The Citadel: SSM

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Odyssey Con 2008 (Madison, WI; April 4-6 2008)

[Note: The following report is excerpted from a LiveJournal post by author E. E. Knight, with his permission. It should be emphasized that this is a rough transcript, and features paraphrases throughout rather than being word-for-word.]

Okay, here's my write up of the Martin panel on characterization. Well, it was about a lot of stuff but mostly characters and points of view.

Please, keep in mind that this is a rough transcript. The description of what was said is as accurate as I could make them typing on my laptop but I had to paraphrase here and there, therefore I'm not using any quotation marks. I'm sure I made errors. So don't write George R.R. Martin and say that you don't understand what he said or you think he screwed the pooch with his Gandalf observation unless you were actually there, m'kay? All errors of style are mine.

The panelists were:

Monica Valentinelli (moderator) (MV) free-lance writer of games and fiction
Sean T. M. Stiennon - (SS) college student, some short fiction and an anthology
Richard Chwedyk - (RC) Nebula winner, short story writer
George R.R. Martin (GRRM)

What sorts of characters do you like to write?

GRRM: I like to write many different kinds of characters - part of the reason my books have multiple viewpoints - people perceive differently. Different POVs allow you to explore all the varieties of humanity - people you can love, loathe, or have mixed feelings about. The goal is to let you understand the characters even if you find them reprehensible.

Do you prefer some over the others?

GRRM: I like all of them when I’m writing them.

I don’t believe in omniscient viewpoints. It gets in the way of understanding the character. The reader must see the world as the character would experience it as they’re living events. The 3rd limited allows closer identification and deeper understanding of how the character sees the world. Once you get inside them the common humanity makes you sympathetic with them.

Did you hate any?

GRRM -The act of writing them makes you like or understand them.

RC (or possibly MV)- Characterization is kind of like method acting, do everything you can to get in the role of the character.

Any way to get into the mood to write?

GRRM - I wish I had something entertaining to describe, but it’s just me in front of the computer, no strange creative rituals.

Different character creation for gaming and fiction?

GRRM - Told a story about a superhero turtle, with many hindrances to improve his armor. Recreated him for Wildcards fiction to make it more interesting.

MV: Challenging in writing game fiction is that I had to imitate powers and game mechanics exactly. Book packagers were demanding that she adhere to game mechanics right down to time spent concentrating and so forth.

GRRM: You can’t just take your games and make fiction of them. Today the most common story sent in to sf/fantasy genre editors is someone who has written up their RPG - often starts with meeting in a tavern. Start a story in a tavern and it’s coming right back to you.

RC: I’ve read some of those manuscripts.

SS: Characters have to be beyond a list of traits, they need personality.

GRRM: Would like to write about leper king of Jerusalem - has a lot of empathy for his problems and it’s a fascinating exercise to try to get into his mind. Creation of a character who is not like yourself is very difficult. You have to be able to project yourself into these different kinds of people.

How do the tropes influence your writing?

GRRM: You have to be aware of them but you have to smash them with hammers and make up your own. Tolkien twisted an old cliché of elves (tiny faeries) into something else - met with resistance from his editors at first, arguing over what an elf or dwarf is. Now Tolkien is the cliché. Can’t just regurgitate them you have to do something with them.

RC: Games are open ended - with certain characters I know the ending. There’s a gravestone waiting - there’s a dramatic structure to a story. You’re focusing on a very crucial moment in a characters life and you know the outcome.

MV: Purpose of a game character is to make it playable. In fiction the point is to make it readable and interesting as possible. When I write I don’t know how they’ll play off everyone else.

GRRM: How you experience life is unique to you, and it should be unique to each character. You have to somehow get from inside your body and into theirs - we all see life through one set of eyes, none of us are telepaths, we all have internal monologues - at the same time we’re experiencing the world.

Use of POV has to be structured, has to be under control. Have a reason for switching POVs. The big problem is when you’re switching promiscuously is it’s not clear.

MV: A common pitfall of new authors is to try to do too many POVs.

RC: 3rd person omniscient is annoying to read. It’s tough.

Character creation process?

GRRM: Hopefully you know the general shape of your story. Writers generally come in two flavors: architechts and gardeners - gardeners plant a seed which is the character and in the earth which is the world you created and you water it with your blood.

Is it hard to write when a character dies?

GRRM: It can be tough. Hardest chapter I ever wrote was the death of a character - had to skip over it for a long time. Part of the process is emotional - something like grief, because you’re dealing with the grief of the characters who knew the person, also the commercial consequences, what will editor and readers think of this. But it’s good to kill someone off now and then. Tolkien made the wrong choice when he brought Gandalf back. Screw Gandalf. He had a great death and the characters should have had to go on without him.

