Okay, so I decided to try and re-read GRRM’s A Song of Fire and Ice series.* Now, this series has been a problem for me for a long time, for some reason I can’t quite nail down. As strange as it sounds, it is one of the very, very few instances where I have liked the movie/TV adaptation more than the original books. That being said, however, I have only read a book and a half of the (much longer) series.
*Game of Thrones, to you HBO-series watchers…
Friends of mine keep insisting that the written series picks up in book three…and I love the show…so…well…
Oh, hell. Okay, I’ll give it a try again, goddammit!
Now, my hesitations and problems with the written series aside, I do want to say that Martin handles flawed and “defective” characters very, very well. Hell, one of those flawed and defective characters has a line early in book one that I still find to be full of power and meaning: “I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples, bastards and broken things” (and, yes, that is also the title of one of the HBO Season 1 episodes).
People are broken. Plain and simple, just about every person out there is broken in one way or another. And the few who are completely whole and undamaged? Yeah, I don’t know how to talk to them…
I’ve spent the last 300,000+ words (and countless hours) writing about ghosts…writing about kids that are broken and lost and desperate, kids seen as “trash” and as “wastes” by society at large. Drug addicts and thieves and prostitutes…humanity’s flotsam. That I put them a few centuries into the future, in a space-station analog for the worst parts of LA and New York (and Marseilles and Portsmouth and Rio…) does nothing to change who I am writing about: cripples, bastards and broken things.
But therein lies a challenge for the writer. Well, therein lies the challenge for me, at least. The DockRat series — Connor’s series — is not a happy story. It is the life of a drug-addicted, alcoholic thief…and the prostitute who saved his life. Even as much as Connor is searching for more in the second and third stories, there’s just no way to make his life happy, not and stay true to who he is as a character.
But sometimes it gets to be too much, even for me.
Look, I’ve been open about my own personal struggles with depression and suicide. Yet, in spite of that history, I’m still writing a series in which the 800-pound-gorilla in the story is the suicide of the only person who truly mattered to my protagonist.
On one hand, I need a break. I need to explore other worlds and characters, almost as much as I need to explore different tones and dynamics. You know you’re in pretty deep when you fantasize about what it would be like to write a character for whom the word “fuck” is not an occurrence in every single thought or bit of dialogue.
On the other hand, Connor and Oz are still my favorite characters. They are still the characters that speak most to the deepest parts of me, and that allow me to express the thoughts and opinions and insights that I’m not sure would come with another story.
But that intensity of writing is hard. 300,000 words into their* story, and I think I need to change things up. I need to write something light-hearted. Or, at least, something with characters that are less flawed…
*Hey, even in death, Oz is still my favorite character!
But how do you do that? I’ve tried writing “normal” protagonists before. I’ve tried writing characters that are not cripples, bastards or broken things…and I’ve failed every time. Some of my favorite stories and series had the most “normal” of protagonists, but still I wonder just if I could ever manage to pull off a Garion, or Pug, or Corwin. On the writing side, I’m more in-tune with a Tyrion, or Elric, or…okay, hell, I’ll admit it…who wouldn’t like to read the Arthurian saga from Mordred’s point-of-view?! The despised, rejected bastard son of the supposedly perfect king?
Gah! See? This is my problem! I can’t write Arthur or Lancelot or Gawain, because what I really want to write is Mordred!