Tag Archives: game of thrones

Newton vs. the Machine

“To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.” –Isaac Newton

Deus Ex Machina: “A person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

At Drinking Café Latte at 1pm, I discuss a range of topics that are interesting to me, but I spend most of my energy writing about writing, or stories, or the tools that make either one easier on me. Today, I want to discuss a matter that addresses a little of everything.

As a periodic novelist, meaning I binge write between periods of general inactivity thanks to the juggling of large projects that require extensive amounts of my time, thought process, and dedicated memory (the lattermost of which I’m usually on short supply these days), I care about telling good stories, and that means I care about understanding what it takes to make a story good—no, great!

One of my consistent challenges with every story I write is figuring out its inciting incident, the moment of opportunity that kicks off the drama, why it should play as the opening gong to a crazy tale of intrigue, revenge, or ridiculousness (for example), and what to do once that action is in motion.

The concept of inciting story through an event should be straightforward. If you think about the movie The Terminator, for example, you may say that the inciting event is the moment when the hero, Kyle Reese, transports to 1984 Los Angeles from a bleak 2029 future, where the robots have already taken over (which given Boston Dynamics’s running and jumping robots, and Google’s new AI hair appointment scheduler, and, well, robots that run for public office, we may still be on track for this bleak robot-ruled future—yay!), to locate and protect the mother of the future resistance, Sarah Connor.

What follows is a series of dramatic events that leads Kyle to Sarah, leads the Terminator to Sarah, leads the characters to all sorts of conflicts and romance (the romantic part involving Kyle and Sarah, not either one and the Terminator—that would be a different kind of story), all toward a blistering conclusion where Sarah must protect Kyle from the Terminator and ultimately defeat it. Did I mention she’s just a waitress when the movie begins? By the end, she’s serving robot destruction on a platter and then rides off into the stormy sunset with the future leader of the resistance in her belly. If you haven’t seen it, you should, even though I just spoiled the whole thing. Spoiler Alert! Never mind. You’ve had nearly 35 years to catch up.

For a more recent example, I’ve finally started watching Game of Thrones late last year, after everyone I know has basically told me the whole plot in one form or another (and I will probably read the books at some point), and I’m currently reaching the end of Season 2, the final episode being the one episode I’ve already seen, back when it was still new, and clearly didn’t understand because I hadn’t seen any of the ones before it, so I’m essentially already caught up through that season. Even though I wasn’t much of a fan in the beginning (and I’m still kind of above meh about it if I’m being honest), the dramatic turns it takes is beginning to grow on me, enough for me to start thinking about how all of the chaos in Westeros begins. Now, we know that the story actually begins in the ages prior to the start of what we see (or read), as any story would, but the really crazy stuff begins with the invitation Ned Stark receives from his best friend, King Robert Baratheon, to serve as his Hand, or more specifically, when Ned accepts the invitation.

Ah, there it is: the inciting incident. Even though a lot is happening in this first part of the story, the real drama throughout the series kicks off with Ned’s decision to move down to King’s Landing to serve as the king’s Hand (an important position if you’re not keeping score), a decision that, while noble, through many actions and reactions becomes the undoing of him and his family.

And, it’s these actions and reactions that keep the momentum of the story moving. Eddard Stark (Ned) makes a series of righteous decisions, but in the depraved world of Westeros, and specifically in the depraved House Lannister, the righteous are punished, and so, too, is Ned. By the end of the second season (and the book, I believe), House Stark is fractured so horribly that the kids are long separated from safety, and their home turf, Winterfell, is vulnerable to sieges, the latter of which would never happen under Ned Stark’s watch, had he refused the invitation. His righteous loyalty to his best friend, the king, is a noble choice that, through action and reaction, also proves a deadly one.

That’s interesting, right?

