Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Bitter Truth: Everyone has an Off Day

Written By: Jessica Morrell - May• 26•13

Let’s say that he should go out and hang himself because he finds that writing well is impossibly difficult. Then he should be cut down without mercy and forced by his own self to write as well as he can for the rest of his life. At least he will have the story of the hanging to commence with.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

    If you’re a writer you know that some writing days are better than others. And sometimes a writing session is deflating or sucky. Those days when all the caffeine in the world won’t help your brain catch fire. If you’re smart, you’ll just keep writing, keep trudging along.

A few weeks ago I watched an episode of HBO’s The Game of Thrones called The Bear and the Fair Maiden. In the final scenes a woman knight was tossed into a pit with a grizzly bear. The real thing. I won’t tell you what happens in case you’re watching the series, but the story ended with one subplot advancing and a character arc changing. However, in the rest of the episode, not much happened.

The Game of Thrones  is based on George R.R. Martin’s wildly successful Songs of Fire and Ice series. It is an epic fantasy and makes for good television. In the fiction series Martin has created a world that is so fully imagined and intricate that you feel like you’re living alongside the characters, eating the coarse breads and gristly meats they chow down on, waging battles, enduring privations, and having your head bashed and heart broken. This series has taught me that the best way to create tension and suspense is to make readers aware that no character is safe. That is, Martin will maim and kill our favorite characters, destroy families and dynasties and slaughter innocents. All in the name of story.

There are a lot of writers and directors who work on this series which juggles multiple storylines and has a gigantic cast. Martin writes one episode each season. In most of the episodes, the many kingdoms and players, with their many agendas {most to attain the Throne of Westeros} are inched back and forth with the skill of a chess master. It’s all about the endgame and who plays the game well. The series features character arcs, twists, and zigzags that will bring on writer envy.

However, this was an episode where only few of the chess pieces moved since it was setting up for the finale; where a torture scene that went on much too long, became creepy, and gratuitous until it was like a bad torture porn movie; where corny lines were delivered {my god is death} and some repeated; and character development wasn’t happening much until the aforementioned climatic moment. All in all it was clumsy and too heavy on romance and nudity. Luckily it featured a nice drumbeat of doom underlying all. Did I mention Martin is known for doom?

So take comfort writers who are having a bad day, a bad week. Even the greats don’t always get it right.

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  1. Some days writing reminds me of my recuperation from a major illness. There’s a zig-zag recovery process of good, better, not-so-great, and better-but-not-as-good-as-yesterday. I don’t think two days are ever exactly the same but in retrospect I see overall improvement. 🙂

  2. Thanks, as ever, for your terrifyingly knowledgeable recap, Laura. This episode’s a bit weird: The two installments that series creator George R.R. Martin has written previously (season one’s “The Pointy End” and season two’s “Blackwater”) were the strongest hours of their seasons. But this one, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” didn’t feel that way. I suspect that’s because the series is starting to get bogged down in the same stuff—a million characters, a whole lot of incremental plot advancements—that can make Martin’s books sometimes feel like a slog. Seeing as how Martin wrote it, it probably shouldn’t have surprised me that this episode was dominated by one of his favorite themes: the deflated sense of human frailty demonstrated by characters doing things even though they should really know better.

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