Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Targeting a Readership Part 16, Plotters, Pantsers and Game of Thrones

Targeting a Readership
Part 16
Plotters, Pantsers and Game of Thrones

Previous entries in this series are indexed at:


So now here is an article in Wired Magazine which is by an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies, Daniel Silvermint, and addresses the infamous 8th Season of Game of Thrones


Long-standing threats are being dispatched too easily, and plot threads we thought would matter have been quietly dropped. More troubling still, character motivations appear to be in a state of flux, and much of the drama involves clever people committing obvious blunders and suffering reversals of fortune as a result.
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All of the issues listed in that quote will always arise when a writer shifts, changes, forgets, or just plain ditches a THEME mid-writing.  A major rewrite has to be done to give the ending material the same theme as the opening material.

So the Wired article advances this idea:

It all comes down to how stories are crafted, and for that, we need to start with two different types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters create a detailed outline before they commit a word to the page. Pantsers prefer to discover the story as they write it—flying by the seat of their pants, so to speak.
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I understand both these creative styles because I was taught the craft by a pantser, though I rarely employ that method.  I suspect both these definitions miss a vital point.

My instructor worked from a detailed conceptualization of the thematic structure of the piece she was crafting, but seemed to have no conscious idea of what that theme was or what she wanted to say about it.  She followed her characters into the story to see what they'd do, and to be surprised by what they did.

Following your characters by the seat of your pants is somewhat like great conversation.  We often talk "off the cuff" without seeming to plan what to say even as the words flow out of our mouths.  We know the language, and use the knowledge of the "grammar" of language (even as children, long before studying grammar) to place words together.  We craft sentences to say what we mean without thinking about grammar, just about what we mean.

And so it is with both plotters and pantsers.  Plotters write it down, and pantsers don't -- and that's the only difference.

The writer gets inside the Character and runs into the World to see what happens next.  Those who write down detailed outlines often find the Characters take over and run in an unplanned direction.  Those who don't write anything down find the Characters just stop and look at the writer wondering what to do next.

Either way, writing is not about plotting any more than conversation is about grammar.

The process of writing a story is about communicating the theme.

If you change what you are saying, or which side of an argument you are espousing, right in the middle of dinner table conversation, you sound like a hypocrite, or maybe just an idiot.

If you change what you are saying with a story in the middle of writing it, you lose your target readership just as surely as the espouser of a Cause will lose the nodding heads at the dinner table conversation.

Again from
 blog entry:

Martin planned to skip the story ahead five years. But he couldn't make the gap in action feel true to the characters or the world, so he eventually decided to write his way through those five years instead. Knowing the bridging material wasn't ever going to be as gripping as the central conflicts, he compensated by planting more seeds in more corners of his already complex world. And once he had them, he couldn't prune them back without their resolutions feeling abrupt or forced. Worse, some of his idle characters were taking the opportunity to grow in the wrong directions, pulling away from the ending he had in mind for them. Soon, the garden was overgrown, the projected length of the series kept expanding, and the books stopped coming.

For the next couple seasons, showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss tried to take over management of Martin's sprawling garden, simplifying and combining character arcs with mixed results.
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Trust me, read that whole blog entry to glean the context while thinking in terms of THEME.

In TV, when other writers mix in, other themes get introduced.  This tussle with Characters and Seeds, and conflicts and characters growing in the wrong direction is not dozens of different problems.  It is one problem all by itself -- loss of focus on the thematic structure.  What that world is about, is what makes a statement about this world.

Theme is the fabric that holds all those disparate characters together into a world of art that satisfies.

When opposite or oblique thematic statements are introduced, different segments of the audience become agitated, dissatisfied, disinterested, or just angry.

Study thematic structure from a philosophical point of view -- what is a human being, where do we come from, how did we get created, what is the meaning of life?

These are the kinds of questions that, when answered, form the framework of a work of art.

Changing horses in mid-stream does not lead to a work of art.

Or as this blog entry

That's why Game of Thrones feels different now. A show that had been about our inability to escape the past became about the spectacle of the present.
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And later, it is stated:
Organic consequences gave way to contrivance. Gone was the conflict between complicated people with incompatible goals. Grey morality turned black and white.
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The only way organic consequences give way to contrivance is when the underlying THEMATIC STRUCTURE is weakened.  Stick to your theme and you'll never write a "contrived plot twist."

Maybe you'll want to watch the whole Game of Thrones series again, or read the books it is based on, with an eye to sussing out the theme that Martin was working with that the showrunners missed.  I've done panels with Martin, and I'm telling you he understands his material on every level, even when it is his subconscious driving the action.

He is all about the charging forth into action, about strategy and tactics, but most of all force directed.

(He's also a very nice guy.)

So this very popular and easily available series is a perfect textbook example of what we've been talking about in all these blog posts.  Theme is the glue that holds it together for the reader/viewer.  Veer away from the theme driving the opening scene, and the ending fails.

Endings invite us to consider the story as a whole; where it started, where it went, and where it left us. And we can feel the gaps as this one comes to a close.
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Daniel Silvermint is absolutely correct.  Think about that as you tackle your next writing project.  What is your payload?  What are you saying?  Oh, do please read Silvermint's article in Wired.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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