What makes the story more interesting is the fact that the family is scattered because Ned Stark is foolish enough to remain loyal to his best friend, Robert Baratheon, the king, even after Robert dies, leaving his son, Joffrey (the brattiest and most disturbed kid on television), king. By doing the right thing (which is the wrong thing in the Lannisters’ eyes), Ned is given the ultimate punishment, and his family, by proxy, is upended.

Now, Ned is the hero of the opening act (the whole first season of the show, and I believe the whole first book, called A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1), and any author who wants to keep his hero ahead of the villains will construct the story in such a way that Ned gets out of his predicament with the new king, Joffrey, in some clever or fantastical way. But George R.R. Martin doesn’t do that. Rather than pull a genie out of a hat, the deus ex machina way, producing an earthquake or a meteor or something to disrupt the public execution that Ned finds himself faced with, giving him a chance to escape with his family to “safety”—in the world of Game of Thrones, there no such place as safety—Martin lets his protagonist die. Yep. Axe, chop, dead. Action and reaction. The hero finds himself in an unwinnable situation, thanks to the polar shifts of positive and negative in each scene, and succumbs to his failure in the climactic event. The story’s not over, of course, far from it, but Ned’s part in the story ends via the chain reaction he ignites by accepting his role as Hand of the King.

According to Robert McKee, author of Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, a story works according to how well its scenes shift in polarity. In other words, a story moves according to whether the scene ends in a different place from where it begins: a positive becomes a negative or a double-positive; a negative becomes a positive or a double-negative (not to be confused with a double negative in grammar, which I can’t not recommend you use in writing). It also depends on the narrative arc of each scene—inciting incident, rising action, etc.—but I’ll save that discussion for another time. What matters here is that every action in story has an equal and opposite reaction.

Deus ex machina ignores that structure, and that’s why readers hate it. It breaks the story.

You may be a writer; or not. I think this discussion is important, however, because it helps to know why stories work, even if you have no interest in writing one. Sometimes we see a movie or read a book and we know we don’t enjoy it, even though we can’t figure out why. We often say, “It’s okay,” or “It’s lame,” or “I’d rather go fishing in a sewer pipe than watch that garbage again,” but we don’t know what about the story drives us to think that way.

Often we can figure it out based on how well people act and react to the narrative arcs they’re given. In The Terminator, when Sarah Connor sees the rifle in Kyle Reese’s hand as he enters the night club, she could immediately scream, kick him in the balls, and run out of there, right into the arms of the Terminator itself. Just as easily, Kyle could refuse to utter the film’s other famous line, “Come with me if you want to live,” giving Sarah no cause to trust him with her life. Sure, these things could happen (or fail to happen as the case may be), and Sarah may still somehow survive the night. But, chances are, to survive, she would need a little deus ex machina on her side, like the Terminator accidentally triggering a button that causes it to self-destruct, for example, and James Cameron, the film’s writer and director, is smarter than that. No, he writes his characters in such a way that they must do specific things in action and reaction to other specific things, in order to reach a point in the story where a specific thing can either lead the characters to victory or doom them to failure.

Fortunately, James Cameron decided to make his hero, Kyle Reese, a noble guy who does the right thing. Unfortunately, Kyle’s noble act also gets him killed.

A bit of a sidebar, but what is it with righteousness and death? That’s another discussion for another day, but certainly worth thinking about.

Anyway, next time you read or watch anything, see if each event naturally progresses from the last, and if it gets there through sensible action and reaction of its characters, or if an act of divine intervention moves it forward. For that matter, see if it happens in real life. If you ask your girlfriend to marry you, see what happens next.

Please subscribe to my blog if you want to keep hearing stories like these. You might even learn something.

P.S. It seems all of the main places and characters in Game of Thrones are so well-known that my Microsoft Word spellchecker automatically accepts them as proper spellings. Hilarious.

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Friday Update #12: The Tale of an Entrepreneur: The Beginning

So, here’s the first Friday Update in four months. Are you surprised? Let’s just say news often happens in chunks, not spurts. You can watch the real news to see that that’s true. But you didn’t come here for real news, did you?

