It is a good ending, and none the worse for having been used before. Now I shall have to alter that: it does not look like coming true.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Alright, I can’t promise that this will be my last Game of Thrones inspired blog post, but I can promise that HBO won’t be providing any new material. I still haven’t watched it, but the internet has helpfully filled in enough blanks for me to make my point here.
George R.R. Martin can’t write an ending to save his life. Or, at least, the TV writers hired to finish his story sometime this century couldn’t, with his guidance. Why? He’s a professional storyteller, and the end is kind of important, how do you screw that up so phenomenally? The Twitter writing community has helpfully given me a theory: he’s a “Pantser,” he doesn’t know the ending until he gets there.
This is unfathomable to me. I didn’t realize that anyone wrote like this, far less multimillionaire bestselling authors with TV deals. I’m just a whorehouse pianist who drank his way through a cow college, but I’ve got a meticulous outline for my entire trilogy. The first thing that I wrote was the ending. How do you write a character or story arc if you don’t know where they’re going? Apparently, you just “listen to the characters” and write whatever they should be doing.
Hey, that’s great for dialogue, and it provides some excellent material for how you get from the beginning to the end of your arc, but have you considered the possibility that what your characters “want” to do is boring or unsatisfying? That they’ll be out of position to influence key plot points? Because GoT managed this in spades. I’ve heard enough to know that the biggest Big Bad Evil Guy was killed in relatively anticlimactic fashion, and that this was not the end. No, after world ending evil was defeated, banal human evil was unleashed upon the world, and then killed in turn.
Is there a name for this kind of unsatisfying plotting? Because if not, I propose “dead cat bounce.” You have a huge build up, a final showdown, victory for the heroes! Your story arc (and hopefully character arc, at least for the primary hero/s) has reached apex. Then, where the satisfying arc would be brief denouement coming in for the landing, you instead have another, smaller dramatic arc, the “bounce” if you will. It feels trite. We just saved the world, what do you mean we have to deal with the local zoning commission?
Now this is not the same thing as a sequel lead-in. That isn’t a small arc, it’s the beginning of another large one. Properly, it takes place after denouement; if there is no denouement, and it’s just one big arc continuing on a rising path, it is technically just one story across several books. Which is also ok! Epic fiction can be cool, when well executed. Personally, I intend for each book to have its own arc, standing alone as individual stories while also forming a larger overall plot arc. And there will be sequel hooks, but I’m undecided whether to put them in the last chapter or in an epilogue.
I have seen one person call GoT “classical tragedy,” but I must disagree. Daenerys Targaryen has a somewhat tragic character arc, but she is done in when she abandons her care for the common people, which had until that point been her fatal weakness. Perhaps all she really cared about was warming the iron throne with her ass, but that’s not how she was portrayed for most of the series, and having her give up on one of her driving principles to claim it seemes both out of character and unsatisfying from a tragic arc perspective. Yes, Targaryen insanity and bloodlust were the “gun on the mantle” way back in book one, but they weren’t her personal flaws. Far better would have been for her to fall to an inability to sacrifice, to refuse to do what was required for victory. Perhaps even, in a mirror of her father’s arc, to be betrayed by a more decisive but sorrowful lieutenant who is unable to change her mind, and who in turn is unable to win because her army will not follow a Queenslayer as they did her. She could have won, had she but cared a little less, but had she been the kind of person who cared less she would not have made it that far. Still a “down” ending, but one that makes sense given her fatal flaw as presented.
Perhaps ironically, I don’t have an ending planned for this blog post. Fortunately, blogs are serial in nature, so I can just say: “will our author have a blog topic next week? Can his readership survive without Game of Thrones to kick around? Tune in next week to find out!”
This is the end
This is the end
My only friend, the end.
– The Doors, The End