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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review: 'A Game of Thrones' by George R.R. Martin

First on the agenda: a Merry Christmas to all of those out there who celebrate. I hope you all ate as much as I did. One of my friends gifted me a copy of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which I will be reading in the New Year and I have just downloaded a NaNoWriMo donor freebie as a Christmas present to myself: the StoryWonk lecture on structure. I will review both book and lecture at some point next year after reading/watching them.

This post will be about a (part of a) gift I was given for my birthday back in September, when a bunch of my writerly friends from uni gave me the A Song of Ice and Fire book-set so far. I finished reading the first book, A Game of Thrones, a couple of nights ago after trying to ignore it throughout November while I was busy writing instead. I'll refer again to the post from Lynda R. Young's blog about reviewing, while I write this one. Warning: Review contains spoilers.

I think the characters in A Game of Thrones are brilliant. With each chapter told from the point of view of either Eddard, Catelyn, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Jon Snow, Tyrion, or Daenerys, these characters become well established very quickly and begin to develop. Daenerys has been my favourite character since I started watching the TV adaption and in this first book she remains so. At the start she is a repressed child being controlled by her brother Viserys and by the end she has become a headstrong (perhaps a little too headstrong for her own good) khaleesi who is prepared to lead an army back to the Seven Kingdoms herself. The character who rose up my list of 'most-loved' since reading the book would have to be Jon Snow, because I love reading about his inner conflicts regarding his place as a bastard in house Stark and who his mother is, and whether he should desert the Night's Watch to join his half brother Robb when he calls the banners to march against the Lannisters or honour the vows he made when he took the Black. Khal Drogo was pretty awesome too and admittedly I was more upset by his death than by Ned's death, though I didn't see either of them coming when I first watched the series. My least favourite character would have to be the combination of Cersei and Joffrey. Viserys would have made this list too, if he had survived the book, but he didn't, so... Joffrey is, of course, a little brat who thinks he can get anything he wants and once he is on the Iron Throne there is little to nothing to stop him. The whole story just becomes more and more twisted with Cersei whispering in his ear, though he does what he wants regardless of her say. They're both pretty sick, though they definitely make the story interesting. Having said that, I'll also say that the reason I don't like them is because they are the worst of the bad guys, not because I don't think they're excellent characters: they are great characters and play a really important role in the story.

My favourite part of the plot would be along Daenerys's story-line, when khal Drogo finally gives Viserys his golden crown, as promised. Those of you who have read the book or seen the show know exactly what I mean by that. In fact, that whole chapter, right from Daenerys eating the horse heart to Viserys getting his crown, was my favourite part. I think George R.R Martin moves things along throughout the book at a nice pace for the most part, though here and there things slowed down and I just wanted to get to the next action scene. However, the slow parts served their purposes too: I talked a few posts ago about narrative intensity and the purpose served by low-intensity parts of a story between high-intensity parts. George Martin slowed down to explain things to us and develop plot where it was necessary. Without those slower parts, the fast-paced high-intensity parts would have been confusing and less appreciated.

The setting for A Game of Thrones changed depending on whose point of view the story was being told from. The prologue set the scene for beyond the Wall, where dark creatures lurk and the men of the Night's Watch have started to venture without returning. As the story starts up, we are swept into the Stark's place in Winterfell, where the plot that becomes the main focus for the first book begins to unfold. In contrast to Winterfell is King's Landing, where it is warmer than the Starks are accustomed to and they do not hold the same power they did in Winterfell (especially not compared to the Lannisters). After Jon Snow goes to the Wall with his uncle Benjin, we start to return slowly to the things that were shown in the prologue: a colder, darker, crueler place than Winterfell, where neither the fact that Jon Snow is a bastard nor the son of a Stark means anything to anyone. Daenerys take us away from Westeros to the Free Cities and the Dothraki Sea, where the people are just as different as the land compared to where the rest of the story is told. Martin provided appropriate and often elaborate descriptions of all of the places the characters visited, showing how different they are to one another and setting them apart from places in other books.

Although Martin's descriptions of people and place are often elaborate, his style of writing is simple and easy to understand without being dull. Of course, there is a lot of jargon about castles and knights and monarchy and all of that, but once you get your head around those sorts of things I found the book was really easy to read. The only thing I got sick of as far as descriptions went was describing exactly what people were wearing every time they appear. I mean, cool if the knight's got some shiny armour on or the Lannisters have lions sewn into their clothes, but I think most readers started to assume those things after the nth time such a paragraph appeared, so I find the whole paragraphs of such descriptions to be a little pointless and repetitive. Repetitive. Repetitive. Rep-- sorry. I just think that there were a few instances where what he said in a paragraph would have been more appropriately said in a couple of sentences, if they had to be said at all. Also, I think I nearly tore some hair out after the number of times I saw the word 'spit' when it should have been 'spat'. Other than those little qualms, I really enjoyed reading it. The style was simple, yet satisfying.

As far as originality goes, I haven't read anything like this before. The only other epic fantasy set in an alternative universe that I've read before is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and this is very different, though still awesome. If the Lord of the Rings movies are an accurate reflection on the books, which I have not read yet, than I would say it is also nothing like LotR, minus of course the presence of Sean Bean in the screen adaptions. I think the different story-lines that are playing alongside each other in book one of the ASOIAF series are all really original and told well. I can't wait to see how they all come together in the end and I'm really enjoying playing the guessing game.