With that in mind, let’s begin our semi-occasional Friday Update for this week.

Book Review Blitz

In my previous post, about two months ago (sorry!), I said I was doing a review blitz on books I’ve read in the recent past, and I had planned to launch it soon. Well, I do have reviews queued up, and I think they’re pretty ready for public reading, but I don’t have nearly as many as I’d like for the blitz, so that’s still in progress. Much of the delay is due to distraction mainly, but also to quality of life. I do things based on whether I can do them well, and whether they’ll be worth my time and yours. Even as I write about the books I’ve read, I have to wonder how many of these books you would want to read, and whether the statements I might say about them would resonate in some profound way. When I review something, I want to give more than just my opinion. I want to give feedback, in case the author should ever stumble across my site. So, I’m checking for quality, of course, but I’m also checking for impact. I want to make sure I’m not wasting my time or the time of my readers. So, it’s been going slowly.

Therefore, I want to revise my previous title, “Book Review Blitz Coming” to a new title, “Book Review Blitz Coming Sometime.” Take note.

The Avengers: Infinity War

The new Avengers movie comes out today. I want to see it. I won’t likely get to go today. Probably not tomorrow, either. But, I want to see it. So, don’t spoil it. Seriously, hush on the spoilers, people. The Internet won’t break if you hold your “aw, dang!” tongues for a little while. That is all.

Oh, and if you liked The Avengers: Infinity War, don’t forget that I still have two massive Game of Thrones sized volumes of superhero fiction available at Barnes & Noble for $6.99 each. (I won’t be putting them on Amazon until I rewrite them as individual novels.) They’re also available on Apple iBooks and Kobo.

The first is Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One.

The second is Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two.

The third, Alpha Red: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Three, won’t be released as an annual unless the first two get enough readers to justify me releasing it. So far, I’m nowhere near the readership that would make that decision reasonable. But that can change! It’s up to you to make that happen.

To be clear, these are e-books only. If you buy them, make sure you have a device you can read them on. Smashwords provides multiple formats if you aren’t sure what will work for you.

Gone from the Happy Place

I’ve resumed production on Gone from the Happy Place by adding a new first chapter, and I’ll keep adding new chapters until I’m satisfied with the story I want to tell. I don’t want to spoil anything at this time, but in the new version, we’ll get to spend more time with Anston and Alice in their respective elements before the explosive moment that their lives converge, giving us more time to appreciate them as individuals, and more time to dread what may follow. If you’re a thriller reader, this should sound like a positive. To all you romance readers who somehow found my site, well, people still kiss, so…

I have no ETA on when the book will be ready for the public, but I will likely release it in this order:

  • E-book (Amazon only)
  • Drinking Café Latte at 1pm (serial)
  • Ebook (Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo)
  • Paperback (through CreateSpace and Ingram Spark)
  • Audiobook (if sales on the other formats are significant enough to warrant it)

Normally I’d want to release the title on all formats at the same time. And, in a future time when I have lots and lots of money to roll around in like Scrooge McDuck, I will. But, in my efforts to rebrand myself with an actual brand, I need to lay some new tracks to give myself the opportunity to have better launches and better IPs, so until I can claim all of the resources I need to do this right, I’ll be staggering the release through specific channels that won’t complicate things for me or the book down the road.

The thing about Amazon’s e-books is that they don’t require an ISBN, so I can upload it without compromising my brand. Later, when I have the packaging the way I want (the cover I release with, shown below, will likely be temporary until I can afford a legit cover artist), I’ll rerelease it, and I’ll do so with the other formats. By that point, I should be able to afford my own ISBNs and not have to rely on the freebies that tie my book to the identity of the distributor rather than me. I want them related to me and my company.

gone from the happy place concept 3

Once I have the means to produce the other elements properly, I’ll do so. When this happens depends on how much and how quickly the money comes in. Again, readers can help speed up this process by voting with their wallets.

