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Writing Bliss

"If they do not write the kind of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves." -C.S. Lewis

Month

April 2014

The First Five Pages

When I was in college, I took a Playwriting/Screenwriting course and I absolutely loved it.  Writing plays and film scripts is so much different than writing the traditional novel or research paper.  Not only are the components and general organization different, the tone and voice are also unique.  The one element of a script/stage play that is constant in other works of writing is the beginning.  How do you grab your audience’s attention and have them begging for more?  In a film script, we called this “The First Five Pages” because in a screenplay, the first five pages are roughly the first five minutes of a movie or about one scene.  Think back to your favorite movies, you know, the ones you watch repeatedly and you swear by.  Think of that first scene.  What about it grabbed your attention?  Did you get to the end of the first scene and realize your mouth is hanging open like an idiot?  That’s a great screenwriter right there.

My father and I were watching TV one evening and I was about to leave the room after a movie ended.  The next film had started and I had unknowingly been hooked by the First Five Page rule.  The movie was Swordfish, starring John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, and Don Cheadle.  The opening scene starts with a hostage situation and Travolta’s character explaining to Cheadle that the hostages were wired with explosive devices that would detonate if any of them left the building.  In a matter of three minutes, we learn that Travolta is the bad guy, Cheadle a well-intentioned chief detective on the case, and Jackman is involved somehow but his role is ambiguous.  After being introduced to three A-list actors and their characters, briefly, we witness a devastating explosion which originates from a poor young girl who was being dragged by bomb squad officers in an attempt to save her life.  After that one scene, I found myself back on the couch watching the entire two hour film with Dad.  This is what I mean by great screenwriting.

The same concept works in writing books.  For a novel it’s probably the first chapter, and for many readers that’s being generous.  The first paragraph and even sentence need to attract readers and convince them to continue.  Whatever it is that you want your reader’s to be addicted to, you must be consistent.  If it is a specific character that needs to draw them in, that character must be captivating throughout the whole narrative.  If it is one particular event, that event must be the center of the story, or at the very least highly relevant to the plot.

I have below, an excerpt from a story I am working on.  I usually do not post things like this since I value the privacy of my writing but these first few sentences are what I have chosen to introduce my main character:

George Clooney was talking to her. He was yammering on about some project he was working on while intermittently congratulating her on her own Oscar nomination. She couldn’t help but wish he hadn’t interrupted her conversation with Jennifer Lawrence which was much more stimulating. At least she had a sense of humor. She was amazed that Clooney did not hold a reputation for being boring. He was quite dull. Almost as dull as the stereotypical Armani suit he was wearing. He was nothing if not predictable.

That was when she saw him, standing just beyond George’s stiff left shoulder. Tall and wearing a dark grey suit, Benedict Cumberbatch smiled that wicked smile she saw so much when she watched him on TV. This is the one person she’d been dying to meet all night. She politely cut short her dialogue with George Clooney, who surprisingly was not the least bit offended. She didn’t feel bad; Sherlock Holmes always trumped George Clooney.

Now there was nothing between them but space. Here he was looking at her, more importantly, he recognized her! He was so close now, within arm’s reach. He extended his arm to shake her hand–

The boisterous and painfully earsplitting sound of the office phone jarred her from her day dream.

“Admissions.” She said into the receiver.

What I was hoping to acheive in this introduction is at least a chuckle from my audience.  Did the day dream at least make you say, “Wow that girl’s got some wild dreams”?  My character has a vivid imagination and her goals might sound outlandish but she also has a determined spirit.  Her fantasy might also be considered backwards by some.  Benedict Cumberbatch?  For most girls, they’d be more interested in George Clooney, but not this character.  By placing this seemingly silly scene at the beginning of my story, I hope to intrigue reader’s enough to figure out who this girl is and why her big dreams are relevant to the story.  In reading this, I want people to be encouraged that they are not alone because deep down I think everyone has little fantasies they wished were true.  In the end my character is an ordinary woman in the workplace but it is the thought of the impossible that drives her.

