Showing posts with label how-to write. Show all posts
Showing posts with label how-to write. Show all posts

How Game of Thrones Improved My Writing Game: What a Literary Author Can Learn from a Bestseller

As a literary fiction reader and writer, I’ve always eschewed the bestseller.  For one thing, I always felt that bestsellers didn’t need my attention (and plenty of other wonderful books did), and for another, I was under the impression that the ‘bestseller’ had a tendency to be more plot than character driven, with racy stories that wouldn’t sustain my love of language or desire to read about characters I cared deeply about.  More fool me.

Though I would never have read Game of Thrones if my son hadn't insisted, not only am I enjoying it as a reader, I'm finding plenty of lessons for me as an author.  Here are some of the key ones:

The art of building suspense

Martin has perfected the art of building suspense, particularly through the use of the cliffhanger. This is critical in Game of Thrones since there are so many plot twists and multiple points of view (POV) that without intense suspense, it wouldn’t be possible to maintain the momentum. Each chapter ends with a mini-cliffhanger, building up suspense throughout the chapter through foreshadowing and the use of symbolism. Each book ends with major plot threads dangling deliciously, bringing the reader anxiously back, in some cases many years later (there were five and six years respectively between the last two novels in the series). Noting the way Martin uses POV and characterization to create these cliffhangers, how often he does it and how natural it seems in the context of the books, is hugely instructive.

The art of world building

Though I never thought I liked Fantasy, Martin has created a world so engrossing, so naturalistic, and so oddly familiar (reminiscent of Medieval Europe), that it’s not hard to believe it. There are no ‘silly’ characters – no mercurial elves or big dumb orks, however, there is magic, and it’s introduced so slowly and subtly over the course of the books, that never once does Martin strain a reader’s credulity. This is world building at its most subtle and sophisticated, and for a writer, like me, who is drawn to verisimilitude, but who wants to explore the strange and often magical world of synchronicity, dreams, psychological drama, and possibly a world where Newtonian physics are bent, it's very helpful to read a book where dragons, magicians, zombies, and trees with faces seem utterly naturalistic.

The art of changing character POV

Every chapter in Game of Thrones takes a different POV and there are dozens of POV characters. In the hands of a lesser author, this would be a hard trick to manage. Indeed I’ve read books where this kind of view switch is irritating, especially when you are engrossed in a situation, however, Martin does this masterfully, partly because his characters are so richly drawn, that even though you regret moving off one POV, you’re pleased to be back into another.

One of the biggest lessons for me as an author was not to judge a book by its sales, or by its genre classification. Game of Thrones is not the only bestselling book series that is far better than the hype around it (or the movie made of it) would suggest. Quite frankly, the way in which George R R Martin has written these novels is as literary as any literary fiction. I’m finding that Game of Thrones is not only pure (slightly guilty) pleasure to read, but slowing myself down to admire the beautiful use of language, the deep, intense characterization, and the rich, subtle textures of the work is more powerful a tool for me as a writer than attending a workshop or reading a ‘how-to’ book. I often find myself putting the book down and rushing over to my own WIP to rework something or incorporate a technique that Martin has made obvious to me. I’m now officially shelving my literary pomposity and opening my mind to a broad spectrum of genres, including, where appropriate, the ‘bestseller’.

Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at

Basic Writing : From Pre-Writing to Editing

Basic Writing : From Pre-Writing to Editing

Concept/Idea (Brainstorm about chosen idea. Write everything that comes to mind.)

Conflict/Problem (Without a problem there is no story. Be sure the problem is solvable.)
            Possible Conflicts: man vs man, man vs nature, man vs self, man vs society, man vs circumstances

Characters (No more than 7 main; the story becomes unmanageable and readers lose track.
 Devise: Names, Personalities, Relationships, Appearances, What makes them special.)

Plot (Devise 3 attempts to solve the problem. Then figure out why they won't work?)

Solution/Climax (How does the main character solve the problem? Is it reasonable as you’ve written her/him?)

Conclusion (Wrap up loose ends with all of the characters.)

Also Pre-Writing
Opening-be sure your beginning snatches the reader’s attention (pull action from within the story then go back and begin at the beginning to catch the reader up)

1st Plot Point-main character discovers there is a problem

2nd Plot Point-main character feels threatened but unsure what to do

3rd Plot Point-problem is at its worst and seems hopeless THEN main character figures out what to do

Climax-problem or antagonist pulls out all the stops to ‘get’ main character

Denouement-main character about to give-in then finds courage and knowledge to solve the problem

Resolution-main character ends the problem for good then wraps up loose ends with other characters

There are two main types of writers, although many of us fall into combo categories:  Planners and Pantsers.

Planners don’t write until they have a basic outline of how the story will unravel. Some even outline each chapter. Planning doesn’t mean you can’t change something, or add more while writing a chapter. It simply helps you remember everything you wanted to include in the story. (This is how I write.)

