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Okay, here's my write up of the Martin panel on characterization. Well, it was about a lot of stuff but mostly characters and points of view.

Please, keep in mind that this is a rough transcript. The description of what was said is as accurate as I could make them typing on my laptop but I had to paraphrase here and there, therefore I'm not using any quotation marks. I'm sure I made errors. So don't write George R.R. Martin and say that you don't understand what he said or you think he screwed the pooch with his Gandalf observation unless you were actually there, m'kay? All errors of style are mine.

The panelists were:

Monica Valentinelli (moderator) (MV) free-lance writer of games and fiction
Sean T. M. Stiennon – (SS) college student, some short fiction and an anthology
Richard Chwedyk – (RC) Nebula winner, short story writer
George R.R. Martin (GRRM)

What sorts of characters do you like to write?

GRRM: I like to write many different kinds of characters – part of the reason my books have multiple viewpoints – people perceive differently. Different POVs allow you to explore all the varieties of humanity – people you can love, loathe, or have mixed feelings about. The goal is to let you understand the characters even if you find them reprehensible.

Do you prefer some over the others?

GRRM: I like all of them when I’m writing them.

I don’t believe in omniscient viewpoints. It gets in the way of understanding the character. The reader must see the world as the character would experience it as they’re living events. The 3rd limited allows closer identification and deeper understanding of how the character sees the world. Once you get inside them the common humanity makes you sympathetic with them.

Did you hate any?

GRRM –The act of writing them makes you like or understand them.

RC (or possibly MV)– Characterization is kind of like method acting, do everything you can to get in the role of the character.

Any way to get into the mood to write?

GRRM – I wish I had something entertaining to describe, but it’s just me in front of the computer, no strange creative rituals.

Different character creation for gaming and fiction?

GRRM – Told a story about a superhero turtle, with many hindrances to improve his armor. Recreated him for Wildcards fiction to make it more interesting.

MV: Challenging in writing game fiction is that I had to imitate powers and game mechanics exactly. Book packagers were demanding that she adhere to game mechanics right down to time spent concentrating and so forth.

GRRM: You can’t just take your games and make fiction of them. Today the most common story sent in to sf/fantasy genre editors is someone who has written up their RPG – often starts with meeting in a tavern. Start a story in a tavern and it’s coming right back to you.

(EEK: Ha! I’ve been saying that on this blog for ages. O ye of little faith!)

RC: I’ve read some of those manuscripts.

SS: Characters have to be beyond a list of traits, they need personality.

GRRM: Would like to write about leper king of Jerusalem – has a lot of empathy for his problems and it’s a fascinating exercise to try to get into his mind. Creation of a character who is not like yourself is very difficult. You have to be able to project yourself into these different kinds of people.

How do the tropes influence your writing?

GRRM: You have to be aware of them but you have to smash them with hammers and make up your own. Tolkien twisted an old cliché of elves (tiny faeries) into something else – met with resistance from his editors at first, arguing over what an elf or dwarf is. Now Tolkien is the cliché. Can’t just regurgitate them you have to do something with them.

RC: Games are open ended – with certain characters I know the ending. There’s a gravestone waiting – there’s a dramatic structure to a story. You’re focusing on a very crucial moment in a characters life and you know the outcome.

MV: Purpose of a game character is to make it playable. In fiction the point is to make it readable and interesting as possible. When I write I don’t know how they’ll play off everyone else.

GRRM: How you experience life is unique to you, and it should be unique to each character. You have to somehow get from inside your body and into theirs – we all see life through one set of eyes, none of us are telepaths, we all have internal monologues – at the same time we’re experiencing the world.

Use of POV has to be structured, has to be under control. Have a reason for switching POVs. The big problem is when you’re switching promiscuously is it’s not clear.

(EEK: I’ve only recently been writing stuff with more than one POV. When I was doing Dragon Strike in scenes where all the dragons were together I would write it from the POV of whichever dragon had the most to win or lose in a scene – whoever has the most at stake.)

MV: A common pitfall of new authors is to try to do too many POVs.

RC: 3rd person omniscient is annoying to read. It’s tough.

Character creation process?

GRRM: Hopefully you know the general shape of your story. Writers generally come in two flavors: architechts and gardeners – gardeners plant a seed which is the character and in the earth which is the world you created and you water it with your blood.

Is it hard to write when a character dies?

GRRM: It can be tough. Hardest chapter I ever wrote was the death of a character – had to skip over it for a long time. Part of the process is emotional – something like grief, because you’re dealing with the grief of the characters who knew the person, also the commercial consequences, what will editor and readers think of this. But it’s good to kill someone off now and then. Tolkien made the wrong choice when he brought Gandalf back. Screw Gandalf. He had a great death and the characters should have had to go on without him.

