5 things I learned from Game of Thrones

grr got

Joe’s Post #38 — A few of the people on this planet have not watched HBO’s “Game of Thrones”. To my mind, it is the best show on TV, an epic, character-driven story set in GRR Martin’s fantasy world. It’s made me laugh. It’s certainly made me cry. It’s made me miss supper and believe me, that’s a big one!

And that got me thinking.

How has it affected the way I write? So, 5 things I’ve learned.

1) Do not be afraid to kill off your characters. Oh, I will go back to my own novel with a knife, now. Watch out cute bears! Be warned handsome hunters wooing my protagonist. I’m coming for you. (It’s far too easy to fall in love with your creations. Hey, you’ve birthed them, spent time with them, struggled with them, but sometimes they have to die.)

Many with disagree with what was done on the second to last episode of season 3. Some are even very angry. But here’s my thinking. It got everyone talking. Has anyone given up watching that show based on the last episode? Probably not. But oh momma, has it ever fired up the viewers. Who could not want to find out what happens next?

What more could a writer want?

2) Setting: Gloriously shown on TV, the settings breathe life into the story. The bleak and frozen land beyond the wall. The stark throne room in King’s Landing, complete with a throne made out of swords. The haunted ruins of Harrenhall.

The settings are so well done, both in the books and on-screen, that they become characters unto themselves. When I go to do my rewrite, I will look at kicking up all my settings. I will make them sing. I will make them shine. I will make a world that is both grand in scope and glorious in its details.

3)  How to make a villain likeable 101: Oh my goodness does this show do that in spades. The transformation of Jamie Lannister from ‘oh I want that guy dead and dead now’ to ‘oh isn’t he heroic?’ is nothing short of a masterpiece of writing. And here’s the kicker … he’s the same guy he was in the beginning as the man we hated as he is when he becomes a man we like. That’s the genius of the writing.

When you’re watching the show for the 9th time, take a look at how it’s done, at how the layers are peeled back to reveal not a two dimensional douche but a man who loves, perhaps not wisely, but passionately, a man who’s had to make some very hard choices and a man who is in serious need of a good PR department.

I know my villain’s backstory and why he so desperately desires to bugger up my heroes’ lives. I do. But I need more of that in my story. I need to flesh him out. Dig him out of his hole. Expose him to light. And, who knows, maybe like JL, you’ll find him a little more compelling.

4) Details matter: From the crests of all the houses, from the harpy above the free cities, from the curved swords of the Dothraki, it’s not enough to have grand settings, the little things matter, too.

I’ve got a few cool details in my world but what if I had more? What if I looked at every character, every scene, every moment in the story and asked, how could I make this better?

grr books5) There are no rules for writing: That second to last episode proved that, but look at the story as a whole. He wrote a fantasy story, a brave choice in and of itself. (I mean, who wants to walk into a party and explain that you do THAT for a living!) He has a bazillion characters we follow. He’s not afraid to kill people we love. He’s got a HUGE story that may very well take a hundred books/shows to finish and yet with all the rules that he breaks, we simply HAVE to watch the show, have to find out what happens next.

It’s because George Martin knows how to tell a good story and damn the rules. Not damn all the rules, you understand, but damn those that get in the way of him telling a great story.

He knows how to inspire the readers/audience, but he also inspires me.

He inspires me to do better. To write that amazing story that everyone will want to read.

That’s the most important lesson we can all learn as beginning writers. Write the story you want to tell. Write that story that everyone will love.

Now, back to my critiquing. Only one novel left.

Book buying

books and books

Joe’s post #18 — How do you buy books? By genre? By authors? By recommendations from friends? By the pretty picture on the cover?

Ok, but let’s be more specific. How do you decide to buy a book by a new author, by someone you’ve never read before?

That’s a challenge for all of us new writers. How do we stand out? How do we get the attention of an agent, of a publisher, of millions of readers?

I’m not sure I have the answer, but I can look to how I buy a book by an author I’ve never read before.

1) Genre. It’s my first filter. New or old, I go to a section that I love to read. Mystery. Thriller. Fantasy. As new writers, we don’t have much of a choice where our books get put, but we can help agents and publishers by delineating where we think our books belong. My latest book, YA fantasy. One day, I hope to be able to move out of that genre and into mainstream. Sort of like moving out of my mobile home and into a spacious condo overlooking the city of Vancouver.

a-game-of-thrones-book-1-of-a-song-of-ice-and-fireCover and Title: Yes, it matters. At least to me. If the cover has a bare-chested man with a half-naked women pressed up against him, I won’t care that there’s a dragon in the background. But show me something like what’s on the latest Game of Thrones, and you got yourself a sale. Have a cool title like “The Bone Collector?” Even better.

So, writers, make sure you have a cool title.

Any recommendations: Has it won awards? Does GRR Martin recommend it? Oprah? Are there any quotes from famous authors, like “Best book I’ve read since my book” or “I’m going to kill this bastard for writing such a great story.”

