Tag Archives: Game of Thrones

You Don’t Own Me — Plot, Worlds and Experiences

 

 

So I watched the very brief panel at San Diego Comic Con this year for Netflix’s up-coming movie Bright, debuting in December, mostly to watch cast members Will Smith and Terry Crews goof around. But it was really funny to listen to them all talk as if they’d invented the genre of urban fantasy with this movie, and as if no other movie or t.v. series in that genre, much less thousands and thousands of books and some games, had existed in it before, (not to mention that more than half of those stories involve cops or other forms of law enforcement.)

And then there was one guy in the audience who asked a question at the end of the session, somewhat hostile, about whether they’d ripped off the popular RPG game Shadowrun, a question that they side-stepped with a certain amount of perplexity, as well they should have. This guy was acting again as if contemporary fantasy novels with elves, etc., hadn’t been published for decades before Shadowrun was created in 1989. Shadowrun itself, of course, borrowed copiously from the “elves with computers” novels of contemporary fantasy that were particularly popular in the 1980’s.

In contrast to Shadowrun, Bright is much less cyber-oriented and more grit police procedural thriller – like again many, many contemporary fantasy stories and a few science fiction stories involving usually aliens, including the story it most resembles on the cop part: the movie Alien Nation (1988,) followed by the television series adaptation of the movie (1989) under the same name. Alien Nation itself borrowed heavily/was descended from many, many science fiction stories in which a human and an alien were cop or other law enforcement partners (building on the buddy cops who are opposites idea from suspense fiction.) More recently, the SF television show Almost Human paired a cop with an android AI in a near future Earth, also a favorite in science fiction.

Does any of this matter? No, it has little effect on people’s enjoyment of a particular story being told, be it written fiction, game, movie, t.v., web series or theater play. Occasionally, a fan of one property will be quite put out if another property is anywhere near the same neighborhood, under the mistaken impression that it somehow harms the property that they love or that the property they love now owns common elements like vampires, elves, time travel, love triangles, etc. When the television adaptation of The Vampire Diaries came out, for instance, many fans of Twilight assumed the show was ripping off their beloved book series, even though The Vampire Diaries had been a bestselling YA book series back since the early 1990’s, long before Twilight existed, and its television show started a year before the novel Twilight was adapted into a movie.

Plots are made out of smaller building blocks of structure. Every combination of these building blocks has been played out one way or another over and over again in story-telling, so much so that people learn at an early age what possible block combinations might be tried once a story-teller sets up a universe and a situation. This is not just applicable to what we call genre stories, but to any kind of fiction. It’s of particular importance to mystery writers, who have to set up clues to the answer to a mystery that are slowly uncovered, include false clues to keep readers guessing, and play with reader expectations of who caused the mystery (usually a murder,) through their use of characters in the plot. No mystery author can keep all their readers from guessing the answer correctly because readers are so familiar with plot and the little structural signs of how story-tellers use character, detailed description and imagery to indicate the levers of plot. But they can try to keep readers unsure of whether their guess is correct or not, to keep reading, and they can work with other aspects of character, plot and theme that stem from the mystery plot or are connected to it but that are interesting in and of themselves.

Every author creates something that is original, because the characters, the exact nature of the story world, and the emotions and relationships, as well as the specific use of words and imagery, all within that story are unique to that author. Characters can become dear to many readers, not because they’ve never encountered a character similar to that one before, but because within the context of the story they are in, they specifically connect with readers. That turns the story into an experience for the readers – which is what art is – an experience through story/language/imagery/sound, etc., that personally resonates and so is valued, (or does not and is critiqued.)

But the bones of what they create will always, always be familiar to readers, always be connected to all the different building blocks readers have encountered, from the time they were small, in other stories and sometimes in real life and history. When a reader is surprised by something in a story, it’s not because of a clever plot twist, but because the reader missed the clues in the structure of the story that would have led them to expect it, or because the reader did notice the clues but other clues created an expectation in the reader that a different building block/direction was where the author was going for that story. That can be delightful when it happens, but it won’t happen with every reader and it doesn’t have to happen for readers to be immersed, engaged, and fall for the characters and world of a story.

Take for instance Ned Stark, in the novel Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. [ Though it’s quite late in the game to bother, I will issue a SPOILER warning here for those who have not yet read the book or seen the television adaptation. If you don’t want to know stuff, stop reading this part now. ] Martin is, above all else in his series, using mythic structures and imagery to tell a massive fairy tale. In the opening parts of the novel, six children of a lord come across a dead parent (mother) dire wolf with six puppies in her belly. These six puppies are given to the six children, very symbolically, by their father. Just previously, their lord father Ned Stark had to execute by beheading a deserter from the Night Watch, because that was the law. And then Ned Stark is asked to come back into far more complicated but equally heavy politics by his friend, the king.