What are some great first five pages for you?  What movie drew you in like no other?  What book started so stunningly that you could not put it down?  Share it with each other.  Who knows, maybe someone will lead you to your new favorite book or film.

A Whole New Writing Industry

For some time now I have wanted to break into a new industry of writing.  With the high transition rate of books being made into blockbuster films, I wondered if there could be an industry for this type of writing.  If a book can be made into a movie, why can books not exist about the movies and the books on which they were based?  Well, there are such books but you would be hard pressed to find them in bookstores and they are not nearly as popular as the original material, of course.  I watched, just over the last ten years alone, book/movie franchises explode with popularity; The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Twilight Saga, The Hunger Games, and now Divergent, just to name a few.  Now premium cable networks like HBO have picked up True Blood and Game of Thrones which have produced millions more fans than the books ever did and are cranking in money like no tomorrow.  What if there was another industry to pick up a smaller percentage of viewers who want to dive deeper than just reading the book then seeing the movies?

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For example, the Harry Potter series was one of the most highest grossing movie franchise in cinema history.  The movies spanned well over a decade and launched endless midnight premieres, red carpet walks, book signings, and other publicity events.  But for all the raving fans who stayed with series from its first release, there have always been avid readers who criticized the filmmakers’ decisions to omit certain elements and alter the translation from page to screen.  In fact, there were so many unanswered questions that I had to explain to several people I know, who never read the books, crucial plot points that were never covered in the films.  What if there were books to answer these questions?  I’m thinking a book that does just this and is one book to read instead of a series of seven books so that if someone, who did not read the Harry Potter books but wanted to know what they missed, they would have a one-stop shop to fill in all the blanks.  Critics may inquire, “Well, if they did not read the series, chances are they are not fans of reading and your book would be a moot point.”  Perhaps, but I challenge that by saying maybe this type of book is just the thing that could inspire them to read.  People only want to read about things that interest them, after all, and books written in this format could be just what it takes for them to pick one up.

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Aside from the “_________ and Philosophy” books that never seemed to interest me, where else can you find a book that tackles deeper and more complex subjects found in both books and movies.  The Hunger Games is a great example of a post-apocalyptic world where tyranny rules and people are just test subjects to the government.  This futuristic fantasy has gained immense popularity since the release of these films and now the Divergent series is following that same trend.  There are so many philosophical, theoretical, and political discussions that can stem from topics such as this and I, for one, would love to see more books touch on this subject.  The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia are such series that ignite religious debates as well and the movies can sometimes treat these subjects differently because of the medium in which they are created.  Books and movies are inherently different art forms and once that is understood, it is easier to comprehend the filmmakers’ decisions.

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When discussing the good we must never forget the bad, or at least the more awkward conversations that go along with it.  While most raved about the page to screen transition of The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, or were on the fence regarding Harry Potter, the general consensus for Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series was pretty poor.  I fell in love with Cassie’s writing when she was still writing Harry Potter fan fiction (namely The Draco Trilogy) which no doubt was what got her noticed by publishers because her fan fiction was so popular it was pulled from the Internet!  Her original series is quite enjoyable, though I lost interest after the trilogy turned into five books, and another one to be published this year.  The movie, however, was awful for lack of a better term.  There was an all-star cast and I love most of those featured.  And as far as content goes, they covered pretty much all the important plot points in the story. So what made it flop?  Was it too face-paced?  Was it lack of character development?  These are all topics relevant to the reading of anyone who was a fan of this series.

Whether you prefer to read or see the movies, I think everyone can benefit from the option of a books about book-to-movie industry.  It would certainly expand the variety of the bookstores and perhaps earn more readers from people who previously were not interested.  As with all my posts, this is just my opinion so feel free to share your own!

