Game of Thrones (and Plotting)

So far, writing a story from an outline has been an interesting experience. Usually, at this point I have several chapters written and a storyline vaguely plotted out, but with “Graveyard Empire”, things have been different. Characters? Check. Plotlines? Check. Chapters? Not so much. The 500 word snippet I have posted earlier is the majority of the actual writing I did for it, and it is unlikely to change until the chapter-by-chapter outline is done. Groan.

On a different topic, have you ever had a book, a movie, or a game sit on your shelf for months or years before getting to it? In my case, I have a massive backlog of all three types of media jousting for my time, and so far, it led to some very pleasant surprises. No, I am not talking about finally getting to the end of Act II in Diablo II (yes, I am THAT far back in that game), or watching “Swimming with Sharks” at the insistence of my lovely wife (it only took about two years). And don’t even get me started on my sadly missed World of Warcraft Blood Elf warlock, still lingering around level 65 or so after about two years of dormancy.

The pleasant surprise I am referring to is George R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones”, a truly sprawling book that has spawned four sequels and HBO series to date. And while I might be a bit behind the times, I have only three words for it. Oh. My. God.

I have newfound admiration for Mr. Martin and other writers who can pull off an epic storyline with larger than life characters, multiple points of view, show-not-tell way of describing the world, and intertwining plots. The amount of work that went into creating a coherent storyline out of so many disparate elements is highly impressive, and I shudder to think of the effort it must have taken to define each of the characters, describe their relationships with each other, identify their speech patterns, goals, motivations, and personalities. And all of it has been accomplished without sacrificing the intensity or the poignancy of the storyline. No wonder the series have been so successful.

Graveyard Empire snippet

It rained on the day of his ascension. The sky of Mara was dark with corpulent strains of clouds, weighing heavily above the continent-wide metropolis. Thin spires reached out into the grey, diffusing the wan light and casting the world into dark azure monochrome.

“It’s time, Owar.”

The boy turned from the reinforced window, giving the city one last look. His face, ashen and gaunt, was wrought with anxious anticipation, making him look far older than his ten year old frame would suggest. The bulky robes he wore were the color of rain, featureless and shapeless.

“It’s time.”

There, the voice again. Emotionless and dull, as if the rain had washed away all semblance of personality from it.

Owar’s eyes drifted back to the rain. The lines of water sketched a singular pattern upon the window. As he watched, the raindrops began to coalesce, streaming downward and breaking the straight line design.

He looked at the simple trappings of his residence, taking in every detail and knowing he would never see them again. Stone walls, barely illuminated through the embedded lamps, looked black in the wan light. A painting, disproportionate and awkward, made for a pitiful impression of childhood.

“Do you think I will remember this? The rain, I mean,” Owar said quietly. His voice had an ageless quality of an amplified whisper.

The visitor took a step towards the boy, straining with every movement. Owar could hear the faint wheezing of motors under the monkish brown habit. The hand that extended from under the cloth was discolored with age spots. A transparent tube was embedded in the palm, circulating yellow liquid.

“You will see wonders beyond comprehension,” the dull, genderless voice said. The words were rote, spoken with all the conviction of one who knows nothing else. Or the one made to know nothing else.

The boy made a step, then halted. Uncertainty and trepidation played upon his features. He bit on his lip, eyes cast down to the floor.

“What is it, Owar?”

“It’s just…” The boy sounded hesitant.

“Yes?”

“I am afraid, Martos.” He blurted the words out as though the act of speaking would exorcise his fear. His jaw tightened with apprehension.

“You have been afforded the greatest honor in the Sphere,” the mechanical voice replied. The rain rapped a staccato rhythm on the window. Somehow, Owar did not find it soothing.

“Fear is irrelevant. There are millions on Mara alone who would trade places with you in a heartbeat. You should feel pride.”

“I did not ask for it,” said the boy. “Will I…”

“You will have to do,” the visitor answered. “You are the best match in the system.”

Owar gave Martos a look that was equal part trepidation, plea, and loathing. “Will it hurt?” the boy asked. His fists were clenched, knuckles white. “I…”

“Pain is irrelevant, Owar.” Martos took a halting step. The motors made a louder, unpleasant sound. “In time, it will subside. The only thing that matters is the Harbinger.”

Let’s make Mildred a cool name… again!