RC: Death has a strong effect, writing a death’s been murder. Opening scenes leading up to death have been incredibly difficult to write.

GRRM: My books deal with death, but I do try and deal with mourning and grief. There’s a moral component to people who kill.

Horror stories in the 19th century were morality plays, showing how a flaw in a character brings about a tragic downfall. Innocent characters being killed by the horror is a more modern version – we have rules. “The Grudge” doesn’t obey any rules as to the guilt or innocence of who it kills.

RC: SF is a way of looking at the world that isn’t tied to a story or genre structure. There aren’t demands on characters short of space opera.

Favorite character?

GRRM : Tyrion in Ice and Fire. Abner Marsh in Fevre Dream.

Glad to hear you pronounce the names

GRRM: In my youth I had a strong NJ accent, only reader in family, knew a lot of words that I had never heard spoken aloud. When I went away to college I found I was pronouncing a lot of these words wrong. I came to not care much about pronunciation. Pronounce the names of my characters however you like.

There are dangers in being a gardener, the story can run away from you – Shakespeare had to kill Mercutio because he was taking over play.

RC: Has a character who thinks of herself as a background character in revolt against being a background character.

How important is religion and myth in your stories?

GRRM: Mythos is important and it can also be very difficult. An author’s beliefs color the character, audience’s beliefs color it. Easier for me to write a secular character or someone who mocks and insults the gods than it is to write a sincerely devout character. It’s a secular society, especially our sf/fantasy readers.

How do you keep dialogue distinct in different points of view – how do you bring personality through dialogue?

GRRM: What appears between quotation marks is what was said. But you don’t have to quote everything a person says. You can paraphrase, or use someone’s perception to illustrate their character. Can present dialogue as stream of consciousness.

RC: Make sure the voices are distinct and what they’re saying is important enough you don’t want to paraphrase it. Try and strengthen dialog with each draft.

Hope you found this helpful or at least illuminating.

You know, every now and then I just sit back and wonder how all this happened. I’m floored by how cool this is.

I wish someone had told me when I was fifteen, when no self-respecting female would speak to me and I lived in fear of the dreaded double jock lock after gym class, that I’d have this life. That I’d be married to a bellydancing librarian who says something interesting or thought-provoking daily. That people would pay otherwise perfectly good money to read my words or come hear me speak and it would be enough money to allow me to climb mountains in Costa Rica. That I’d chit-chat with guys in Vladivostok or Japan fighting their way through the English language or USAF majors in Europe or Puerto Ricans who I entertained enough so that they wrote me to ask a question because they want to test or verify a theory that they’ve formed about one of my stories. That I’d eat pizza sitting next to the same authors who I used to have open under my desk or concealed in a textbook during study hall. And that it would be a tax write-off.

I'm so lucky. Talk about a million-to-one shot.

Of course I worry. Howard Mohr in his book How To Talk Minnesotan: A visitor’s guide says that people from Minnesota don’t really enjoy good weather because they know it’ll have to be paid back eventually in snowstorms and tornados. There’s a bit of that in me too. I keep waiting to hear the fatal diagnosis from my doctor or my plane to go down. I just don’t see how this run can last. But I’m making an effort to enjoy it.



( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 8th, 2008 01:45 am (UTC)
Hmm.. Million to one? Maybe not quite so large, the odds... ;-) (Can't overlook innate ability/talent/imagination... Not to mention stubborn drive and perserverance...)

A good friend of mine has always said "you don't need luck, you have skill"... Don't sell yourself short my friend.

All your fans are glad you chose to take the opportunities presented to you and followed your dreams to reach your goal of becoming an author. I say keep dreaming and reach as high as your heart desires.

Apr. 8th, 2008 02:07 am (UTC)
Will do!
Apr. 8th, 2008 01:54 am (UTC)
Thanks! I bummed that I wasn't able to go to that panel.

George was very cool. I had a blast with him on the TV Writing panel. I was a little intimidated by him since I think that his work is genius, but he was a real mensch. He came up to me, shook my hand, and said, "Hi, I'm George Martin," as if I wouldn't know.

We then spent the next few minutes talking football and teasing the Packers fans about the beginning of The Aaron Rogers Era.

My life can also be pretty damn awesome.