A Title By Any Other Name

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With the recent announcement by Peter Jackson that the subtitle of the final Hobbit movie has been changed, I was compelled to analyze the importance of a good title.  The film, now subtitled “The Battle of the Five Armies” instead of “There and Back Again,” has ignited debates among the Tolkien fandoms and the online forums are full of advocators and haters alike.  As a writer I was disappointed by the decision.  Calling the film “The Battle of the Five Armies” basically tells the audience (those who haven’t read the books at least) what is going to happen.  Although the majority of viewers should know how the 1937 classic ends, the 1950s readers of the original Lord of the Rings novels may have seen the title of the third installment (The Return of the King) and assumed how it also ended.  Needless to say, I began thinking about what it takes to make a good title.

Surely the primary goal is to attract readers.  Unless you are James Patterson or Nora Roberts whose names alone tells repeat readers to just pick up their latest book and purchase it, a book must speak from its spine.  When someone is scanning the bookshelf, what is it about your title that makes them stop and pull it out.  Then they see the cover art and read the back or inside sleeve but the initial spark of interest comes from the title. 

So how should we go about achieving this?  Shorter is better, obviously, since space is prime real estate on a book and especially its spine. In addition to brevity, educate yourself in vocabulary.  Thesauri are a great way to learn new words by finding words you already know and then discovering words with similar meanings.  Adjectives can be highly valuable within your text but they can be equally powerful in your title.  Take, for example,the Young Adult series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl which was recently made into a film; Beautiful Creatures and its most recent installment, Dangerous Creatures.  I personally believe this style of title should be used more often because it is most descriptive.  There is also the creative use of nouns, but not necessarily proper nouns.  Cassandra Clare’s series The Mortal Instruments, is a great example of this (i.e. City of Bones, Ashes, Glass, Fallen Angels, etc).  George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire is probably my favorite (i.e. Game of Thrones, Storm of Swords, Dance With Dragons, etc).  These are strong words to describe strong literature.

So what inspires your titles?  Whether fiction or nonfiction, what key elements drive your narrative?  Never settle when it comes to a good title.  Always put great and sincere thought into what will ultimately be a representative of your hard work.

The Beauty of Dialogue

What is the purpose of dialogue?  The importance of dialogue varies and depends on the format for which the conversation is written.  We all recognize that a book’s descriptions of peoples and places is unique because each reader visualizes what is written on the page differently.  A film or a television show, however, gives you the visuals but they cannot show you what is inside a character’s mind.  Where a book can give you insights into a character’s motives and help the reader understand their point of view, a movie script can only do this through dialogue.  Therefore, dialogue in a film is more crucial than in a book, right?  Not necessarily.  All components of writing (especially good writing) work together and dialogue is no less important in a book than visuals are in a film.

I was inspired to write this post after watching Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones on HBO.  [Having said that, there are spoilers ahead for those not up to date with the show].  This week’s episode was an explosive one when it came to dialogue.  Scene after scene I was gravitated toward the intense and emotional conversations between characters, some of whom I don’t even like!  Having read the books, I was a bit skeptical of what this show would accomplish in terms of both visually translating some pretty epic high fantasy landscapes and in conveying each character’s mindset.  For those familiar with the books, you will know that each chapter is a point of view of a specific character.  This allows George Martin to tell us what his characters are thinking and it makes us sympathize with (most of) them.  I was worried the show could not do that but Sunday’s episode proved me wrong.  The conversation between Tywin and Tommen about what it takes to be a good king blew my mind.  Although I hate Tywin, everything he said had merit and the person to whom he was speaking, Tommen Baratheon/Lannister is already a good king because he is nothing like the rest of his family……whose patriarch is giving him the speech on being a good king!  More importantly the conversation took place in front of Cersei who is still mourning the death of her son; her evil little demon of a son, but her son nonetheless.  Tyrion’s plead to Pod to leave the capital in order to protect him brought tears to my eyes.  At this point in the show and in the book, viewers and readers alike appreciate Tyrion’s honesty, though they are undoubtedly realizing that his honesty put him in a jail cell.  Here we see true emotions, not for Tysha (the woman he once “married”) or Shae (the woman he now loves), but for his squire, who has remained loyal to him throughout unmeasurable difficulties and trials.  Then there was perhaps one of my favorite pieces of dialogue in the whole series, between the Hound and Arya Stark.  No doubt Arya has already learned the harsh realities of life, but as the Hound’s traveling companion she was destined to see more.  After he informs her that the farmer and his daughter would not survive the winter and that life is full of disappointment he asks her, “How many more Starks have to lose their head before you understand?”  That line gave me chills and his brutal honesty forced me to realize that Arya is in the best hands, although he was at one point on her list of men she wanted dead. 