Here is a question to all science fiction and fantasy affictionados. Why would a character in a fantasy kingdom located on a different plane of existence be named Bob, Tom, or John? If the answer to this question eludes you, I bid you welcome to the club.

There is always some context to a name’s origins. Some describe function or occupation, while others describe desired or perceived character trait. Names do not just come out of nowhere, and are unlikely to mean the same thing in different, unrelated cultures. So while I can suspend my disbelief and assume that in Kingdom of Lower Made-Uppia, “Steven” really means something like “dragon-slaying knight”, and “Edward” is a local translation of “pious”, there is a lot of disbelief to suspend.

Now, I understand the need to have pronounceable character names thrown in amongst the more exotic permutations. Hence the “Aeris and Bob” concept on ever-reliable TV Tropes, which sometimes makes me wonder if a character with an ordinary name will be considered exotic in a more unconventional setting.

And then, what is an exotic name to one culture will be a very mundane one to another. Case in the point: typical modern Anglo-Saxon names were considered exotic in the former Soviet Union, where I grew up. A Russian named Robert would be unusual, despite there being millions of Roberts in the English speaking world. When this is translated into fiction, some hilarity may ensue… completely unintentionally, of course!

With this in mind, I am setting upon a mission. You see, names may come full circle, and there is no telling what may become popular a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand years from now. The names we think of as archaic and horribly dated now might gain a new lease on life at some point in the future. They might become exotic and hip with the passage of time, or with their adoption by other cultures. So in a thousand years, Alvin may no longer indicate a near-centennarian (or a chipmunk), and Brooklyn may become respectably old-fashioned.

As such, for this next writing project I am working on, my mission is to write in a character named Mildred, and to do it with a straight face. A sprinkling of Zebulons, Jebediahs, and Hirams may or may not follow.

And this is from a guy who deliberately gave his children more conventional names. Geesh!

This… is… Spinal Tap! I mean, Midgard.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Spinal Tap! Er… uh… I mean, Midgard!

What a weekend! I think I was given a first-hand feel for what it would have been like to be a member of Spinal Tap, minus an exploding drummer, plus one vanishing bass player. In addition to that, I got my first taste of an audio drama, played a great show with my band, and had quite a bit to consider as to the direction of this blog, and what I am trying to accomplish with it.

As a result, this week I will try a few different things to see what works and what does not. Stay tuned…

Progress Report and Social Media

It is Friday, and it is progress report time! Well, I think I am going to make it a regularly scheduled progress report update.

As of this writing, four of my novels are under consideration at different prospective publishers. I have had a few rejection letters, including one with some feedback which will be helpful. One more novel is in the process of being edited to address some of the criticism, and will be submitted to a prospective publisher as soon as the edits are complete.

The plotting for my next project is still moving along, albeit at a slower pace than I would have liked. This is simply a function of available time, which has been scarce at best. At the completion of my current endeavors, I expect to be dedicating significant time to writing every day, which should help to move that project along. At that point, hopefully in a not-too-distant future, expect a few snippets, maybe a short scene or two to give a feel for what I am trying to accomplish.

In other news, I am seriously considering looking into short story and flash fiction markets as a way to get some publishing credits. I have always found short stories to be harder to conceptualize than longer pieces, and consequently have not written very many, but I feel rather strongly about some of them, and believe they are publishable. At worst, nothing will happen. At best, I may earn a few publishing credits along the way, adding something to my writing resume.

It does imply researching an entirely different market, which is both exciting and even little intimidating. Where novels are generally published as stand-alone products, short stories are usually included in anthologies or magazines. While in some cases the same organizations may publish both novel-length works and short stories, often it will not be the case.

With this in mind, I am seriously thinking about creating a separate Facebook page for my writing endeavors. It should allow me to post a series of frequent, quick updates and thoughts while reserving lengthier rants to the pages of this blog. The only thing stopping me from it at the moment is the lack of publishing credits – I am not sure if a writer Facebook page is very appropriate for someone who does not have any material published yet.

Similarly, I am beginning to think about crossing over to the dark side and finally joining Twitter. In all honesty, I am having a hard time understanding the attraction of Twitter, but it seems I am in the minority here, as everyone and their pet appear to have Twitter accounts these days. So perhaps both author Twitter and Facebook accounts are in order, sooner or later. I wonder what the other writers in similar situations (and even those who are further along in their literary careers) may think about extending the social media reach. Should it be done now, should it be done upon first literary sales, or not at all?