Category Archives: writers

Humour In Epic Fantasy: A Look at Game of Thrones



With Season 3 of Game of Thrones just begun, I took advantage of my maternity leave to sit down and watch the whole of Season 2 over the last few days. As I did, I had cause to ask myself a question.

Why am I watching this?

Let’s face it, Game of Thrones is marvellously well done, but the story is downright depressing. I’ve read the books as well as watched the TV series, and I remember being desperately angry when I discovered I had to wait for Dance of Dragons. I bought it as soon as it was released, and 18 months later I’ve not read it.

Why not?

I remember almost nothing of the books, except that everyone dies. It’s as bad as a Shakespeare tragedy. Most of the characters are rotten, and there’s slim pickings when it comes to admirable characters. Every time you actually do decide whose side you should be on, that person gets the sword. I’m reduced to rooting for Tyrion Lannister who, despite being a Lannister, appears to be one of the nicer characters. He’s been hard done by as a child, unloved by his family, not to mention unvalued for the skills he actually does have, and appears to have a decent stab at being a good Hand of the King. He’s not perfect, he’s definitely self-interested, and he plays politics for the sake of it, but he has the basic decency to be revolted by the notion of killing babies.

And on top of that, he’s funny.

In fact, without the humour injected by Tyrion, I wonder would I watch the series? Without him, there is precious little uplifting about the story. A throne under contention. Good men, like Ned Stark, dying. Monsters like Joffrey in command. Babes torn from their mothers’ arms and murdered. Rape, and pillage, and greed, and dead men walking south from the Wall, and there’s no one I can point to who can save the day. No hero.

Epic fantasy does tend to run to grim, with worlds under threat, and lives in the balance. Most aren’t as grim as Game of Thrones. More usually the hopes of everyone, including the reader, are pinned on the likes of Rand al’Thor or Richard Rahl. With heroes to light the way, to give hope, there’s something to keep us reading past all the horror and fear. In fact, it’s the assurance that someone will save the day that entices many readers of fantasy; an assurance not present in the real world.

Even then, I sometimes find myself taking a break from the doom and gloom of a world under threat to read another genre, or to lose myself in the light-hearted comic relief of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

Humour can be important in epic fantasy. A moment of levity can be used to highlight the horrors or to offer the reader relief from them. It’s not a necessary element of every fantasy, and Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth has been successful without much in the way of humour, but it can be a useful part of the fantasy writer’s toolkit to avoid depressing the reader to the point where they don’t see the point in reading on.

When writing a story as depressing as Game of Thrones, I’d argue it may be downright critical.

Do you watch Game of Thrones? Do you like Tyrion? How many of the other characters did you like – and how many of them are now dead?

How important do you think the humour is in Game of Thrones?

Arya Stark – one of the few other likeable characters

A Writer’s Need For Validation

Validation


Every writer needs validation. If I’m wrong, and there’s one somewhere who doesn’t, we’ve never heard of him and he’s never shown his work to anyone. 

I’m not criticising this need. I am a writer, after all, and therefore I, too, need validation. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Writing is a solitary business, and it’s a hard and lonely business to bleed one’s soul all over the page in a room on one’s own. Social media has remedied this to some degree, giving writers the comfort and support of a network of like-minded souls who ‘get it’, but it’s not a complete salve. 

Writing is, at its heart, an act of creation. In that sense it is akin to pregnancy and birth. 

I was once remonstrated for saying my pregnancy was so hellish it seriously made me reconsider wanting more children. Apparently this meant I somehow didn’t appreciate my daughter. I replied no, the only thing worse than having gone through my pregnancy to get a baby would have been going through it to get nothing.

Similarly, how soul-destroying is it to go through the painful process of writing fiction and have nothing at the end of it?

Sure, you always have the completed work, but that’s not enough, is it? We don’t just want to stick it in a drawer and let it gather dust. We want people to know we wrote it, we want them to read it, and most of all, we want them to like it.

Writers who seek traditional publishing want their validation in the form of approval by a publisher – someone thought my work was good enough to invest their money in and take a chance on it! You can’t deny the ego stroke in that. 

Why do these writers need someone else to say their work is good enough? Why can’t they just look at it and know it’s good? I’m one of these writers, and I would hazard a guess it’s because we have all, at some point, looked upon a work of ours that we once thought was fantastic and wanted to burn it so no one else would ever read our shame. ‘Good’ is subjective. We can only assess if a work is good as against our current standard. What was our best work ‘at the time’, will in the future, when we improve, become merely ‘OK’ or even ‘bad’. We crave someone else’s approval because we can’t trust our own judgement. 

There’s a quote that says something to the effect of the stupid have boundless self-confidence, while the intelligent or talented are riddled with self-doubt. I suspect that’s because the intelligent or talented know enough to recognise their own shortcomings, and so question themselves constantly. This probably circles back to the four stages of learning, and I suspect it’s why a good writer (of any publishing stripe) so desperately needs validation. 

I’ve heard it said in self-publishing circles that self-published authors don’t need validation; but they do. It doesn’t arrive in the same form as for traditionally published authors, but self-published authors still crave it and need it. Validation in the self-publishing industry comes in the form of book sales, five star reviews, and industry recognition. For the lucky few, it might come in the form of invitations to speak at conferences, or even an offer of a publishing contract. Make no mistake, a publishing contract is the ultimate validation for a self-published author, even if they don’t accept. The author is then in the position to say ‘I’m good enough that you wanted me, but I made it this far on my own, and I don’t need you.’

We’re all the same, at our heart, no matter which way we choose to publish. We have fragile egos, and we spend so much of ourselves in our work we often no longer have the defences necessary to protect ourselves from a cold, harsh reality. We fear rejection, and no publishing path is free of rejection, it’s only the form of rejection that changes. 

We need each other, for support, for encouragement, to keep us going and motivated until we get the validation we need.
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