            Pantsers (writing by the seat of your pants) begin writing and don’t stop until the story is told. This technique is very popular but requires extreme editing and revising. It also allows for free flow of imagination and creativity. (This is how Odessa came out and why it needed (and still needs) so much revising/editing.)

New paragraph for each new thought or idea or speaker.

Use quotation marks around the “words” spoken by the character. Instead of dialogue tags (he said, she remarked) use action. (His gaze flicked away from her face. Her voice dropped so low he could barely hear her.)
Each speaker requires a new paragraph.

Watch verb tenses: if you start in the past keep all of your verbs past tense; if you write in the present tense make sure they are all present tense verbs.

            Right-He ran down the road then stopped at the intersection.
            Wrong-He ran down the road then stops at the intersection.

Present tense is seldom used. I find present tense confusing and disarming. You are telling a story that occurred in the past, so use past tense verbs.
Watch out for point of view (POV).

            POV confuses a lot of beginning writers. It means knowing what a character is thinking or planning. Knowing their viewpoint.

            Many MG stories are generally told in third person while many YA books these days are in first person. HOWEVER, there is no rule about this. Write the story in whoever's point of view you wish--just keep it balanced.

 If writing in the first person (I, me, my , we, our) you CANNOT know what others are thinking or planning.  It takes a lot of dialogue to understand others’ thoughts or desires.

·        The only way to know what everyone is thinking is to use third person omniscient.
·        But be careful because even that gets tricky.
·        If you switch POV, be sure to designate it with a space or asterisks *****.
·        Never change POV inside the same paragraph (called mind hopping, it becomes very confusing).

Beware of ‘Purple Prose’. This is highly descriptive writing that may sound awesome but sometimes does nothing to promote the story. You should have some description so the reader can visualize what the character is sensing, just don’t go overboard.

Every word, action or dialogue should propel the story forward. If you have chapters or even paragraphs for character development alone, remove them. Chapters with too much description of surroundings or too much backstory/history get boring and readers will skip ahead anyway so edit down to only what is necessary to tell the story.

Don’t tell too much of the story up front. Let out the line slowly, keep most of the story as a mystery with clues until the climax when you can reveal more. Too much too soon and the reader loses interest in the story.

Don’t be afraid to revise, revise, revise. Get feedback from others and make changes to your story that YOU think will improve it. NO ONE writes the perfect story the first time.

My first book, Odessa, was revised about 8 times and even after publication I'm itching to revise it again because by five books later my writing has improved so much I'm no longer happy with Odessa.

Let your story sit on a shelf for several weeks or a month. Work on another project. Then reread the story and errors, misspellings, weak characters, weak plot lines, etc will jump out at you.

Once you have the story to a level you are happy with it is time to edit.
Remove as many adverbs as possible and replace them with stronger verbs. To locate adverbs easily, highlight them using the ‘replace’ box in the ‘editing’ box of MS Word. Highlight –ly and most adverbs will appear. Read through and eliminate as many as you can.

Highlight the following words in the entire manuscript then go through removing or replacing them with more powerful words/phrases:
SAID (or ANY speech tags-replace with action)
any word you see repeated often

Remove as many adjectives as you can. Do not use duplicate adjectives such as “very beautiful”. If something is beautiful that is enough. Very becomes redundant. Better yet, describe HOW it is beautiful without using the word. Beauty is subjective.

WEAK: The river was beautiful that morning.
BETTER: Sun rays leaking through the early morning mist, lent the river a mystic quality.

Use Spell Check and look-up words that are misspelled.
Pay attention to punctuation. If you’re not sure about its usage this website will help .

Probably MOST IMPORTANTLY--learn from your editor. My first book, Odessa, looked like a dying warrior after a lengthy battle with dragons--it was covered with red gashes. My latest book, ending edits now and soon to be released (Harpies Book Two of Seraphym Wars Series) looked as though it had taken a short walk through nice woods--a couple of little scratches! Even my editor was surprised and happy with my writing progress. So the bottom line is this--make notes of your mistakes then PRE-EDIT after your final revision. You'll save your editor a lot of time and frustration and yourself money and embarrassment. 

Here's a little blurb about Harpies. Watch my website for its release: Under the Hat of MG/YA Dark Fantasy Author Rebecca Ryals Russell

Transported to a planet he'd never heard of was the least of fifteen-year-old Griffen's problems. Learning to control his suddenly increasing strength and new ability to pull lightning from the sky takes some getting used to.  Angry preteen Seth joins the quest; meanwhile discovering his combusting ability as a fire-starter. Driven to find the last Vigorio, a young girl able to experience others' emotions, they journey together toward their destinies as warriors against Narciss, Ruler of Tartarus and his Legio of demon-dragons. Narciss’s Harpy henchmen have other ideas, however.

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