RC: Death has a strong effect, writing a death’s been murder. Opening scenes leading up to death have been incredibly difficult to write.

GRRM: My books deal with death, but I do try and deal with mourning and grief. There’s a moral component to people who kill.

Horror stories in the 19th century were morality plays, showing how a flaw in a character brings about a tragic downfall. Innocent characters being killed by the horror is a more modern version - we have rules. "The Grudge" doesn’t obey any rules as to the guilt or innocence of who it kills.

RC: SF is a way of looking at the world that isn’t tied to a story or genre structure. There aren’t demands on characters short of space opera.

Favorite character?

GRRM : Tyrion in Ice and Fire. Abner Marsh in Fevre Dream.

Glad to hear you pronounce the names

GRRM: In my youth I had a strong NJ accent, only reader in family, knew a lot of words that I had never heard spoken aloud. When I went away to college I found I was pronouncing a lot of these words wrong. I came to not care much about pronunciation. Pronounce the names of my characters however you like.

There are dangers in being a gardener, the story can run away from you - Shakespeare had to kill Mercutio because he was taking over play.

RC: Has a character who thinks of herself as a background character in revolt against being a background character.

How important is religion and myth in your stories?

GRRM: Mythos is important and it can also be very difficult. An author’s beliefs color the character, audience’s beliefs color it. Easier for me to write a secular character or someone who mocks and insults the gods than it is to write a sincerely devout character. It’s a secular society, especially our sf/fantasy readers.

How do you keep dialogue distinct in different points of view - how do you bring personality through dialogue?

GRRM: What appears between quotation marks is what was said. But you don’t have to quote everything a person says. You can paraphrase, or use someone’s perception to illustrate their character. Can present dialogue as stream of consciousness.

RC: Make sure the voices are distinct and what they’re saying is important enough you don’t want to paraphrase it. Try and strengthen dialog with each draft.

Technicon 25 (Blackburg, VA; March 28-30, 2008)

[Note: The following refers to remarks from the previous Technicon report, that GRRM stated only a page was left to be completed in the third Dunk & Egg story.

I thought that he said he needed about two days to finish the story.

Technicon 25 (Blackburg, VA; March 28-30, 2008)

I would like to share one comment GRRM made about the release date of ADWD. It is still incomplete, however, he added the caveat that if he completes the book by June the current release dates on Amazon are accurate. He seemed much more up beat about the book than when he appeared at Trinoc Con back in August. I'm now cautiously optimistic that we will see ADWD by September/October.

GRRM also said he believes he's a page away from completeing the third Dunk and Egg story. It is still to be published with the anthology Warriors.

GRRM at his panel on "Anti-Protagonists" made the comment that Jon would soon become a much greyer character than we had seen in the past.

World Fantasy Con (Saratoga, NY; November 1-4 2007)

George threw me under the fangirl bus last night.

See, we all somehow got seated so that GRRM and I were back-to-back with Tim Powers and his wife, and I had mentioned to Lugalirra just how much I love Powers' books. George asked if I had actually told Powers this, and when I answered "No, I don't like to harass writers at Cons because they're probably mobbed at all hours" he said "nonsense!" and turned around, thumped Powers on the back, and said "She loves your books! (turns to me) Tell him how much you like his books!!"

And so Mr. X and I got incredibly dorky and fannish with Tim Powers, and discussed his work teaching at a high school for the arts. He's incredibly friendly and very gracious, despite being accosted in the waning moments of his dinner.

Other notable con guests who rolled on by the BwB party: Scott Bakker. I'm not sure he remembers it all that well -- all 8 feet of him was listing dangerously due to a fair run on the beer downstairs. Hal Duncan stopped by for an hour or so, too, as did a bunch of other people I'm forgetting. I did not bartend much last night (big props to Yags, Mr. X and Alchemist) and spent it wandering the party and the rest of the hotel.

World Fantasy Con (Saratoga, NY; November 1-4 2007)

George read a revised version of the prologue. I'm not going to post anything here (spoilers, etc), but I thought it was pretty good. The ending is a total kicker (as all prologue endings should be). He also answered some questions regarding warging (the term only applies to those who can communicate with wolves/dogs), the HBO series (no greenlight yet, and it's in vague competition with a King Arthur-themed series), and Wild Cards (the January release is the first of a 3-book series, and there is the possibility that if this series does well, all the rest of the Wild Cards series will be put back into print).