My point in this post is not to rave (once again) about the wonderful TV show on HBO (though it is great and you should watch it if you aren’t already committed to it), but to prove that dialogue is key to a powerful story.  True, an author can write sidebars and entire paragraphs devoted to the thoughts of one particular character, but a person’s language and actions speak much more loudly than their thoughts on a page.  A character’s mood can make us either believe everything they say or second-guess at all their motives in what they do.  One line can make us their ally or their enemy.  When you write your dialogue, what is your purpose?  What do you want to convey in each sentence you write?  I have learned that a character should never say something that you would not say in their place.  Good dialogue advances a story but poorly written conversations are simply filler.  My personal challenge for myself this week is to write a conversation my readers can believe and one that makes me appreciate who is saying the words I write.

Visual Exercise #3

Today I have decided to try something different.  Instead of the routine choosing a picture and writing about it, I have chosen a series of pictures and put them together.  This was a fun challenge because it forced me to look at a big picture instead of one small image.  Of course, most writers know that even a few visuals cannot compare to a vast work of fiction or a whole scenario playing out in their minds so this is still an effective exercise.  I have focused on a famous concept, developed new ideas based on other people’s creative visual talents, and constructed dialogue (a first for this type of challenge) which know introduces characters.  This entry is slightly longer than most of my others but it is not quite a short story.  Who knows, perhaps this is the making of something bigger.  I hope you enjoy and please leave feedback, good or bad, since they are always useful for the future.  Thanks for reading!

Rose the Red

She was named after the rose. Her hair was as red as fire, her face more beautiful than the fairest maiden, and her skin as soft as rose petals. Little did her parents know how much she would grow into her name. She was hearty and could survive in any weather, especially the cold. Her heart was as prickly as the thorns on the stem. Raised by a ruthless stepfather whose only amusement was torturing anyone who dared to defy his orders as king, she learned quickly to obey and feel nothing. As a child, she was taught that only a man could rule and that she had no place in the royal court besides the king’s royal chess piece. He would use her position as the queen’s daughter to exult himself as supreme ruler. He used her as a pawn. Marry this lord, he demanded one day but then changed his mind when he declared war with that lord’s country. She would accept ambassadors to the royal court and sit beside him at feasts and great occasions, but Rose could not remember the last time she looked him in the eye or even the last time he spoke to her. The day her mother died of the fever was probably the last day. That same day her father had her grandmother escorted to live in a grand estate in the country. He claimed it was for her health but Rose grew to believe the true reason lay with her. Her grandmother would not have rested until her granddaughter sat on the throne, her birthright, and her father would never allow such an opposition to reside within his walls. On the way to the estate, her grandmother and the escorts were viciously attacked by wolves who roamed the forest. The king saw an opportunity to isolate his kingdom and control it completely. He closed the castle gates and from then on, no one has been allowed to leave. But Rose harbored a secret.