I can tell you one thing, if I ever get published, I will shamelessly pester all my published writer friends to write something nice about my story.

The Flap: Ok, I made that word up. It’s the ‘blurb’, or the synopsis or why the hell should I buy this book?  So now I’m standing in a ‘section’, trying to look cool, and I’ve picked up a book with an interesting cover and a neat title (and maybe with a nifty recommendation.) Now, I read the back (or, in the case of the hardcover, the promo inside the dust jacket.) It has to wow me. I’m sorry, it does. If I read ‘bored housewife…’ I put the book back. If I read something that might interest me, then I move to the last filter.

The First Pages.   You can fool me with a nifty cover – I’m easily distracted by pretty colors and half-dressed women on dragons. You can fool me with recommendations – Writers have been known to get together at comicons or mystery writers at wine tasting nights and agree to endorse each other’s books. You can fool me with a cleverly written blurb – Hey, they have entire marketing departments working on this in-between martinis. But it’s harder to be fooled by someone’s actual writing. So I read the first pages, a few paragraphs somewhere in the middle, and then I make a decision.

As new writers, I think we need to remember this. Words matter. Voice matters. Style matters. How a story starts… matters.

The Way Around It All: Frankly, the way I usually buy books by authors I haven’t read is that I’ve been told it’s awesome by a friend I trust. Any time I get a text like “OMFG you have to read this!!!!!!!” I will give it a try, despite the number of exclamation seanpoints. If someone brings a book to a coffee chat and the first thing they say, after telling me how handsome I look, is “I have just read the most amazing book of amazingness ever!” then I’ll give that book a try. I mean, why not, they’ve done all the work and all I have to do is look up that author?

Like this one. Check it out. It’s a FANTASTIC book.  !!!!!!!

But no matter what your own personal filters are, give a new author a try.

We need all the help we can get.

Ah, the middle, it’s the hardest part to write

Joe’s Blog Post #10 — I had the oddest thing happen to me this week. I was about half way through a book –  page 252 – and I flipped to the next page. It was 186. The next one was 187. The next one was 188. It went right up to 216, then leaped to 282. Basically, somehow, some ninny, somewhere copied 30 pages from the earlier part of the book and them into the middle of the book.

How can this have possibly happened?

So I went to the store where I bought it from. I went up to the counter. “I need to return this book,” I told the clerk. “It is defective.”

“Do you have a receipt?”

“At one point, probably, but I don’t have one now. But take a look at it. Page 252.”

“Right.”

“Now look at page 253.”

“Ah.” She closed the book. “Could be a collector book one day.”

“Could be I want to find out if my Space Marines killed the all the demons or found a basket full of kittens. Can I please exchange this?”

To my surprise, I could. Actually, I was very surprised. As she rang through the transaction, I had to ask. “Does this kind of error happen often?”

“More than you’d think,” she said. “Editing isn’t what it used to be.”

And I left, happy at the store, but wondering what happened to standards. In e-publishing, I get it, sometimes there aren’t editors, but mainstream, wow, they need to do better.

Then I thought, but hey, hold on a second. Everyone has trouble with the middles so maybe this is the ideal solution! Maybe instead of adding plot layers or depth or character developement or, ack, emotion, to your book, just copy a few pages from the earlier chapters and hope your readers are too tired, too drunk, too stoned, too world-weary to even notice (or care.)

So, if my book ever gets published, check out the middle. It may have something interesting in it.

Update:

Pages Written to Date: Broke 200.

Funny Illustrations Drawn of Beasties in My Book: 1 (reminded me I suck at drawing.)

Number of Dwarven Songs from the Hobbit Learned: 1

Number of People Who Want to Hear Me Sing it: 0

Who ate my pages?

Joe’s Post #9

Total number of pages written: 165

Total number of pages it seemed like I’d written: 22,341

Total queries sent out on Desert Rains: 5

Total queries on all other novels sent out: 0

Total pies sent to me by Silk: 0

Pies Eaten this week: 1/8 (a hot apple pie with ice cream)

Update:

Funny thing, it really did seem like I wrote a lot more pages this week. After my meltdown, I wrote each day except Sunday (when I tend to watch football and yell at the TV a lot.) I even managed to write some pretty decent scenes, if I can be a judge of such things, and discovered a few interesting things about my character and world I hadn’t thought about when I planned the book.

So, it wasn’t a bad week, at least time-wise. So why so few pages?

I had to think on this. It’s not a bad count. Up 40 from last week. I’m happy with the direction of the story. Not a lot of rewriting was done. Not a lot of staring at the screen and wondering, what now, dammit, what now?

Yet if you’d asked me before I looked at the count, I would have said closer to 60. Maybe 70.

It comes down to one thing. I live in a fantasy world.

