Game of Thrones Finale: A Writer’s Perspective

jon snow and ned stark

It’s over, done with, finito, the end of an era!

The greatest television show in history has reached its conclusion—and so, naturally, countless opinions manifest in the form or worshipful odes or vicious diatribes.

No doubt there are already thousands of reviews chronicling the Game of Thrones finale, but there should be one from a writer’s perspective. Good or bad, great or horrible, we writers can always learn something from these things, so let’s see what Game of Thrones aka The Song of Ice and Fire has to teach us.

A Twist is Not the Same as Good Storytelling

Something M Night Shyamalan took a while to grasp is something the writers of GoT failed to learn: twists should be considered a tool in a writers’ arsenal, not the goal.

From a literary standpoint, the unfaithfulness of the finale with all that had come before it was dissapointing. The series has shown time and again, in brutal ways, that whatever terrible things can happen, will happen. We’ve come to love the series for this very thing, this unique and entertaining—and often flagrant—penchant for flying in the face of traditional fantasies.

GoT is not your traditional fantasy, where all the main players in the fellowship make it to the end, where those who survive all have happy endings. In Westeros and Essos, bad things happen and no one is exempt. This has been made clear throughout the series.

But the finale decided to upend this theme and wrap everything up nicely with a bow.

It made me kind of miss the old Night King.

the night king

Hardest Decision of Jon Snow’s Life—Made in the Time it Takes to Stroll Past a Dragon

Perhaps we could have swallowed the writing of the finale if we had been given time to see and to process character motivation.

But this necessary literary device was sacrificed for spectacle, a la the MCU. We long suspected Jon would be forced to kill Daenerys to prevent a mad reign. And we saw her becoming mad. But Jon didn’t seem to realize this until early in the final episode. When Tyrion finally convinced him she needed to be bled, he simply takes a stroll up the street, passes Drogon the sleepy bouncer, and approaches the completely unprotected Queen of the Ash Heap. They have a little discussion (I was disappointed we didn’t get to see one final Dany berserker rage and hear one last classic Targaryen threat, just to remind us of her madness), and then Jon simply slides it in, nice and easy.

We didn’t get to see this tragic young man come to accept his tragic role over the course of several episodes. He ‘says’ he loves her. But that, my dear writers, is telling, not showing.

wolvering vs jean greyThe similar scene in X-Men: The Last Stand, where Wolverine kills his beloved Jean, is far more powerful, for a number of reasons:

(1) the music is moving and builds to a crescendo (2) we are actually shown how difficult this decision is for Logan

(3) much time—most of the movie—was given to building up to this scene, lending it gravitas, and

(4) we glimpse Jean’s humanity in the end.

But the GoT version felt rushed. If this was the culmination of all that had come before, then the decision should have weighed heavily on Jon for some time, and we should have been shown him reaching this heart-wrenching decision through much time and psychological turmoil. He reached the decision and acted on it in a time span of roughly ten minutes. It felt like an afterthought, which in literary terms was disrespectful to the build up that had so excellently been established and executed for many seasons. Continue reading “Game of Thrones Finale: A Writer’s Perspective”

How To Stay Positive in Your Writing Career

beautiful sunny forest path

What happens after you do everything the writing and publishing ‘experts’ advise you to do, and your writing career is still middling at best, a flamingo flapping its wings in a slow tedious takeoff?

I have become convinced that the indie publishing world is much like the traditional publishing world: you have to know the right people.

In traditional pub, you need to have personal connections to literary agents and interns, people in the know. –It also helps to have publishing credits before you can get published.– In indie pub you need a stellar, established social (online) standing, with vast email lists, family who support you and friends who will post reviews for you.

But what happens if you are on the fringes?

You need to be a Writer, Publisher, and Marketer

What if: you were not blessed with built-in connections (Christopher Paolini), you weren’t born with a natural affinity for making connections (the gift of gab), you don’t have the money to travel to and sign up for expensive writing conventions to make those connections anyway; your family is not interested or helpful in any way, and none of your friends are readers (you wouldn’t trust non-readers with reviewing your work anyhow)?

In such a position, ‘breaking out’ seems about as easy as breaking out of a super-max.

I’m not complaining. Quite the opposite; I intend to chug along as I always have, persistence wins the day and all that. I do what they advise and make some sales, but until the kindhearted souls who purchase my books decide to take a moment to leave a positive review, I cannot imagine the pace of sales will change.

In such a case (more common than you think), you have to wonder: is it insane to continue pursuing something when the result is always the same? When does your joy in the act of creation begin to wane?

But that’s wading into semantics and philosophical waters.

The Question All Writers Face

The question you, as a struggling writer (or more aptly, a struggling publisher) need to ask is: If I knew my career would never take off, would I still keep writing?

Think about that for a second.

If your answer is NO, then maybe you’re just spinning your wheels, expending time and thought and creative energy on something unfruitful when you could be spending it all on something far more rewarding in your own esoteric way.

If on the other hand your answer is YES, then none of the above should get you down. You are a dream warrior, valiantly pursuing your dream no matter the struggle, heartache, frustrations and the tantalizing doorways teasing new worlds that you might someday enter.

One day your muse might come along, see your AMS ad, click over to your books’ page, purchase your brilliant work, and then–angel that she is–leave a sterling review of the book she now lists among her Top Ten. It could happen. That tiniest glimmer of hope is enough to keep the ink in some writers’ pens.