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One summer when she was but a girl, Rose was playing in the yard when she noticed some loose bricks in the castle wall. She pulled three bricks out and they made the beginning of a ladder. She climbed and loosened a few more bricks and before she knew it, she was at the top. She could probably see for miles if it was not for the winter that never seemed to cease. The wind blew the snow from days past around the mountain and the clouds brought new snow to the ground. But it was not this magnificent sight that attracted Rose’s attention. Her eyes instantly found the forest. It did not look as terrifying as the townsfolk made it seem. The people spoke of the howling of wolves in the distance, sinister and lethal. They told frightening tales of kidnapped children and lost maidens who were taken by the bloodthirsty hounds. Then there was the scariest story of all which told of how Rose’s grandmother, the Lady Meadows, was devoured by the hungry wolves with demons in their souls. The castle had become bleak ever since the passing of her mother and a young girl needed adventure. Rose climbed down the wall, but this time on the other side. When she reached the bottom she realized her only way back was the same way she departed lest she be found out by the guards and reported to her stepfather. She had to find her way back to this spot before nightfall so she tore the hem of her red cloak and wedged it between two bricks as a flag for when she returned, then she turned and made for the woods.

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Rose was amazed with what lay beneath the haunting trees of the forest. Flowers of every color lined the floor, birds sang in the trees, and there was no snow to be seen. It was as if spring reigned eternal there and the winter had been forgotten. She saw rabbits munching on clovers and squirrels chasing one another along the branches of the fully blossomed trees. For a moment she contemplated stepping back outside the forest and then back in to see if her eyes were deceiving her, but she feared that she would wake up from a dream if she did, so she kept going. When she came upon a clearing in the forest, she saw a singular wooden door entwined amongst an old warped tree and its roots and branches. Rose thought it a curious thing to find. She wondered what it meant when she heard her name. Rose, the wind seemed to whisper. Rose, the leaves on the trees seemed to respond. Just then a ray of sun burst through the canopy and shone itself on the handle of the door. Without thinking any further, as if by some invisible power, she moved toward the door and opened it. She followed a winding staircase up through the tree. There were markings on the walls. Strange images stared at her as she ascended. The most common image, she could not help but notice, was that of the wolf.

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Once she reached the top of the stairs, she entered through a stone doorway. She blinked and looked behind her. A stone doorway. Even as a child Rose wondered how it was possible to place a stone arched doorway inside a giant tree. When she reminded herself that the woods were in spring as full as the winter which raged outside, she decided it was only another question of the many floating in her mind.

“Come closer, my child.” She heard the voice but she could not tell from whence it came. She turned back to the doorway and saw a huge white wolf with piercing grey eyes staring back at her. Her heart skipped a beat as she gasped.

“Do not be frightened.” This time Rose thought she knew the voice. She did not have time to think about it further as the wolf bounded past her into the darkness that filled the rest of the room she stood in, if you could call it a room. Rose could not tell how far back it went nor if there was a way out. She certainly did not want to go back the way she came if that meant running into another wolf.

“To me, Rose.” Now the voice was across the way, in the direction where the wolf had gone. She froze, afraid to continue. The darkness began to fade and her eyes could make out the shape of a canopied bed. As the night retreated she could see a woman lying in the bed. Rose knew the woman. But it could not be her.

“Grandmother? But…you died.” She could feel a tear in the corner of her eye but refused to let it drop.

“It is not all as it seems, my dear.” Lady Meadows sounded as strong as the day she packed for the country estate. “My status of queen dowager died, my escorts died, even my own daughter, your beautiful mother died, but I have not. Though the king may believe he did, he could not command my death so easily.”

“I do not understand-” Before she could continue she noticed the white wolf was gone.

“Your stepfather ordered those escorts to slay me as soon as we entered the forest. When they drew their bows, I slew them instead. It would take more than two mediocre bowmen to take me out of this world.” She laughed and it was a true laugh, a hearty laugh. She caught Rose’s eyes wandering the room, looking for the animal. “Fear not, my child. That wolf shall not harm you. No wolf shall ever harm you.”

Rose looked at her uncertain but then she was overwhelmed by a surge of emotion and a desire to embrace her dead grandmother. She walked toward the bed but Lady Meadows had already opened her arms. The two held each other close. A young girl’s grandmother is her only window to the future and Rose believed that window to be long closed.

“How did you tame the wolf?” Rose asked as they parted.

Lady Meadows smiled. “I am the wolf.”