The plot structure of the story is clearly, because of the symbolic dire-wolves, that the six children are destined to be separated, scattered across the lands, and have to deal with different arduous situations and different fates that lead towards the ultimate plot showdown the book sets up at the very beginning in the prologue – as happens in classic myths. They will lose their protector to mainly cause this process – their father, whose dread about taking up the role his king wants him to do will prove to be mythic prophecy. And because of parallel symbolism, the father, who beheaded the herald deserter who warned them about the end, will in turn be beheaded, causing the beginning.

If you’re familiar with mythic story structure, with those combinations of building blocks, and you read the novel, it’s pretty clear early on that Ned Stark is going to die, and in that particular way, and that this event will be the lynch-pin that sends his children into being lost, scattered and driven low by events. It has to happen for the story to unfold properly. He is a supporting character to the six children – Chosen One figures symbolized by the six magical dire-wolf puppies – and their fates.

But the adapters of the television show knew that they could shock a lot of viewers of the show who hadn’t read the books by misdirecting the audience with expectant clues. They hired Sean Bean, a big name actor, to play Ned Stark, while of course the children were played by young, not well known actors. They promoted Bean as the star of the show, so that unfamiliar viewers would think he was the protagonist, etc. They played up Ned Stark’s scenes, while still following the fairy tale structure of the book. It was kind of fun to watch my husband, who hadn’t read the books before watching the first season of the show, freak out when Ned lost his head.

Why would he be especially freaked out at this development? Because it is a familiar story structure, particularly for movies and t.v., that the protagonist doesn’t die – a plot building block. It’s just that the book and thus the t.v. show were using different and also very familiar mythic plot building blocks (see “dead parent” movies.) (Also some building blocks kill off the protagonist, for that matter.) Even if I had not read the book before seeing the t.v. show, I would have known that Ned was destined to die because the t.v. show adhered very closely to the book and used the prisoner beheading and the dire wolf puppies symbolically for the six kids. It would have been clear to me that Jon Snow – the illegitimate, mystery son who decides to go to the Night Watch in exile where the big action would eventually be – was going to be the protagonist, etc., and that all the kids were in for a fall. Because these are plot building blocks of an epic journey/fairy tale/coming of age. For some viewers, even if they hadn’t read the book, those blocks were familiar.

So was the surprise for some over Ned Stark’s death important for the t.v. show’s success? Not particularly, any more than it had been in the book. It certainly didn’t hurt that the show managed to trick some of their viewers (and entertain their fellows who were in the know over their surprised reactions.) But the show didn’t lose viewers when Ned Stark turned out not to be the protagonist and died, when the path the show was taking turned out to be different from what some expected the plot structure to involve. Viewers were engaged in the characters, the world of the story and the images and scenes on the show, whether they knew/guessed that Ned Stark would die or not. [ End of SPOILERS.]

When we’re engaged in a story – its language, imagery, characters and so forth — we aren’t really worried about originality – or rather about being surprised by plot building blocks because we missed or misread clues about them. We’re more focused on seeing what the author has chosen to build just for that world and characters, just for us, and drawing out what meaning the story has for us personally. When we’re less engaged, when we’re bored by a story, then we are likely to carp that the story is too flat, predictable, maybe too like some other story we were more engaged in – it’s not a strong experience for us. Sometimes those comparisons can be pretty ludicrous, such as accusing The Vampire Diaries of time travel, or declaring all elves in gritty contemporary settings to be attributed to the Shadowrun game. Other times, they’re just really acknowledgement of common DNA in plot building blocks — of story ideas, themes and relationships that are of familiar resonance to ourselves.

I’m going to enjoy Bright when it comes out, even if it is directed by the guy who made the movie Suicide Squad for DC/Warner – a film I consider a hot mess. But it will be the umpteenth story I’ve seen/read involving gritty cops and elves and/or magical species. It’s going to be fun, it may even be something I find really well done, but what it won’t be is unique, mind-blowing or radical. Because human beings live on stories – and down deep we know every trick a story-teller can play. We can still be surprised sometimes, we can be impressed with a creation in and of itself and its combinations. But no story owns or invents those basic building blocks of plot structure. Not even if you combine cops and elves one more time, with feeling.

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Game of Thrones Gloriously Helps Out Red Nose Day Campaign

In case you didn’t get to see it/knew about it on the Internet, here’s the preview teaser and then whole video documentary of Game of Thrones, the musical, for fund-raising for the Red Nose Day campaign. I imagine views still help them out with revenue from YouTube and such, and believe me, it’s worth seeing.

 

 

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No, Fantasy Fiction is Not Being Destroyed by Mega Multi-Volume Series. Or Deadly Octopi.

