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Month: June 2014

Why Game of Thrones isn’t fantasy

Posted in Fantasy, and Genre

How can I say that a series of books that includes dragons, giants, white walkers, and weir woods isn’t fantasy?

Easy — fantasy is a genre and it has conventions that define it. Game of Thrones follows a different set of conventions altogether.

Let me start with an easy example from a different genre — romance. A romance story in the modern world consists of two people, typically of opposite genders, who are attracted to each other and who face a series of obstacles that get in the way of their romance reaching a successful conclusion. A romance that doesn’t conclude with an HEA (Happily Ever After) ending fails the fundamental test of what a genre romance requires. Romance may be an element in other genres (westerns, historical novels, fantasy), but in the romance genre itself, it must fulfill some or all of the genre conventions to be satisfying to its readers. (Omit the HEA and find out what your readers think of you…)

Or take westerns. Westerns require one or more people, typically men, often of ordinary background, who rise to heroic accomplishment in the face of great odds. They might or might not succeed in their task, but they show courage and acquire moral clarity in the process, if they didn’t have it in the first place. They are tested, and good usually triumphs over evil, even if the hero doesn’t live to see the result.

I was contemplating what bothers me about Game of Thrones the other day, and it came to me — this is not fantasy, in the genre sense.

Respecting boundaries

Posted in A Writer's Desk

Not my photo.  I was too busy shooing 2 dogs and 3 cats away.
Not my photo. I was too busy shooing 2 dogs and 3 cats away.

Part of the pleasure of living in a log cabin is the imagined sympathy for my predecessors here, especially in the extremes of cold weather. This is what it was like for them, I say to myself, as I throw another log on the fire (or turn the thermostat up) while I listen to the howling wind (and turn another light on). It’s a harmless indulgence to look upon the past nostalgically from the comforts of the present.

But every now and then I am reminded that some things really do never change. Not only is the Nth generation of the critter in my walls a constant, noisy reminder, but there are other dramas that play out which are no respecters of human boundaries.

Log cabins don’t need much maintenance, but it’s a good idea to perform an annual external inspection to look for new knotholes where old knots have fallen out. Most of the interior walls have secondary surfaces instead of bare logs, but we’ve found shed snake skins in the attic and it’s always been clear that other things may live between the logs and the wallboard, both predators and prey. My father-in-law was once doing the rounds with a bucket of cement looking for holes, and watched a black snake slither into one log before he got there. Left with the dilemma of whether to leave the hole open for the snake to exit again, or proceeding with his task, he cemented the hole (which tells you a lot about my father-in-law).

So, we came home yesterday to find this interloper in a crowded upstairs room, with one of our ambitious but inexperienced cats sitting next to it, wondering what he would do next. This was a young snake, maybe a foot and a half long, and he had his head hidden in his coils, like the picture, presumably because the cat was similar to predators he would encounter outside and he was hoping she would go away.

Focus on what’s important in a story

Posted in Characters, and Just for Writers


You often hear people refer to the fabric of a story or to weaving a plot, but these textile metaphors are maladroit. Stories aren’t flat 2-dimensional objects.

In a piece of cloth, all threads are functional, all must be anchored at each end, and all are necessary for a whole cloth. Stories, on the other hand, are about a person (one or more, human or alien or any sort of thinking/feeling being) who does something. Everything else in the story is background context to help tell the main story.

The story implicit in the (photoshopped) illustration is the fox’s story. Certainly, each hound might have a story to tell, but if you tried to tell them all at once, there’d be no story at all. So every hound’s story must be subordinate to the fox’s to make a proper tale.

A better metaphor is in the domain of optics, in the form of lens focus.

And sometimes you get the bear

Posted in A Writer's Desk

This time the bear lost. I heard the clang of my metal birdfeeder below my office window at 2:00 AM and hastened downstairs with all the lights on and shouts of “get outta here, bear!”

Didn't see it, but the feeder was on the ground, in the process of being emptied, and its post pushed over. The bear's still ahead on points, however – I saved one feeder, but he (she? they?) got three last time.

None of these pictures below are mine, but for those of you who wonder what black bears at birdfeeders are like…

Aha!  The fool bought another birdfeeder.
Aha! The fool bought another birdfeeder.
I know how to deal with that.
I know how to deal with that.


The squirrel guard is a particularly nice feature.
The squirrel guard is a particularly nice feature.
See, kids?  This is how you do it.
See, kids? This is how you do it.


Now you try it.
Now you try it.
What probably happened to my prior birdfeeders.
What probably happened to my prior birdfeeders.