I've just fled from a panel on HP Lovecraft. As much as I fangirl Tim Powers, I was just not ready to spend an hour listening to people talk about Lovecraft's rejection/subversion of the supernatural. Especially since I STILL have to finish this damned article for work. Which is what I'm about to do right now.

Trinoc*Con 8 (Durham, NC; August 3-5, 2007)

At Trinoc GRRM confirmed he has several publishers interested in the 3rd Dunk and Egg story he just hasn't settled "on the best venue" yet. He also said that D & E will be collected into a book and that all of the stories he has planned will not fit into one volume.

Trinoc*Con 8 (Durham, NC; August 3-5, 2007)

Another interesting thing from the con, at one point in a panel GRRM was commenting that he didn't like how in a lot of fantasy stories various races are all defined by a single personality (i.e. all orcs are evil, all elves are wise, etc), whereas it would be more realistic for various individuals within a race to have different personalities, viewpoints, etc. Some quick-witted audience member asked him how that idea applied to the Others in his own books, to which he replied, "I'm not gonna answer that." Food for thought.

Trinoc*Con 8 (Durham, NC; August 3-5, 2007)

Nobody as relayed this-but the question about this did come up with GRRM at the last con. And his answer was-basically... forget about it. For now there is nothing happening and he said that HBO could loose their option (let it run out). They are still waiting for an initial script and that would probably be rejected, a new one resubmitted, etc. It sounded to me like the option was probably going to expire with nothing happening - but that is just my take on what he said when the question was asked during the reading as well as later.

Trinoc*Con 8 (Durham, NC; August 3-5, 2007)

Oh, George said all the Stark children of this generation were full Wargs. I thought they were like one shot Wargs and were only bonded to their wolves but no they can warg into just about anything. Bran is just the only one working on it.

Trinoc*Con 8 (Durham, NC; August 3-5, 2007)

We did talk quite a bit of football...

I believe that he said that he felt that the Jets would do better than the Giants this year (i hope i didn't get that backwards)...He's very knowledgeable about football. I lament the fact that i had other duties at that particular time.

As far as fans of Oberyn (of which I'm the biggest, of course), I was talking to him about how much I liked the character even though we only got to spend a short amount of time with him and that the mountain killing him was my throw the book across the room moment. He then asked me how much I liked his daughters. I answered that I liked them quite a bit and that the Martells are my favorite family in Westeros. He commented that I should be very pleased with some of the coming events then.

Trinoc*Con 8 (Durham, NC; August 3-5, 2007)

I'll post more details and stuff later. It was really great meeting everyone. we had 19 people at dinner, and when we invided George to party with us in our rooms, he countered with inviting us up to his suite. He made sure he talked to most people up there at least a little. It was great being able to be that personal with him. an all around awesome experience.

...

Most of us were not pre-registered, but that wasn't a problem. Registration was opened pretty late too. As far as I know, it went rather smoothly for most of us.

The biggest problems were of course with the schedule. As noted earlier, it wasn't until nearly the last 2 weeks that a schedule was even posted online and only a day or so before that the program had been posted. Of course the schedule that was posted was drastically different from the schedule given to us at the con. Eventually we got it figured out. The only real problem after that was with George's reading. The "Reading Room" had a capacity of 25. stunned.gif of course 3 times this number wanted to hear George. More then a few missed the reading because of this. Plus points to the con though, they very quickly realized the problem and moved us down to the large room where the meet and greet was held and moved those 6 people up to the reading room. Any of those that had stuck around trying to stand in the back or hear from the doorway were now all able to sit and listen to the reading.

Immediately after the reading, SSE and I talked to George and made dinner plans. The hotel staff was great in helping us out, letting us know of a good local place and such.

I don't think many of us spent much time in the con hospatality suite as mine and LP's rooms served for most of the BwB, but I did stop down there Sunday morning to give them our left over sodas. It seemed nice and well stocked and the people were very friendly and inviting.

All in all, the con was a great experience with very minor problems once it got going.

InConJunction (Indianapolis, IN; July 6-8)

DWD is not done. George believes writing is an art and he has to find the right words and the right structure and that takes time and some re-writes. He still hopes for seven books.

He may write other stories in the IAF world that take places 100's of years before or 100's of years after.

He is a student of popular history and likes the story aspect of them. But he does like the sensation of not knowing what is going to happen next.

His experience in television influences the way IAF is written through act breaks that hook the readers.

Wildcards too was a training ground for ASOIAF. IAF is a Wildcards mosaic novel with George telling all the parts.