Regarding the Drinking Café Latte at 1pm serial, I’ve wanted to try releasing at least one of my books as a weekly serial, to see if I can get new readers, and this will be the book I do that for.

For those who haven’t been keeping up, Gone from the Happy Place is the book that will replace The Computer Nerd as the story I want to tell about a marriage gone wacky, not the story I did tell. When I wrote and released The Computer Nerd in 2015, I was racing a self-imposed deadline, and trying to maintain a book-a-month release cycle, which really isn’t my style, and one I’d ditched by mid-2016. I’d broken rules that I generally keep for myself in order to get it to the public in a timely manner, and even though it was fine, that’s all it was. When my first review came back with one star, I knew I’d made a mistake racing it out the gate. Sometimes you do want to take your time with a project before offering it to the world, which is what I usually do with my projects. It’s the reason you haven’t seen a new release out of me since 2016 and only three updates to stories I’d released back in 2015. All indie artists should take note that patience is worth it, as long as that patience produces results.

Entrepreneur: The Beginning

Okay, so that’s not the only reason you haven’t seen a new release out of me since 2016. As some of you may know, I also have a computer game I’ve been working on, on the side, called Entrepreneur: The Beginning, and I’ve been putting a lot of work into it this past year. I may post a separate article about it soon, but the scope of my work since about this time last year has been to rewrite the handcrafted code I’d been using since 2009 to use templates and machine-thinking instead.

I’ve wanted to make my own games since I was a kid, but because I’d never learned programming properly, I had to find premade engines to help me along. The engine I use for this game, OHRRPGCE, is made by one developer, maintained by two, and in a constant state of catching up with other engines built by larger teams. I use it because the language is simple, and it is something that I, as a writer, can easily understand. However, because it’s written for accessibility, to simplify the coding process for non-programmers like me, much of the scripting language is built from the ground up and doesn’t yet include many of the conventions that proper programmers would use in their programs. This means that some of the shortcuts I’d need to build this game quickly aren’t there, and even if they were, I’d have to learn about them because I’m not a programmer, and good programming practice is something I hadn’t learned until about a year ago, eight years after I’d started the game.

So, I’ve been spending the last year trying to practice good programming etiquette, and that means rewriting all of the mess I’d made in the years before. It’s the programming equivalent of cleaning out or cleaning up a junkyard all by yourself. It takes time, patience, and a little bit of strategy. In a future article, I may talk more about the experience and how it relates to art, writing, etc., and how such practices could be adopted for all elements in life. We’ll see how that goes.

If you want to read more about this game and keep up with its progress, you can check out the series of posts I make about it here at “Entrepreneur Central.” One of these days I’ll give it a proper website with a proper online version of the journal I keep about it. Unlike this blog, I keep up with the journal, writing in it every day that I work on the game.

The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky

The novel-sized update for The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky is coming along well. The new opening sequence that takes place during Johnny’s childhood is nearly finished (or, at least the first draft is). I still have a few scenes to write for his teenage years, but I expect to have the new first act finished soon. In this section, we learn how Johnny gets the duck and why he’s so attached to it. We also get to spend time with his semi-dysfunctional family, and who doesn’t want that?

I’ll be keeping the original novelette online indefinitely, but for those who want the complete story of what happens to Johnny before and after the events in the current version, the novel should satisfy that itch.

I may post a clip from the rewrite soon. Stay tuned.

Snow in Miami

Yep, Snow in Miami is still under construction, four months after Christmas and eight months before next Christmas. It’s nearly finished though. I still expect to have it done and released by September. Did you forget I was writing it?

So, that should cover the latest updates on upcoming events and current delays. I’ll come back soon with more information as it develops. Keep reading, folks. Or start reading. Do whatever’s more relevant.

Please subscribe to my blog if you want to keep hearing stories like these. You might even learn something.