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I am the wolf. The phrase echoed in her mind. Rose lay on her bed, staring at the ceiling remembering that day as if it happened only yesterday. It had been nearly five years since she first met her grandmother in the woods. The things Lady Meadows told her that day, and every day since, molded her and made her stronger. Every night Rose roams the grounds of the kingdom outside the walls, her beautiful wolf at her side. All is right with the world, or would be soon enough. Her eighteenth birthday was fast approaching and then she would come into her own. She could hear her grandmother’s words, We are going to take back your kingdom.

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50 Word Challenge: Those Who Descend

Though this post is in response to a writing exercise to only use fifty words, it still works in my current challenge of visual brainstorming.  I used only fifty words to describe my next image.

Those Who Descend

His beauty could seduce anyone who looked upon him. The snow white of his wings formed the rack of a great stag. His sword glittered in the sun as the radiant beam of starlight in his eye. The red he wore was as dark as the innocent blood he shed.

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Visual Excercise #2

Stormbringer

Methusela, the great enchantress, was in a rage and at her full power when the lightening crashed out of control.  You can do anything you want. The words kept creeping back to her, sometimes in whispers so faint she had to strain to hear it, but other times in loud booms of thunder which echoed across the land.  The great flood had been but a drop in the vast ocean she commanded.  This would be no mere rain shower but a tempest of the mightiest strength, all the strength she could spare.  She could feel the wind whipping through her long dress and her long dark hair kissed her cheeks.  She smiled for the feel of it.  The dark clouds billowed around her and it was when the lightening came down for the first time that she opened her eyes and looked ahead of her.  A small island lay beyond, just visible as a shadow when the lightening struck.  The island will drown tonight, she told herself.  She could not tell the difference between the water that fell from the sky or the the water that descended down her cheek.  The tears were hot even amidst the cold air but she dared not think about her pain.  Her suffering would soon be avenged.  She waved her arms around the sea, waves appearing at her very thought.  The sky lights flashed again and again while thunder clapped across the dark sky.  As the waves crashed behind her, she felt the water move beneath her toward the small piece of land beyond.  Tonight Atlantis would drown.

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A New Writing Challenge

In response to another writer’s blog where I was challenged to think about what inspires me to write, I agreed that images are a great source of material.  Fantasy images in particular stand out with such a stunning beauty that when I’m on Pinterest, I cannot resist them.  I have decided that I will take some of my favorite images and randomly post them on here along with some writing exercises attached.  For example, I am trying to discover information within the art work itself.  A picture of a girl and a unicorn can seem simple enough but I want to find out who she is, where she encountered the unicorn, and where are they going together.  I did this a few times before I came up with the thought to share the brainstorming.  Perhaps others can find a new fun challenge in writing.  Find something that catches your eye and just write about it.  I love this writing challenge!

Although I am seeing the image and then writing what comes to my mind about it, I feel it is only appropriate to record my thoughts then reveal the picture.  Perhaps what is shown is exactly what you thought when reading my post or you had your own visual conception.  Whatever the case, the goal is to create the same art but with words.

The Fortress of Everdream

In the heart of the Great Valley, there is a fortress.  The top of the structure glowed in the sunlight,  the waterfalls around it roared through the valley, and the vines which climbed the walls seemed to embrace an ancient monument.  The Land People who first inhabited this place before it was even created had come from a land so far, that no one in living memory could say its true name.  It is known simply as the Everdream.  Of course, when they first settled here, they had to built from the ground.  They worked the stone and the earth and with their bare hands raised the structure from the ground.  During the peaceful years it stood, tall and proud, as a beacon to anyone in the valley.  During the years of war it kept enemies at bay whilst offering solace to those fleeing from the horrors of battle.  The bridges and roads leading to the gates of this castle had once been busy and full of life and trade.  Even during the last war it served as a stronghold for troops fighting for the Queen. 

