We're part way through a multi-day marathon of the entire 5 or 6-season run of Game of Thrones on cable, and it's been on non-stop for the last couple of days, downstairs in this small cabin. Periodically I go and get some lunch or dinner, and make sure my husband is still breathing, in front of the TV.
No doubt about it — this is quality programming, and I've seen all the episodes (and read the books). Upstairs at my writing desk, where I can hear snatches of the dialogue, much of the music, and all of the screaming, I'm having no trouble following along with the episodes as they go by.
This is having two effects on my writing…
I am oh-so-glad that George R R Martin is not the god of my personal universe
When novels first became popular in the 16th/17th century, readers felt that they held up a mirror to life. My opinion is: yes, and no.
Yes, in that the characters must emulate real people, or the story they tell has no foundation, no reality, and is nothing but fable, with puppets moved at whim by the author.
No, in that the author is the god of his created world, and it is only a pretense to abdicate that responsibility. It is not fate that kills his characters, or accident, or evil — it is the author's pen, disclaim it how he may. Even when writing a novelized version of historical events, the author cannot help but take sides, offer explanations, create a reality where the events make some sort of fictional sense. It's his story, and he has shaped it as he wants it.
Though I admire his skill, I have real issues with Martin's godly choices. I am of the old-school opinion that we tell stories to help explain life to each other, to offer models to admire or disdain. It may be that, in real life, admirable behavior is not necessarily rewarded, but we want it to be in stories, because that is the way we want men to live. We want heroes to admire and villains to hate, so that we will learn to act in heroic ways where we can.
It is tragic when good men die and bad men succeed, because that violates the moral model we have about what should happen. A story where that happens is a tragedy. But it is deadly when the good and bad that men do make no difference whatsoever. That violates the concept that there is a meaningful moral model at all.
You can't say, “this is just a story and that's what happened”; as an author you have to admit that this is the model that you are putting forth in your universe of the way life is: pointless, deadly, and futile.
That's not a tragic view of life, it's an anti-moral view of life, an empty guide to moral behavior. Power is everything and your choices are meaningless.
All men must die, perhaps, but their lives should matter anyway
I'm in the middle of writing the final battle scenes in The Chained Adept while massive armies clash downstairs on screen and just about everyone dies.
Now, I feel that I am sometimes too nice to my characters, but I refuse to just slaughter them wholesale for dramatic effect. The Game of Thrones soundtrack keeps urging me to just “kill them all and let GRR Martin sort them out”, and I keep resisting. (I wonder what the High Valyrian is for “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius. — Kill them (all), for the Lord knows which are his own.”)
I believe that heroes should fight for the right, against enemies and the perversity of things-as-they-are. They may fall, but those who never fight for the right should not succeed. It's my universe, and I say so. Behave accordingly.