Overall, I loved this book and I can't wait to continue onto A Clash of Kings some time in the new year (once I've finished reading The Watchmen and The Fault in Our Stars).

One last thing... did anyone else who has read this book noticed how Ned sometimes reflects on Lyanna's death and thinks about telling Jon Snow about his mother at the same time? In his reflections, he always remembers Lyanna saying "Promise me, Ned." But what's the promise?! It's never said. I've heard (thanks to a certain friend responsible for me receiving the box-set of books for my birthday) that there is a theory going around that Jon Snow is actually the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen and since I noticed that little coincidence myself while reading this first book, I'm starting to understand. I shall leave my fellow readers to think on it.

My next review will be on the TV series Breaking Bad, which I have also recently finished, but I might leave that one for another week or two while I try and figure out how I feel about it.

Have you read A Game of Thrones or seen much of the TV series? Please feel free to share a little review of your own in the comments as I'd love to know what others thought of the first part of the story. A merry Christmas and a happy New Year to everyone out there. 

- Bonnee.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

WALLS First Draft: Complete

Last night, with literally less than a minute to spare before midnight, I typed the last word of the first draft of my novel 'WALLS' and keyed in the last full-stop. Despite having a busy day and hardly having a chance to write until 10pm, I was hellbent on finished the draft before midnight and I did it without feeling like I rushed the ending.

I'm nowhere near happy with the first draft, but I am proud of it and I'm getting ready to go on a very big editing spree to tighten some inconsistencies and fill in a few blank spots in the plot.

39 days. 88,732 words. Two characters I love and a story that belongs to them.

I knew it was possible and I did it.

I have many people to thank for helping me, simply by supporting me through NaNoWriMo 2013 and beyond. I want to give a special thank you to my boyfriend, who put up with me running all my crazy ideas by him while I wondered which ones to choose and which ones to save for another book, and another special thank you to the five people who I became friends with through the creative writing units at university. The community here on the blogosphere also have my gratitude and I thank everyone who visited my blog and put up with me not returning visits to their blogs as often as I should have while I was busy being consumed by my story.

But I think the two people I want to thank most are Kovax and Mildred, for being the best characters I have ever created and putting up with my whimsical writerly ways as I constructed their story.

Who do you have to thank for your writing? 

- Bonnee.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Writer's Update: WALLS

So November is 3 days gone here in Australia, and with it went NaNoWriMo 2013. By the end of November, I had validated my novel WALLS at 60,074 words and was a NaNo winner an extra 10K over the finish line, but my novel is far from finished.

The last 5-10K were difficult to write for a range of reasons. Although I have won NaNo, I don't want to stop writing my novel, but I had reached a part where my reactions to the things I was writing showed how emotionally invested I was - am - in my characters, Mildred and Kovax. The things I was revealing about Kovax's past were making me feel sad, and after a conversation with my boyfriend containing many spoilers, we both agreed that I'm actually a horrible person who secretly enjoys hurting both my characters and myself and just generally fucking with everybody's heads.

Once I'd pushed myself through the sad part and connected it to a scene I'd had the urge to write ahead of myself (screw chronology!), I came to a sudden stand-still. Some would call it the dreaded Writer's Block. I really had to force myself to write the last couple of thousand of words, not because it's making me sad or I'm too emotionally invested... just because the excitement lulled for a bit and I think the last chapter I wrote was just plain old boring in comparison when it shouldn't be, because something very big happened in it.

When I was in my final two years of high-school, I did media studies, in which we did a unit each year on 'Narrative'. One of the things we discussed in class was 'Narrative Intensity'. Most stories, no matter what form they are told in, have periods of low-intensity plot cause and effect development between minor climaxes or narrative triggers which build in intensity until the final climax is reached. The point of having the low-intensity periods between the climaxes and narrative triggers is because the audience is not likely to be able to maintain the emotional energy required for high-intensity shock-upon-shock absolute action-packed stories without the lull periods in between each build-up.

It feels like this is where the low-intensity period should be after what happened in the last few chapters, but I'm worried about two things:
1) Is the reader going to be as bored with the next chapter as I currently am, or will it fulfill the purpose of giving them a moment to gather their wits?
And 2) Consider what happened in this next chapter, should it really be so low-intensity?

Maybe it's just me, because I'm writing it, and I want to go back to being emotionally involved in Mil and Kovax instead of moving along with the story. I suppose it's all just a first draft that isn't even complete yet and I can go back and reassess this situation later. I'm going to stick to the NaNoWriMo mindset of not doubling back to edit until the draft is complete. I'm going to keep pushing myself to write whether I want to or not until WALLS is finished and Kovax and Mildred's story is given an ending (hopefully the one they deserve).  Also sticking to NaNoWriMo daily word-goals, I am aiming to have either 90K or a complete first draft (hopefully the latter) by Christmas.

Right now, Kovax is walking Mildred home after a rather hectic and emotional evening.

Must. Keep. Writing.

Also, I wish the weather in Victoria would be a little more consistent, just this once! We're supposed to be three days into an Australian summer. It's been nice and hot the past two days, but tomorrow and the next day will be freezing in comparison.

How did November end for everybody else? Are you emotionally invested in your characters? Do you get bored during the low-intensity periods of your writing? How is winter going for everyone north of the equator? 

- Bonnee.

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