Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bounced checks

When a writer begins a story, play, teleplay, book, or series, the writer writes a check, a promissory note, that will be paid in full during the course of the work. I remember hearing that if a lead pipe (or other prop) appeared in Act 1 Scene 1, it had better be used by Act 3. The same is true for books and stories. If a writer introduces a character or a other plot point, the writer had better make it good, sooner rather than later.

I finally finished A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin a couple weeks ago. I really like George's writing and enjoyed the journey but felt, as many other readers have, that there was no forward movement. I even discussed this with one of my like-minded best friends the other night, and she said that George had written more checks than he had cashed throughout the series. Now I hear that George is writing a sidebar about the first Targaryeans to hit the shores of the Seven Kingdoms. While all that is well and good, where is the end to the currently 5-book and counting series of The Song of Ice and Fire?

One of the biggest checks George wrote was the white walkers. Although there have been glimpses of them and talk about them, how many of you have read anything about the white walkers -- or the coming of winter, outside of the numerous references to the cold? The white walkers are supposed to be dangerous, to be the reason the Wall was built and manned, and the whole point of the Starks' words of "Winter is coming." There have been references to long winters in the past and the current crop of children and some adults are referred to as the children of summer, but where are the white walkers and why has George gone through five very large and wordy tomes without showing them?

The wildlings are running scared from them, scared enough to assault the wall in an attempt to get on the other side of it. They're not after plunder. They are running terrified. The dead walk but no white walkers have been seen clear and in focus or in force and there is no hint of when or where they will be appearing. That's a major bounced check.

And there are others, the biggest of which is why is Danaerys still fooling around in playing mother to slaves when she should have marched north and taken sail for the Seven Kingdoms, her rightful domain? She was all hot for it when she was married to Kal Drogo and pregnant with the Stallion that Mounts the World, but now she's wandering in the desert and there is no talk of heading north. I had thought by book 5 there would be some movement toward the ports to buy ships and head north with her slaves and dragons, but . . . nothing. Another bounced check.

I can understand why so many fans have been outraged and giving Dance poor marks. It's not the writing because that is as good as George gets. It's the lack of forward movement. It is what the negative comments have made issue over: "Nothing happens." That's not quite true. A lot happens, but none of it advances the story or hints at a light at the end of this really long and action packed tunnel. No forward movement is what they really mean and it is another bounced check.

As an editor, I'd have to say that A Dance with Dragons needed to be pruned and a whole lot of wasted space thrown out. We don't need to know about every time someone went to the bathroom or what they wore. We need to know when the white walkers are more than a myth or scary fairy tale to make children hunker down under the furs and when this battle will be enjoined between dragons and the coming of the winter with no end where the white walkers will walk in truth instead of in hearsay.

For all I know, Dany is waiting for a ride. But, wait, she already got one. It burned her clothes and skin and all her hair off, but she has a ride. She needs to stop playing waiting woman and be action woman with dragon and get the hell out of harpy territory with her forces intact and move north to the Seven Kingdoms, which are currently being torn apart by Lannister & Company.

For all of George's brilliant scenes and good writing, there needs to be some money in the bank to pay off all those bounced checks. I don't think readers will wait impatiently for another ponderous tome with no forward movement and no sign of pay off. I stopped a little past midpoint in Dance because I was a bit disgusted with the endless minutiae. Even the best written story has to have a point and I think George has lost sight of his point -- or points. A sidebar about the first Targaryeans could wait until after we have achieved the goal promised in the first book, A Game of Thrones. How about it, George? Is there an end in sight or should we write off those bounced checks?

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