Monday, April 23, 2012

Immersion for Learning

My immersion in the A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin continues. While sick with the flu for the last couple of weeks, it was wonderful to be able to spend most of the time reading the various instalments as they came to hand. The local library with the first three, the bookshop with Parts Four (cover illustrated) and Five.

Reading and re reading. I think I mentioned in my previous post how for my first read I skipped through a Part to follow particular characters. In Part Two there are at least ten protagonists.

The above strategy made it easier to enjoy the story as Martin meant it to be followed, the second time through. With the third and fourth re reads, I finally got the stage where I could begin to appreciate the various aspects of writing craft that I'm always on the lookout for.

Such as world building. The action in A Song of Ice and Fire ranges over a hugely detailed world but Martin does not do info-dumping, the bad thing that some writers do to get detail across. My example could've been any of hundreds of instances, Martin is so good at this.

Asha is at home on the Iron Islands, visiting her uncle at the Ten Towers castle. (p 181, Part Four).

"It was good to walk these halls again. Ten Towers had always felt like home to Asha, more so than Pyke. Not one castle, ten castles squashed together, she had thought, the first time she had seen it. She remembered breathless races up and down the steps and along wallwalks and covered bridges, fishing off the Long Stone Quay, days and nights lost amongst her uncle's wealth of books. His grandfather's grandfather had raised the castle, the newest on the isles. Lord Theomore Harlaw had lost three sons in the cradle and laid the blame upon the flooded cellars, damp stones, and festering nitre of ancient Harlaw Hall. Ten Towers was airier, more comfortable, better sited ... but Lord Thoemore was a changeable man, as any of his wives might have testified. He'd had six of those, as dissimilar as his ten towers."

The first few sentences tell us of the castle as a function of Asha's experience of it. The italicised section by the way,  "Not one castle, ten castles squashed together", is how Martin signals direct thought. By the time we read down to "His grandfather's grandfather" we're being led into Harlaw history at the same time as discovering why the castle has ten towers and how dissimilar they are.

The historical detail might seem a bit superfluous until reading on to page 188, we find, what I presume, the original Harlaw Hall still being used, "Damp, decaying ..." belonging now to one "Sigfryd Harlaw the Silverhair.

Dribbling information into a story is only one of the things I'm learning about while reading this series.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Immersion Reading in The Song of Ice and Fire

Following my enthralment to the TV series Game of Thrones (and this is not the second series which is playing as of now in the US) I began, as soon as I could get my hands on Part One, reading A Song of Ice and Fire, the books that the TV series is based on.

The illustration is of Part Two, a brick of a read of 873 pages that will not let go. Never in my life have I read one series so constantly and for so long. I think I'm in my third week of close attention to Parts One, Two and the first half of Three. Which is only half of the whole.

It is probably possible to read a book right through. I haven't found it the best way for me. With twelve or fifteen viewpoint characters, I quickly started leafing through the book and getting continuity of each character in turn, or each couple of characters. For example, it was fairly easy and propitious to read Sansa's story and Tyrion's at the same time in Part Three, first half.

There's no problem yet in reading Daenerys's story separate from the others, it doesn't intersect very much yet with any of the others. The same with Jon Snow's adventures, though to get the fine detail on the interaction of the Stark's dire wolves, I also had to have Bran's part handy.

After I did the same thing with the first half of Part Three, I had to go back to Part Two for more detail. Lucky I still had them both on hand. There's a long line of reserves at the local library to wait through before I can get the second half of Part Three.

I wondered about the increasing size of the books. I remember that blow-out happening with the Harry Potter books as well.

However, I discovered with pleasure that Martin is an exquisitely courteous writer. Sol Stein, in one of his how-to books, named courtesy as a necessity in the relationship authors seek to have with their readers. One of the courtesies invoked by Martin is his practice of reminding readers of what went before. Essential in such a complex ongoing story as this one, with so many viewpoint characters. Take this example in Part Three of Catelyn talking with her son Robb, the King of the North (163):

"Any man Grey Wind mislikes is a man I do not want close to you. These wolves are more than wolves, Robb. You must know that. I think perhaps the gods sent them to us. Your father's gods, the old gods of the north. Five wolf pups, Robb, five for five Stark children."

"Six," said Robb. "There was a wolf for Jon as well. I found them, remember? I know how many there were and where they came from. I used to think the same as you, that the wolves were our guardians, our protectors, until ..."

This whole section says nothing much new, but says it all in a new way, largely by Catelyn, who in Part One didn't believe in the old gods and who felt like an outsider in the Winterfell godwood, giving readers another aspect of her character arc as well as reminding them of the mythology around the dire wolves.

Part Two and Three are full of that kind of reminders; that add to knowledge about the character under consideration, as well as serving as a place where to weave in new world building/background facts.

For me, this courtesy by Martin is a big part of what makes A Song of Ice and Fire such an amazing reading experience.

Monday, April 2, 2012

I'm Celebrating a Little ...

I'm celebrating a little with a couple of days of catching up with mail, blogs and real life after finishing my latest draft of Monster-Moored, my speculative fiction novel set in a 22nd century Byron Bay and hinterland. It will be the first part of zig zag sequence taking us all over the country, or as it is in the novels, all over the Australia Archipelago.