over brawn and bluster. Maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see; there are aspects of Thrawn that personally speak to me. The same way that Sherlock Holmes or Tyrion Lannister are characters who rely on cleverness and discernment to achieve their goals, Thrawn is defined by his brilliant mind and careful application of deduction and strategy. I know I could use more of that in my life.

Either way, I’ll be sad if the last season of Rebels is the end of Thrawn’s story. He’s mentioned in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy (now available in paperback, go buy some books), but his fate is left ambiguous. It’s unclear to me, in the end, if Thrawn is truly a villain, but in this case, he’s certainly cast as one.

But not all those cast as villains truly allow evil to fester in their hearts.

I would like to think that if Thrawn truly feels emotions like hate, he can examine, disassemble, and reorient those energies. His few moments of anger are still incredibly restrained by Imperial standards, and it shows a quality of character rarely seen among the one-dimensional jackbooted thugs around him. It speaks to someone who is more than the sum of their parts, more than the mere sketch of the role into which they are cast.

And, in the end, who among us isn’t more than they seem or are reported to be?

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