So ask yourself that question. Would I keep writing if I knew it would never make me money?

If you love what you do, then do what you love regardless of the lack of return on your investment. Some people go their whole lives without ever discovering their passion, without ever finding some endeavor that makes them happy. Your joy in the act of creation can carry you forward—while you also keep a day job to support you and yours.

There are plenty of inspirational stories out there, real tales of successful writers who spent years toiling in anonymity, knowing—like you—nothing but rejection or the echoing empty hallways of neglect.

Then something happened; the right person entered their life. Maybe that person left a review and spread the word to everyone she knew about this unknown authors’ awesome work.

The Sum of the Whole

I tapped out this little posit not just for my own edification, but for the benefit of all those who also struggle with pre-break-out writer’s blues (or at least of all those who struggle with that and who happen to stumble here to buckelsbooks).

For further encouragement, you might check out bustle’s post on successful authors who began in miserly conditions, who once struggled just like you and I, and who forged ahead despite their chronic failure to reach new heights of publishing success.

I pray God may bless your endeavors, and that you meditate on Matthew 6:33:

Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.’

(But don’t seek the kingdom just to receive these things—tricky isn’t it?)

Writing Great Characters: Ben Linus from Lost

ben linus

Today we are discussing Rolling Stone’s #1 Greatest TV Villain of all Time, and a charter member of TV Network’s 25 Greatest TV Characters of All Time.

Every great story needs its villain, and Lost was no exception. Perhaps it was especially great, since it had several villains. Its most iconic and fascinating scoundrel was, arguably, Ben Linus. It’s a testament to the ‘Lost’ writers of this character and to the actor—Michael Emerson—that what was meant to be a guest character for a mere 3 episode arc turned into one of the primary antagonists of the show, and one of the most compelling TV villains. (The other two on Lost are obviously the Man in Black and Fate, and perhaps the polar bear.)

As writers, we could learn a few things from this guy.

The questions a writer needs to ask to glean literary knowledge from this character are: What makes Ben Linus so dang fascinating to watch, and what makes him unique to villainhood?

(It’s okay to conjure words; we are creators of worlds, after all.)

All the best villains possess two primary unshakeable traits that make them so compelling—among various other traits.

ben linus armed

  1. The first is devotion—that is to say, they are goal-oriented.

I know, not what you were expecting to find in a baddie, right? But if you think about it for a second, you’ll see that I am quite right here.

Look at Voldemort, Sauron, the Nothing, Mordred and The Crimson King. What do they all have in common? They are devoted to their cause. (Which is often themselves.) Like any strong character, these baddies don’t let anything get in the way of their goal. Perhaps this is why they often seem so brutal in their methods: they are driven, and in their fearsome focus they will annihilate any threat to the goal at hand. And so, naturally, most villains don’t even see themselves as the bad guy (or girl).

Hero and Villain are Often Alike

Some of the greatest, cleverest novels feature diametrically opposed antagonist and protagonist. But if you look deeper you will see that these two enemies have much in common. Their traits and natures and focus might even line up in many areas. In another life they might even have been the best of friends. Look at Locke and Linus.

Hero and Villain Sharing Traits

They both had a mother named Emily who had no hand in raising them. Both had abusive fathers who shaped their personalities. Both felt they were special and meant for greatness. They ended up on the island through causes beyond their control. They both came to love the island, and went to extremes to protect it (whatever that means).

  1. The second trait that makes a villain so compelling is his unique perspective.

They Think They Are Special

All the greatest, most disturbing scoundrels look at the world through a different-colored lens. It’s not a black and white, apples and oranges world for them. To them, there are not just shades of gray, but there exists the ability and opportunity to create their own shades, to conjure their own spanking new colors and add them to the establishment.

Ben Linus thinks he’s special, and in this view, he is an agent of Fate. Living with such a lofty self-confidence and looking at everyone else as pawns to be moved around by him from his exalted position, Ben can justify his extreme decisions (in his own mind) as the decisions of a superior being acting on superior purposes with a superior mind.

All of this lays the foundation for a great villain. But what really sets him apart as entertaining? What can we—as writers—pick up from this character as examples and excellent guidelines for creating our own legendary baddies?

Epic Recipe For Entertaining Villains

(That is, for villains who are entertaining, er–) 

  • Creepy physical feature: Ben’s protuberant ‘bug’ eyes
  • Distinctive speech patterns or voice: Ben makes everything sound important
  • Tragic, almost sympathetic childhood: Ben’s childhood (duh)
  • Willingness to make the choices others struggle with
  • Ignoring your conscience: Ben has a conscience, as seen best through his willingness to follow Locke to make up for getting his daughter killed
  • Manipulative: Ben is a world-class liar
  • Good and bad in extremes: He’ll risk his life to make amends for his daughter, but also kill a boatful of people and be all like ‘So?’

(1) final key to crafting a killer villain like Ben Linus: When you introduce him or her, you could make it so your readers wonder about this characters’ true nature. On first seeing Ben—as Henry Gale—in Lost, I was totally bamboozled. He seemed innocent. ‘He says I’m one of these ‘other’. Other what?’

ben linus furious

So there it is. I hope you picked up some useful tips of our trade as I did from this great character. Quote Catalog has some riveting quotes from old bug eyes himself; check it out here, you like.

Happy writing and God bless!