Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Game of Prose

[Disclaimer ~ Game of Thrones and all things related are property of George R R Martin and are used here for comedy and entertainment purposes alone. Please don't make me live in fear of Prince Joffrey's wrath!]

   Oh man, I get to discuss Game of Thrones in this post! For anybody who isn't keen on one of the bigger lit. trends in the past year, George R R Martin's epic ( a word I normally think isn't worth using ) book series has been on fire lately. It has spawned a TV series on HBO, a video game, a card/board game (multiple ones!), and lots of merchandise. Today my post will focus on how to bridge concepts in Creative Writing and our own lives with examples/points drawn from the Song of Ice and Fire book series.

   But, what in the Seven Kingdoms does this have to with my English classes, teaching, or creative writing?

   Well, boy am I happy that I get to explain! Grab your valaryan steel steel swords and follow along ...

   [if you have your Game of Thrones books, feel free to follow along ...]

  One of the best features about the Song of Ice and Fire book series ( of which, Game of Thrones is Book 1 ) is that the characters are extremely believable in their responses, both good ones and bad - certain characters do things very 'within character', even if they might not fit the flow of the story we are used to reading, especially with 'heroes' - Rob Stark is a good, good example of this.

   Anyway, one aspect of Creative Writing that I love is called 'World Building', where-in the writer creates a fictitious world with its own set of laws/morality/powers that everyone in the setting plays by: if magic causes you to slowly loose your sight over time, by-golly then everyone who uses magic for too long will be blind. Exceptions often occur for 'heroes' of the stories, but writers who know their own rules well enough provide concrete reasons WHY that hero can use magic for ever and ever and not need a walking stick - even when a character breaks one set of rules, they are following others ...

   Anywho ...

   In Game of Thrones the real power of the World Building comes from the sense of deep-immersion history: virtually EVERY character has a back-story, however where Tolkien's back-story largely concerned whole groups/races ( or tables and chairs ), Martin places vast emphasis on character back-story. Here, let me explain ---

Within the first few pages of Game of Thrones you meet Lord Stark of Winterfell whose back-story included subjects like:

1) Multiple wars
 2) Duels against important characters
3) Living family 
4) Deceased family 
5) Powers and responsibilities of a lord 
6) His wife 
7) His ward Theon 
8) His friendship/rivalries with other Lords, etc...

   Now, his life surely seems rich and multi-faceted, right? Every other line is about something Ned Stark did and how it influenced the 'present' that the story exists in. The thing is, not all the details are handed out. Another example: Ned's wife mentions how Ned fought in TWO wars on behalf of his King. One of these Wars is easily surmised to be the one called 'Robert's Rebellion , the war which got his chum Robert the top-job as King of the whole country ( well, seven countries ). The OTHER war? It is hinted at, mentioned in passing, or alluded to, but it is never dominantly laid out for the reader in clean and easy to read strokes.

   [Note: the war in question was the Greyjoy Rebellion, one of the more interesting parts of the SoIaF series that is never revealed in great detail. It is a passing event that shaped the lives of many people, and in turn their kids/families]

   Our lives are like that. Just today I was talking about an old D&D game I played where I explained to a group of people the 'back-story' about why I made a character act a certain way. I left out loads of details, but I mentioned - my friend Dani who I quoted as having made some funny comments, my girlfriend at the time who helped run the game, and another friend who was playing with us. A person has no knowledge of their lives, or their intimate/personal connection(s) with me, they just hear names, but they are names I did not explain 'in context' of the story I was telling.

   Think of your life in terms of:
   1) Who are your parents - are they a mother + father? Just one? If only one parent, why? Were you raised by relatives? The State?

   2) Are you married? How did you and your spouse meet? Were you married before? [Marriage alone has HUGE connections to in-laws, other families/children, etc...]

   3) Do you have children? If so, how many? Were you an only child or apart of a group of sibblings? Do you have step-siblings?

   4) Where did you go to school? Were you any good at it? Yes/No? Are you in college, and if so, why?

   5) Have you ever served in the military, worked for a big company, met somebody famous, or done something you were proud of?

   These are only a fraction of the questions that 'makes' you who you are, so surely if you view yourself as the main character in 'your' story, you'll have a lot to say.

   Writing often has the benefit of 'revealing everything' in that, as the final-say-so'er on all things within the text, we ( the authors ) can define EVERYTHING ... or, we can decide to purposefully omit people and limit them to passing phrases, dropped names, or foreshadowing(s) of stories to come.

   When you read anything (like this blog for instance, or your books for class ...) think about these things: are there links to 'other stories' within what you are reading? How can you approach your life as a 'web' of stories? Would your life story be more/less interesting without some of those events? If you remove an event from your life, can you think how it would change the lives of other people?

   Just some food for thought, peppered by loads of nerdy Game of Thrones comments!