About the HBO series. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are writing the screenplay. They have written the first draft of the pilot and have sent it to HBO for revision. There will be twelve hours worth of shows and George will write one hour. As for it all actually happening, George has not yet "bought the couch" meaning it is definitely not set in stone.

There are plans for nine D+E stories covering their whole life.

The concept of heroes and villains is a false dichotomy, in George's opinion. Real human beings are a mixture of good and evil.

All the characters are in danger.

There will be no gods on stage in the books and the reader will have to decide whether there are gods or not.

Once the books are done, we will have such a detailed description of Robert's Rebellion that a prequel will not be necessary or at least have little suspense.

The challenge with IAF is that he has to publish each book as it is written so he doesn't get to go back and edit earlier volumes like he would if had won the lottery.

I asked Ran's question about the King of Mountain and Vale [how they came to fall under the rule of the Targaryens] and George told me to keep reading for that one.

Opus Fantasy Festival (Denver, CO; May 25-27)

The Con was O.K.. I enjoyed sitting and listening to Mr. Martin talk for a couple of hours. I felt sorry for him. Like he was a goldfish ina bowl up there on at a table alone. oh well, I think his voice is strangely interesting to listen to. He has some good stories, and is very intelligent.

As far as notes go, I only wrote down a few things:

Every time the HBO thing was brought up he stressed the fact that there are a thousand things that could derail the train before it hits the station. Long and short of it is not to expect anything for at least 2 years.

George is doing an appearance on "Second Life". A virtual reading where he appears as Tyrion. That sounds interesting, except I have worked very hard not to spoil myself on the next book before it is out. If he is reading a new chapter then I don't want to hear it.

One small note, that I am sure he has done before, is that he made sure to add the "I hope" line after saying that he will finish Song of Ice and Fire in 7 books. Not that that says anything.

Comic-Con (New York City, NY; February 23-25)

[Note: The following is a response from Parris, George's partner, regarding the Comic-Con reports which seemed to believe the pilot was greenlit.]

I hate to have to tell you this, but the reports coming out of ComicCon that the pilot for HBO's GEORGE RR MARTIN'S 'A SONG OF ICE & FIRE: A GAME OF THRONES' will be filmed in the summer of 2007 are wildly optimistic.

Here's the current status of HBO GRRMs' ASoI&F:AGOT as far as we know today, Februrary 27th, 2007.

The writers/producers, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, are, as all writers who are WGA members must, waiting for the formal contracts, deals, and options to be completed. Then they'll begin work on the first major draft of the pilot script.

Once that first draft is finished, they'll submit it to HBO and then, sometime, maybe in a week, maybe in a month, they'll get Notes.

Then they'll do a second draft, and repeat the process until HBO is satisified and gives them the green light to start pre-production.

So let me clarify for everyone, that there is not much of a possibility that we'll see even the beginning of pre-production this summer.

David Benioff and his wife, Amanda Peet, just celebrated the birth of their first child, born on Feb 20th.

I'd also like to correct an earlier post about WILD CARDS - Melinda Snodgrass has developed an independent new script based in the Wild Cards universe. But it is not for a televison series.

Comic-Con (New York City, NY; February 23-25)

My first stop was the George R. R. Martin session. He began things by stating the rules: no asking who dies, what happens at the end, and when the next book is coming out. He announced that they're re-releasing his book The Armageddon Rag (the book that "nearly ended" his career and sent him to exile in Hollywood). He also announced that Tor will be releasing three new Wildcards books. And, of course, he announced (for anyone who didn't already know it) the deal with HBO to do a set of Song of Ice and Fire miniseries. The one difference in this announcement is that while the original stories that came out indicated that the miniseries would be produced for sometime next decade to coincide with the ending of the heptology, Martin today indicated that the producers were working on a pilot episode now with the intent that HBO would pick it up and start on season one next year. He is very, very happy about the HBO deal, btw, gushing over the quality of television that HBO is producing and saying this was really the only good choice for getting Song produced in the visual media.

Some other bits of info from Q&A: In Song, he considers Bran the hardest viewpoint character to write, while Tyrion is the easiest. The Red Wedding was partly based on a historical event in Scotland called the Black Dinner. His biggest lament in splitting A Feast for Crows from A Dance with Dragons is the parallels he was drawing between Circe and Daenerys. He credits the creative success on Wildcards to the system that they put in place, making all authors sign an agreement at the outset and establishing a point system that gave creators extra distribution of profits for use of their characters in the works of other authors (thus encouraging them to let others play with their creations, making the shared universe cohesive).