Now it was quiet.  Now it was still.  Now the fortress stands as a whisper of a memory with its peak still as golden as the radiant sun.  The bells no longer ring and the gates no longer open.  Once the raiders came from the north, the keeper of the castle shut the gates for fear of invasion.  The raiders had the same powers as those who built it, however, so they tore into the mountain behind the castle and stormed it from the inside out.  Those who survived were captured and sold into slavery.  The raiders had no need for the fortress once it was plundered.  Their own halls were much more splendid so those forced into a new life were moved.  The raiders left the palace untouched and for years it stood, watching and waiting for its people to return. 

The halls were not so empty.  Hidden in the tower, was a face.  A small round face of a young child who dared to stay behind during the raid.  This child held the secret to restoring this fortress to its former glory.  In fact, the only reason the light still burned atop the tower was because this child survived.  The day that child would walk out of the gates would be the day the glow dims and darkness truly descends upon the land.

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Femme Fatale: The Power of Women in “Game of Thrones”

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SPOILER ALERT: This assessment includes all five books and up through Season Three of the HBO series so if you’re not caught up, hold off on reading this.

The picture above holds some pretty powerful characters in its midst.  For all the grievances I have against George R.R. Martin for his compulsion to kill off good characters, I’d be a fool not to admit that the man can create some striking and remarkable female roles.  Many of these women are polar opposites of one another, while others, who seem to be different, are very alike under their exterior.  Martin has created some of the most complex and sometimes cruel females I’ve experienced in fantasy literature.  Even the softer and less dominating personalities stand out in this series and I am quite glad I got into these books, and then the HBO show, because the women alone are well worth the read/view.

First there is everyone’s favorite Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen.  She (and Jon Snow) are my favorite characters for the same reason.  They both start as mere children and grow into fearless leaders.  They start at the bottom, work their way up, make enemies along the way, but ultimately earn the respect of their peers; for Jon this is his brothers on the Wall and for Dany it begins as the Dothraki and continues through every city she conquers.  Yes, Dany has the benefit of having three of the coolest fantasy creatures ever imagined to help her along her road to power, but the dragons are only a small part of who she has become.  Her brother sold her to Dothraki horse lord to be used as a token of his own rise to power, but it was she who calmed Khal Drogo’s rage and introduced him to true love.  Her dismissal of Ser Jorah Mormont, someone who had watched her change and grow, was the ultimate flex of muscle for her and now the stage is set for her to return the House of Targaryen back to its former glory.

My favorite comparison (or contrast if you will) is between the characters of Catelyn Stark and Cersei Lannister.  On the surface these two women could not be more different, but in reality, they both share a strong and inseparable bonding love for their children, and it is that love which drives them to make the majority of their decisions throughout the series.  Cersei is a calculating, cruel, and cunning (no I won’t use the term that would alliteratively fit here, though some may call her such a term) woman caught up in the middle of a man’s world and the politics that go with it.  It wasn’t until very recently that people began to realize that women were capable of killing children and while Cersei would never raise a hand against her own children, you better think twice if you don’t think she’d hurt someone else’s.  In fact, someone else’s child whom she does bring harm to is Sansa Stark, daughter of the fierce Catelyn Stark.  Catelyn has suffered so much, since the first chapter of the first book, and has overcome, but there is only so much tragedy one can endure before cracking.  Catelyn nursed her crippled son who would never walk again, survived an assassin’s blade, watched her family split apart as Ned took the girls to King’s Landing, believed she had lost her two youngest sons to a traitor raised among them, and finally witnessed the murder of her firstborn just before her own death.  In the chaos of the Red Wedding, Catelyn proved that she could be as ruthless as Cersei Lannister when she slaughtered Frey sons before succumbing to the sword herself.  These two women are the anchors on which their families rely and they push Martin’s story forward in the North and at King’s Landing.