One of the challenges with writing to a deadline is that it’s easy to forget you’re trying to write a good story and not just pound out some pages. This week, I spent time making sure my scenes were full of action, zippy dialogue, rich, fresh details, lush descriptions, and, yes, even emotion. That meant, as odd as this may sound, that I lived in that world for quite a bit this week, especially when I sat down to write. I made sure I was completely there, saw every pine needle, smelled the sap leaking from the trees, felt the wet loam under my feet and the wind blow my red hair constantly in my face. And by being THERE, by living in that world, I took more time to relay the experience. Simply as that.

Result: Better writing. Less pages. Quality over quantity.

I’m ok with that.

Becoming a 16-year-old girl

Ok, I know you want to know all about the title, but first an update:

Pages Written to Date: 70

Pages Deleted: A sad total of 30.  It’s what you get when you suck at outlining.

Pies Eaten: 0

Number of books read: 1

Number of Die Hard movies watched this week: 4

Now, on to the blog.

Becoming a 16-year-old girl is not easy.  First of all, I’m not 16.  Or a girl.  Yet my protagonist is.  So how do I get in the mind of a creature I do not understand?  I honestly think it would be easier for me to get inside the head of a troll possessed by the exorcist demon.

So, first I think back to what I was like when I was 16.  I felt things deeply back then.  I loved more purely, hated more passionately, feared rejection, wanted to be noticed and ignored with equal desire.  I had fun just running around, playing soccer.  I longed for the day I could afford a car.  I watched Scooby-Doo and Masterpiece Theater.  I sat at the front in English class, at the back in chemistry.

I met the love of my life, fought my last fight (for spiking someone as I slid into on 2nd base), learned to drive, treated my brother poorly, ignored my mom, missed my dad, gave up drawing, played with my dog, created vast dungeons filled with dragons and read books about Mars and Dark Lords and lands far away.

I dreamed of being a great writer, believed the world was full of wondrous things and great adventures but, deep down, I felt like I never really fit in.  Not like everyone else.  I always felt a like an outsider looking in.

But the more I thought on this, the more I realized that good characters, if they’re 16 years old, 30, 50, are all made from the same stuff.  Hopes and fears.  Experiences, good and bad.  Noble deeds done.  Shameful ones hidden.

I realized a good character struggles.  A good character is tested.  A good character endures.

More importantly, I realized a good character should never be completely defined by their age.

Now, the next step.  Talk to one.

Odds are they have some opinions on this subject.

Stay tuned.

Speed blogging

Joe’s Post #6 —

Once again, a quick post.

Pages written: 20

Pages rewritten: 10 (but I finally got the beginning to work!)

Villains created: One great one

Fabulous characters created: 2. Cinnamon and Sprite

Number of characters named after food I love: 2

Notes made to self: 1 (eat before I decide upon character names)

Pieces of pie eaten: None.

Number of characters named after pie: 0

Conference dinners attended: 1

Number of writers I talked to at conference: 20+

Number of women writers I talked to at conference: 18

Number of books sold: 0

Number of times I was told I was amazing and handsome: 0

Feeling after conference: Pretty positive (despite the above statistic.)

Hard to believe that a nerdy, shy, introvert like me could have a good time at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference Dinner but I did.  Ok, I may have had a glass of wine or two but, for the most part, it was great to be with other people who are struggling with all the same issues.

Writing can be a lonely thing to do but it was so very nice to know that I wasn’t alone.

Making the right choice

Joe’s Post #4 —

Every so often an opportunity comes up that you cannot ignore. Free pie. A trip to Venice. A chance to get your book published.

That’s what happened to me this week (no, no one gave me free pie or took me to Venice) but I did get a chance for one of my novels to be published. Not a big chance but one I simply couldn’t ignore.

The process for writers at my level is painful, but very simple. You write a novel, you send out queries, you hope the query gets out of the slush pile and someone, somewhere contacts you and says, hey, send me your novel. That’s all we hope for. That someone will at least read your novel.  Give it a chance.

This opportunity allowed me to skip the whole query letter thing and fling my novel onto somebody’s desk. So I dusted off an older novel called The Shroudmaiden, a YA fantasy story about a young woman who, like Katniss in the Hunger Games, must find a way to save her people. It has magic and a bit of steamy sex and lots of lovely Venetian-like locations (hey, I love Venice, sue me) and a character I just loved to write about.

But as I looked at it before sending it out, I realized just how far I’d come over the last few years. At least, writing-wise. Oh there was some great stuff in there and if I may say, I nailed the sex scenes, but it needed a bit of work.

So, new novel, you have to wait. Sorry dude. The Shroudmaiden needs some polishing.  100,000 words worth of polishing. 500 odd pages worth of polishing. All to be done by this Sunday.

Yikes!

It may pay off or it may not. A publisher will either like my brave, young shroudmaiden, Echo, or they won’t.  But I had to take that shot.

However, as a very pretty friend told me “Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.  I hear the sound of time chasing you down, heavy pounding footsteps, a portent of a doom for one poor 5 in 5 member…”

And she’s right. Time is running out to get that new novel done as well. I’ll really have to little-engine-that-could it next week.