Yes, I’m alive, shut up.

Recently, folks on SFFWorld.com brought to my attention a new column in The Guardian newspaper by Damien Walter on the current tyranny of the mega sized, multi-volume series in fantasy fiction. I.E. Game of Thrones is ruining everything! And sidelining anything that isn’t a mega-sized, multi-volume fantasy series in book publishing. Because fiction publishing is run by underwear gnomes apparently.

I like Walter, I do, but this article (and to a lesser degree, an official counter “response” composed by new author Natasha Pulley, which was equally tone deaf about the actual fantasy field,) is an excellent example of why more people don’t find and read good books — because writers like Walter tell them that the field is overrun with whatever has been designated the current trendy “problem” that is killing everything off, so why bother. If the media would stop sounding death dirges as the only thing that ever interests them about fictional works, we’d have twice as many fiction readers, rather than a population that is continually taught that they’ll hate most fiction out there.

Nothing ever kills anything off in fiction publishing. (Or for that matter, in most forms of art.) Popularity is not a death sentence for everything else and one thing being popular doesn’t mean that other, different things are not equally or more popular. Also, authors are not herded by publishers like camels. Anyone who has worked with authors know that they are worse than cats.

Anyway, I thought I would reprint my response below here. But despite my ire, do check out Walter’s short fiction work where you can find it and Pulley’s debut historical fantasy novel, The Watchmaker of Filligree, due out in July from Bloomsbury in the U.K. (See, now was that so hard, Guardian columnists?)

It’s not a very accurate reading of the fantasy market. Which given that it’s coming from Damien Walter, who should know better, is annoying.

Mega-sized, multi-volume series are almost entirely the domain of alternate world “epic” fantasy. Because they are epics, which is supposed to be a sweeping, big story by definition. Other alternate world novels are shorter, serial series or stand alones like Katherine Addison’s award-nominated Goblin Emperor, which barely qualifies as mega-long, if that.

Contemporary fantasy uses long running series that are on average not mega in size, like mystery series, as well as various stand alones. Only once in a while does it do mega sized series books. Historical fantasy also does stand alones, shorter serial series and occasionally mega-sized multi-volumes. Comic fantasy does either shorter serial series or stand alones. Dark fantasy and horror are usually stand alones, although if it’s a dark fantasy involving a multiverse or alternate world, it might be a mega series. Some horror novels that are standalones are very thick, but that’s just one book. Multiverse usually involves a series, but often not very large ones. Futuristic fantasy can be large, either as a series or standalones, but is not routinely so, being mostly serial series and trilogies.

YA fantasy contains all the various sub-settings of fantasy. They have few stand alones in fantasy — they tend to all be series. They range from fairly short, and usually contemporary set serial series to larger epic alternate world series. But because the contemporary fantasy setting is more popular in YA than the alternate world settings, YA tends to average on the shorter side. Some of its most popular series, Eragon, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, are thick epic series, but many others are not.

Fantasy published in general fiction tends to be stand alones and may be long or short, depending on what it is. For instance, Touch by Claire North, put out by Redhook, a general fiction arm of Hatchette, is a medium sized standalone dark fantasy thriller.

So basically “fantasy” authors don’t have to move away from mega multi-volume series because not all of them are doing mega multi-volume series. In fact, it’s rare that an author manages to do one past three books. The ones who publish in alternate world fantasy have routinely experimented with different forms — one long series like Song of Ice and Fire, multiple shorter trilogy series in the same universe or a mix of stand alones and trilogies in the same universe like Joe Abercrombie does, shorter serial mystery-like series like Alex Bledsoe’s Eddie LaCrosse series, multiple trilogy series with different publishers, large duologies, stand alones, etc. David Gemmell, who wrote a lot of historical fantasy, as well as alternate world fantasy, did everything from stand alones to his 9 volume Drenai series.

But that’s inconvenient for the hook. The hook is that because Game of Thrones, five years in, is still a very popular t.v. show, and based on a nearly twenty-year-old series written by an author who was already a bestseller when he started it, (and from whom his publisher originally wanted only four books,) that clearly this is only now warping the entire field of fantasy fiction because some other lower rung bestseller guy got a book deal for a new trilogy. Because the fiction market is symbiotic and so publishers slap that it’s like George Martin on anything epic fantasy, they must be hounding authors for only that as the only thing in fantasy that is selling or getting made into a t.v. show. (Pay no attention to Vampire Diaries, or Bitten, The Leftovers, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Outlander, etc.) Because only one thing in any field can be popular at a time and it wipes out everything else, really it does. So anything else is “sidelined” right now because also a nearly thirty-year-old epic fantasy series that was supposed to be seven books in the nineties ended up being fifteen books that took more time and lost its author. And because a twenty-five-year-old epic fantasy series briefly had a t.v. series that flopped several years ago.

