In this series apprentice Imari Berry selects essays from Jessica Conoley’s archives. Imari shares why the essay resonates with her as a newer creative, & Jessica’s original essay follows.
I chose this essay because: OUCH! This essays shows that as much as someone loves writing it can hurt, especially when it comes to killing your darlings. I love happily ever afters, but times sometimes but not everything has a happy ending and that’s life.
Initial publication date: 8/18/2015
Super Secret Library Day Part 2
If you missed part 1 click here to catch up.
“How do you balance your editorial brain with your writing brain? Is it symbiotic? Or do you have to mute your editorial brain to finish your first drafts?” I ask.
George R.R. Martin pauses, “Now that’s an interesting question.”
Interesting. That could be good. It means all my words came out of my mouth, in somewhat of the right order, in a way that made sense. And he’s not answering right away. Maybe that means people don’t ask him this all the time. Maybe that means he thinks I’m not a total blathering imbecile. Maybe that means he might remember me. And he probably wouldn’t remembered me if I’d asked if Arya is going to get her wolf back, or he would of remembered me as the idiot girl who asked if Arya was going to get her wolf back.
He settles back in his chair a bit and says back in the time of typewriters he had first or second drafts because he hated re-typing. But now, with computers, he has twenty million drafts because he edits as he goes along. For example today, “While I was reading, I found ten things I want to change.” Tonight in his hotel room he’ll make the edits and then, tomorrow, when he reads it at the convention he’ll go back and find what worked and what didn’t.
“You have to be careful to find the editorial verses creative balance, and don’t overdevelop the editorial.” He has friends he’s known since he first started writing, they “went to too many writers’ conferences, and now they’re so critical. They think every sentence has to be Proust. But we’re not writing War and Peace. You just have to get the story down. And remember, there are editors. They get paid to do something. Let them do it.”
A guy in the front row asks how GRRM feels about killing characters off?
For those of you who haven’t read his work, GRRM is the best at killing characters. I mean you’re just going along page after page getting to know this guy better than your best friend, and whap. He’s killed. And there’s nothing you can do about it because that’s what happened, and the world’s never going to be the same again. But, back to the question…
GRRM said writers write the story they want to read, and he likes stories that surprise you. When he was little, the family would be watching TV and his mom would announce the ends to TV shows as the episode was playing. “Now Lucy’s going to work at the chocolate factory, and the chocolates are just going to come faster and faster…” Because of his mom he started to predict endings too, and he got pretty good at it. “But then Tolkien came along and Gandalf died! And this was in the sixties, and you couldn’t just run out and buy the next book, because it wasn’t available yet. And Gandalf was dead…” When Gandalf died it put every other character in danger, because when someone important can get killed, it means anyone can get killed.
He likes to keep the reader off balance. By writing with multiple viewpoints it lets you kill off a viewpoint character. There’s a lot of emotional power in that. And the story can keep on going.
It’s not that he likes killing his characters. As a matter of fact he wrote the Red Wedding scene last. (The Red Wedding is officially the worst wedding ever. Complete disaster. The scene is based on The Black Dinner and Glencoe Massacre from Scottish history. Read up on those two, and the next time you’re at a crappy family dinner it won’t seem so bad.) As he was writing he skipped over the Red Wedding scene because he knew it was going to be hard to write.
When you’re a storyteller you have to kill people for the good of the story. Death should have an emotional impact because that’s what it does in real life. When the writer feels it the reader will too.
In the 80s he worked on the TV show Beauty & the Beast. When writing for TV, death is often an act break that leads into a commercial. In a mystery the first commercial break is the dead body, and then you cut straight to a toilet-paper ad. But death shouldn’t be an act break. It should rip out your guts.
They killed off the main character on Beauty & the Beast, and the next episode they decided to have the other characters mourn her. The network told them it was a terrible idea. The showed aired, and then the ratings went steadily down. He laughed his creaky laugh and said he learned people don’t want to tune in every week and cry.
As a writer, he’s drawn to complexity. “Real life is complicated. Fiction’s often too simple.” That’s when he figures out the endings too fast. He’ll keep reading a book because he wants to know what happens next. But he also knows “complicated stories are a bitch to write”. When it comes to Ice and Fire sometimes he thinks he made it too hard. He’ll be working and think, “Five kingdoms really would have been enough. Did I really need to make seven?”
Villains play an important role in a complex story. If you kill them early on you need to have a filler. “Stories have to have a certain amount of scum”. But the characters he really likes to write are the gray characters. The one’s where you find the basic humanity in them, but they do terrible things—like Theon Greyjoy from Ice & Fire.
He pauses and says, “My handlers are telling me it’s time to leave.”
It’s the fastest hour of my life, and the best super-secret-adventure this girl could have asked for.
By Jessica Conoley