Speaking of opposites, take a look at Sansa and Arya Stark who could not be more different if they tried, though they were raised in the same household.  Arya is a little fighter and a fan favorite of the HBO show.  She refuses to let her gender stand in the way of her justice.  She watched her father die at the hand of Joffrey’s executioner in his deceitful betrayal to Sansa.  Arya has more than proved that she can adapt to any environment and has changed identities just as often as she’s changed locations.  Sansa on the other hand, is trapped at King’s Landing.  This character has received harsh criticism from the viewers of the show and at one time I was apart of them but I have since changed my mind.  Sansa is probably the character with which I can most likely assimilate.  Sansa is young and naive and that, perhaps, is perceived by many as weakness, when in reality she is the most realistic and believable character in the series!  We all wish we could react like Arya, slip away and adapt to disappear or to be as cunning as Cersei and be powerful in addition to staying alive but for Sansa, it is all about survival.  Rebellion in her position is not easy or feasible.  The few people she has trusted up to this point have all betrayed her or been killed.  She is not a master in the game of thrones but as the saying goes, “In the game of thrones you win or you die;” Sansa might not be winning but she’s not dying either so long as she keeps her head above the water.

I do want to include briefly, though they are not pictured above, the Ashas, as I call them.  There is Asha of House Greyjoy (though she is known by another name in the HBO show) who fights to rule the Iron Islands and, although she loses out on this bid, still proves mightier than many of the men she with whom she contests.  Then there is Osha the wildling woman who accompanies Bran and Rickon on their journey north.  She and Ygritte, the wildling with whom Jon Snow shares a passionate affair, both know what lies beyond the Wall and those fighting for the Iron Throne in the south are the last thing on their minds.  In their world, women can fight; I would love to see Cersei don some armor and fight but we all know that won’t happen (which is where Joffrey gets his feminine spirit from). They are brutal and harsh but to be underestimated means certain death to those who do not fear them.

Melisandre is a very interesting character, though probably my least favorite.  She is a prime example of the damages of organized religion and cult practices and I think that was Martin’s intention.  I am convinced that Stannis Baratheon, no matter how great his claim to the Iron Throne, will not succeed because Martin wants to make a religious statement and my opinion on this matter is rather harsh though completely irrelevant to this topic.  On the point of Melisandre as a female character, she is no doubt a strong character though not without her flaws.  She has about as much power in Stannis’ court as Cersei has as queen regent.  She summons a dark magic which she claims to be for the Lord of Light and Stannis is bewitched by her sorcery, but for all her magical superiority she lacks commonplace wisdom.  The war in Westeros is for the Iron Throne and here she comes bringing up the God argument?  Quite frankly, it’s a bit ill-timed.  People are interested in surviving this war.  They don’t want to starve and they want to keep their children safe.  They want their crops and livestock to stop burning from raiders and pillagers.  Just as the last thing on the wildlings’ minds is who sits on the Throne, the people south of the Wall are focused on surviving who is sitting on the Throne at the moment and worrying about the “gods” in charge later. 

Margaery Tyrell is another feisty and steadfast woman.  She knows Joffrey is a monster and while she carries great sympathy for Sansa and does a great deal to protect her, she puts on the role of monster for herself in order to gain Joffrey’s loyalty.  It’s clever and she has proven that she can play the game of thrones on the same level as Cersei.  The two have gone back and forth to outwit one another.  There is only room for one of them at King Joffrey’s table.  It has been quite some time since I read A Feast for Crows so my memory on who got the better of who is a bit dusty but it was quite enjoyable to watch them have it out.  With Varys out of the picture (since the death of Tywin) I thought there would be a lack of intrigue without him around to stir it up but I was wrong.  Margaery can hold her own which is a family trait, I believe, and I can only imagine what the other Tyrells of Highgarden have planned.

This post ended up being longer than intended but the truth is I could have gone on even longer.  There is so much material here to cover because these characters are so complex.  In fact, Martin has created such an elaborate story that female characters aside, Game of Thrones is no quick discussion.  These ladies have more than proven themselves and they are some of my favorite personalities in not just the fantasy genre but in all literature.  For now, they have me willing to forgive Martin in his slaughter of fantastic characters…but just for the moment.

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