Because trilogies! That they’ve been doing since the seventies. And which consist of three books, technically multi-volume but please.

The reality is that the contemporary fantasy bestsellers, like Kelley Armstrong’s shared universe series, some of which were adapted for t.v. show Bitten, routinely outsell most alternate world fantasy fiction, as does for that matter bestselling fantasy romance, most of which is contemporary set. And that setting also means they have better odds for being turned into a t.v. series or a movie, especially if it’s YA. Ben Aaronovich’s Rivers of London series is coming to British t.v. and Daniel Jose Older’s new series Bone Street Rumba just got optioned. That’s hardly sidelined. Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant isn’t sidelined. Neil Gaiman’s latest bestselling short story collection is not sidelined. Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs aren’t sidelined (and Butcher had a short-lived t.v. series that did establish a cult following before being axed.) Lauren Beukes’ bestselling stand alone The Shining Girls did just fine. And the late Sir Terry Pratchett is still kicking most authors’ asses in sales.

What Games of Thrones is actually doing is bringing in a flood of new readers, who are reading the books in Martin’s series and then many of them, especially with the series unfinished, going browsing and picking up not only alternate world fantasy but lots of other fantasy stories too. And science fiction, horror, suspense, romance, YA. None of which publishers expect to perform like Song of Ice and Fire. It would be nice, they want breakout hits, but they aren’t idiots. And the break out hits in fantasy aren’t necessarily coming from alternate world fantasy. (Though Kingkiller Chronicles is also coming to t.v.)

If he really wanted to help authors he thinks are getting sidelined by Game of Thrones, talk about some of those authors then. Media coverage of fiction books is so rare, any little bit helps. But nobody has actually been sidelined by Game of Thrones. Instead, Martin is helping to fund half the category field; certainly everybody else on the list in Penguin Random House (which is half the publishing industry at this point.)

*The response by author Natasha Pulley that asserts writing short fantasy fiction is hard is equally silly, given that fantasy authors have been doing it for over a hundred years. And that her up-coming debut historical fantasy novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree, is only 336 pages long. But we won’t hold it against her or Walter on the fiction side. If we had to reject authors for all the silly things they say about the market, we would have little to read.

 

 

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Humor to Eat Chocolate By

You may have seen this already, since it went viral quickly. Richard Dunn, delayed for his flight in a strangely deserted Las Vegas airport in the wee hours of the morning (but, but Vegas never sleeps!) decided to make his own music video with his smart phone and a gerry-rigged dolly, complete with visual effects, to the tune of Celine Dion’s “All By Myself.” It’s magnificent. Dion has invited Dunn to attend one of her concerts whenever he likes:

The Swamp Donkeys, a deeply talented bunch of musicians, played a Southern jazz version of the theme music from the television show Game of Thrones at the New Orleans B.B. King Club. It’s magnificent. They dedicated it to Ygritte. Extra geek points and a bearded nod from George R.R. Martin for all of them:

And speaking of Game of Thrones, Steve Love does some impressive impersonations of the cast of the show for Season 4. The show should probably hire him:

 

 

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Videos for a Rainy Friday Evening

My desk looks like a tube of paper exploded on it. So have some entertaining videos:

1) The wonderfully clever short film called Darth Baby’s Lightsaber. This is my new favorite Star Wars parody:

2) The amazing group Arstidir (close as I can get to reprinting properly,) sing an old Icelandic hymn in the stunning acoustics of a German train station:

3) Dan Newbie‘s rendering of the theme to Game of Thrones on water glasses, jugs and pans:

4) The trailer for the up-coming new t.v. show, Constantine, adapted from the comics and airing on NBC in the U.S., which looks pretty good:

5) The trailer for the new New Zealand mockumentary film about vampires, What We Do in the Shadows. I’m hoping it gets widely distributed:*    *Apparently, it’s not a film; it’s a t.v. series, which is even better.

6) And lastly, an amazing street performer reproduces Bumblebee from the Transformer movies in Michigan. I don’t know if this is the same guy as the one in New Orleans but it seems very likely, and I don’t know who he is but the special effects people in Hollywood should hire him:

 

 

 

 

 

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I Want the Album

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A Little Game of Thrones — Photos for Season 3 (Storm of Swords, Part 1)

About a month ago, HBO released some photos from the upcoming Season 3 of the t.v. show Game of Thrones, adapted from George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, including several of characters from the books newly appearing on the show: http://www.wired.com/underwire/2013/01/game-of-thrones-season-3-photos/ Check out Dame Diana Rigg, who will be doing a small but juicy role. They made her look a bit older than she does for the role. She’s a lion in winter and the cast will have to step up their game. 🙂

 

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