Friday, May 04, 2012

Are We There Yet?

I had to take a break from reading A Dance With Dragons and pick up something else. In this case, it was Terry Pratchett's Pyramids. Yes, I'm still reading Pratchett since I recently discovered him. I'm now working my way through from the beginning, no matter how much I want to skip down the list and get to Going Postal. I've seen the movie, and it was good, but I want to read the book, too, which brings me back to George R. R. Martin.

I wasn't halfway through A Dance With Dragons when I began to notice I was leaning forward as though trying to make a slowing vehicle keep moving, preferably faster. It didn't work. I had to stop and pick up something else.

It isn't that I don't enjoy the different birds' eye views of what is happening in Westeros and across the Narrow Sea, but that the story should be further along. I also just want to slap Danaerys Targaryen (do Dothraki have last names?) because she has turned into a whiny, indecisive, and utterly boring character afraid of her own shadow and second guessing everything and everyone. She has become weak where before she was a force to be reckoned with. Now she is just puling.(Spoiler alert!)

Puling. Now that is an interesting word. It's another word for whining and whimpering. Okay, so one of the dragons has eaten a child so you lock the others up and keep them chained in the deepest dungeons. Is that fair? They didn't flame and eat a child. They stuck to sheep. There is no reason to believe that Drogon did it on purpose. Well, he had to do it on purpose since he ate the child, but not with malicious intent. For all you know, she was dressed in sheepskin and looked like a tasty sheep. Dragons have to eat, don't they? That's no reason to chain the others in the dungeon and stop visiting them. Dragons are intelligent. Train them and they will obey. You are the dragon mother after all. But I digress.

The whole point is that A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons could have been combined in a much smaller book and the story advanced. The fourth book should have been the end of the story -- or at least getting closer to it than it is now. It's time to bring things to a head and close it down. If George wanted to write more, he could do anthologies of stories from Westeros with the characters he has introduced and even create some more, but this series should be done by now.

I'm a writer and I certainly don't like people telling me how to write or what to write (except for my editor, and I reserve the right to disagree on issues of plot and story lines, and the occasional comma, but never about grammar). The problem here is that a series should end at some point, but not like Peter Danielson did in his Child of the Lion series where he screwed with history and time just to keep the same players and their offspring playing in the same field instead of the hundreds of years that passed in real time. That's why I gave up the series. As much as I liked Shobai and his brother Hadad's children, and the whole children of Cain series, I couldn't get past the time thing. Danielson wrote 19 books in his Child of the Lion series; is George Martin aiming for the same number of books? If so, he's going to have to move the story forward faster. At least in Danielson's books, the story moved quickly and something happened in every book to advance the series. With Martin, not so much. It feels like treading water in a drying mud pit.

That is not to say that I don't enjoy all the points of view or the story (what there is of it) but that I want the story and characters to actually move forward. The White Walkers haven't been mentioned in ages and haven't made an assault on the Wall. It is as if the White Walkers have stopped being a threat, what with all the resettling of the wildlings and such. George seems to have lost the thread and is wandering around trying to tell too many stories without advancing the plot, which brings up the question of when is a book done? 

I've asked that question with every book and story I've written -- or began to write. When does it end? When is the story done?

The answer in one case was never since I had no middle, only a beginning and an end. I had fleshed out the characters and got caught up in the relationship of the characters without having any idea what the middle of the story that took me to the end (girl gets boy) really was. I shelved the book, and rightly so. I didn't have a clue what the story was about, just an idea and something I wanted to say. I knew I'd lost the thread after about the 5th or 6th chapter and decided it was enough. Time to shelve the book. I had some great scenes and wonderful characterizations going, but no story. It was time to shut it down.

It feels like Martin has the same problem. He's become mesmerized with telling so many points of view that he has lost the thread of the story and the initial impetus to get going. That doesn't mean he doesn't tell a great story -- or at least he usually does -- but that he needs to get back on track, focus, and get moving on the main event, which is the coming of winter and the White Walkers and bringing Dany to Westeros with her dragons ready to fight and take back the iron throne from the Lannisters -- or rather from Cersei Lannister, if she gets to live now that she is in peril of her life from her actions. (I haven't finished Dragons yet, so I don't know whether she will call on ser Gregor Clegane from the pit or if Jaime will at last be able to fight with his left hand and win the day for his sister, lover, whatever.)

It is so easy to get caught up in telling so many different stories in a series that you lose focus and the point of the main story, which is to make good on the promise of the first book, the very first words. If a writer cannot maintain that focus and keep moving forward, it is far too easy to get lost. Don't want to kill all those wonderful darlings, and yet the writer must if he is to keep his audience and not coast on his laurels.

With series books, and even with trilogies, there is at least a year wait between books and, while this seems not to be a big deal, for those who began reading when the series began, to have to wait for so many years is asking a bit much, especially when there is an 8-year gap between the first 3 books and the 4th. I don't think I want to wait around another 8 years for the next book, and I doubt the 4th book would be out if HBO had not decided to make Game of Thrones. George wants to see the whole story told on the screen, and so do the fans, but what if the series doesn't pan out? What if it becomes too costly to continue making the series? Will HBO cancel it before we get to the part where the dragons reach Westeros and battle with the White Walkers and winter is joined? Will George ever finish the series?

Too many questions with no answers as yet. So far, we have season 2 of Game of Thrones and season 3 has been promised, and is likely now getting ready to film, but that's no guarantee of season 4 or the finish of the story.

A word to the wise. When a story begins to pall and you're treading drying mud, it's time to reassess what you have. If it's a story where the middle can be found and put in (not possible with my aviatrix and her lost aviator love in enemy hands) or the main thread can be found and followed to its inevitable conclusion (whatever that will be), then get busy and get on with it. If not, it's time to consign the story to the shelf. It's time may come, or it may not, but at least there are more stories to tell.

So, if I had any advice to give George (and who does not?), I'd say get back on track and save all these little stories for an anthology of stories from Westeros -- it would sell millions -- but get back on track and finish the story you began in A Game of Thrones. It's time to kill those darlings (or save them for an anthology) and move along or a lot more people are going to be puling, "Are we there yet?" And that's no good for anyone.

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