Apr. 8th, 2008 02:06 am (UTC)
Aaron Rogers era? I wouldn't dare say such a thing with the hurt still fresh.
The Bears still suck. - chats_noirs - Apr. 8th, 2008 10:09 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: The Bears still suck. - michaeldthomas - Apr. 8th, 2008 12:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 8th, 2008 02:04 am (UTC)
Tea...I'm not a coffee drinker.
(no subject) - michaeldthomas - Apr. 8th, 2008 03:28 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mjolnir1964 - Apr. 8th, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 8th, 2008 01:57 am (UTC)
For some bizzare reason, the only time my husband becomes a take-charge kinda guy (at least in front of strangers) is at cons. So y'all are lucky that he had the balls to go find George during his dinner and let him know he'd completely forgotten about this panel.

He says George's reaction was good natured "Oh, fuck" when he showed him the schedule... Poor George :)
Apr. 8th, 2008 02:05 am (UTC)
He seemed to have a good time anyway. Hope his food didn't get too cold while he was talking.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 8th, 2008 02:07 am (UTC)
You're welcome!
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - eeknight - Apr. 8th, 2008 02:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 8th, 2008 02:14 am (UTC)
That was fantastic! Thank you for posting it 8)
Apr. 8th, 2008 02:43 am (UTC)
Glad you got something out of it.
Apr. 8th, 2008 03:20 am (UTC)
So you weren't listening to Luke Ski after all?
Apr. 8th, 2008 04:52 pm (UTC)
It was hard to avoid listening to Luke Ski.

Actually, I would have been at the LS concert, but if the choice is between GRRM and filk, filk loses.
(no subject) - hvond - Apr. 8th, 2008 05:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - eeknight - Apr. 8th, 2008 05:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 8th, 2008 04:40 am (UTC)
I'm honestly not sure what the heck I was doing on that panel. . .it was great to have a front row seat for GRRM, though. I wish I had a fraction of his wisdom.
Apr. 8th, 2008 04:52 pm (UTC)
You made more sense than that gal in the front row...but then that's not a very high bar.
Apr. 8th, 2008 07:40 am (UTC)
Belly Dancing Librarian?
Wasn't that a John Norman novel? :)

Thanks for the summary - I'll share the url with some of my friends.
Apr. 8th, 2008 04:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Belly Dancing Librarian?
Norman did have a think for librarians. I keep telling Chats to get a little rose tattoo...
Apr. 8th, 2008 09:56 am (UTC)
Hi there,

Thanks for the report! George always has interesting things to say about writing.

Would it be all right to quote the GRRM-relevant bits at the So Spake Martin collection, an attempt to keep a central repository of Martin-related correspondence, con reports, etc.? We've got one from Oddcon so far and wouldn't mind more.

We would of course have a link through to your Livejournal (or any other website you preferred). :)
Apr. 8th, 2008 10:32 am (UTC)
As long as it's somehow made clear that I wasn't able to exactly quote him all the time and this is more of a paraphrase, sure.
Apr. 8th, 2008 03:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks a lot for posting this for all of us who wanted to get to OddCon but couldn't.
Apr. 8th, 2008 04:52 pm (UTC)
You're welcome!
Apr. 8th, 2008 03:47 pm (UTC)
I loved my years in the Twin Cities, but the one thing I don't miss is the bumper crop of Eeyores. I'm glad that you are making every effort to add a dash of Pooh to the mix.

Face it: you have become the guy whose book is on the lap in study hall.

You need to memorize one of two quotes for your next brush with an old master, dependent on your mood:

Feeling arrogant?

"We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you I was but the learner. Now I am the master."

Feeling introspective in a Kevin Costner sort of way?

"I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!"

Yes, you only get two moods: arrogance or Kevin Costner introspective. It's a binary system.
Apr. 8th, 2008 04:49 pm (UTC)
"I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!"

That's weird, you quoted my absolute favorite line from The Untouchables (which happens to be one of my favorite movies). Most people quote Connery's "...that's the Chicago way</i>" bit.

I wish Kevin Costner would do his version of Dune, where Kevin Costner sperm becomes the most valuable trade-good in the universe:

He who controls the Splooge, controls the universe!

(I've watched Waterworld and The Postman too often, ya think?)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Apr. 8th, 2008 08:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 8th, 2008 04:02 pm (UTC)
I'm so jealous-- I'd have loved to listen to GRRM speaking. Out of the authors I've read, he's probably influenced my work the most.

Figures he'd have wanted Gandalf to stay dead. :P
Apr. 8th, 2008 04:50 pm (UTC)
He gets quite emotional about it! I think it was the most animated I saw him the whole con.
(no subject) - scottakennedy - Apr. 8th, 2008 05:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 10th, 2008 02:58 pm (UTC)
Thanks for writing that out for those of us not there. :) Great to read that.
( 34 comments — Leave a comment )