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Daenerys Targaryen: At this point, it’s just bad story-telling
The most important element of GRRM’s style of story-telling is that it follows certain key monomythic structures of story-telling, which form the heart of a good story. This structure is not followed for everyone - arguably, there are less than ten characters for whom Martin has painstakingly wrought a full arc.
Here is Dan Harmon’s (creator of Rick and Morty, [Adult Swim]) explanation of how he uses it, as mentioned on his blog (link to his tumblr included)[btw, this is a great read, and is the first part of a series about how to plot out a good story. If you’re an author, or aspiring, I highly recommend checking it out.]
Draw a circle and divide it in half vertically.
Divide the circle again horizontally.
Starting from the 12 o clock position and going clockwise, number the 4 points where the lines cross the circle: 1, 3, 5 and 7.
Number the quarter-sections themselves 2, 4, 6 and 8.
Here we go, down and dirty:
. A character is in a zone of comfort, . But they want something. . They enter an unfamiliar situation, . Adapt to it, . Get what they wanted, . Pay a heavy price for it, . Then return to their familiar situation, . Having changed.
He summarizes it something like this. I think.
Hero - Want - Go - Fight - Get - Suffer - Return - Changed
There are the obvious characters for whom this arc has been granted - Jon and Daenerys and Tyrion and Arya.
And there are the less obvious ones - Theon, Sansa, Jaime, Sandor, Sam, and yes, even Cersei.
Now, the books and the show aren’t complete, butwith the prevalence of so many parallel plotlines, they move back and forth within this circle repeatedly.
Here’s Jon’s first arc, for instance - he is safe in Winterfell, he wants to be a knight, he goes to the Wall, he becomes a brother, he realizes the Wall is manned by criminals and unwanted sons, he is horribly disillusioned, he realizes he can never go back.
Here’s another arc - he wants to prove himself, he goes beyond the Wall with the Halfhand’s party, he gets captured by the wildlings, he murders Qhorin to gain their acceptance, he betrays Ygritte, he returns to the Wall, broken-hearted.
Fast-forward to the show canon - he wants to take back Winterfell, he leaves the Wall with Sansa after having won repeatedly against the wildings and established himself as a notable commander, he fails to recruit the Northern Houses, he assembles an army, he watches Rickon be murdered, he loses to the Boltons and is saved by Sansa, he returns to Winterfell.
Between arc 1, and arc 3, there is a larger arc at play - when he is at Winterfell he’s deeply dissatisfied with his social status, so he leaves Winterfell to become a ‘black knight’, he adapts to the Night’s Watch, he becomes a leader, he loses his lover, his father, his family, his brothers, he becomes the Lord Commander, he returns to Winterfell as King, but now with no ambition except keeping his people alive and safe.
This. This is good storytelling.
This is what makes Jon Snow such a compelling figure. Because he fucking suffers, and it affects him.
It alters him.
It makes him a better man, a better friend, a better commander.
This does not happen with Daenerys.
If anything, her arc is in reverse.
Look at her first arc - she starts off in a terrible position, she is raped, repeatedly, by her husband, and abused emotionally and physically by her brother (let’s just go with show canon, since GRRM apparently green-lit this nonsense). Clearly, not a position of comfort or safety, but it goes some way in establishing her as a sympathetic character.
Her ascent cycle begins - she seduces her husband, sidelines her brother and watches him die, becomes a Khaleesi in her own right, has her husband promise her to take back Westeros.
(Note at this point this she’s enabling slavery - the Dothraki trade in slaves. Dany personally is served by three slaves. The Lhazareen women she ‘saves’ she does so by taking in as her personal slaves. But there’s plenty of metas about Dany’s White Saviour trope. You don’t need mine.)
(Note also, that she is perfectly happy for her husband’s horde to rain havoc, bloodshed and destruction on her own country. At no point does this trouble her, that if the Dothraki cross the Narrow Sea, the women that will be raped, the men that will be murdered, the children that will be orphaned - they will be her subjects. But there’s metas aplenty on this as well, Dany’s all-consuming lust for power. You really don’t need mine.)
When Drogo dies, and her baby dies - she suffers, yes, for about the span of five minutes. She loses the khal, and replaces it with? Dragons.
She suffers what, in the universe this story is set in, amounts to, at best, a MINOR SETBACK, and has this addressed by gaining MYTHICAL WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION.
This is Daenerys’ arc, (along with the most vocal, popular reactions)
So, she starts off low (awww), becomes a Khaleesi, (yay!), loses her rapist, destructive, murderous husband, (…awww), becomes a Mother of Dragons, (YAY!) advances onto Astapor, (YAY!) gains a slave army, (YAY!) marches on to Yunkai (YAY!), loses Jorah, (…aw.), conquers Meereen (YAY!) destroys the economies of three cities, (…) does nothing except throw a fit when Barristan is murdered by the Sons (…) is almost murdered by the Sons of the Harpy (..awww??) saved by Drogon (YAY!) taken by the Khals to Vaes Dothrak (awww) murders the Khals, and burns their most important religious site to the ground, to free herself from being sold into slavery* (YAY!) sails to Westeros. (YAY!) with three mythical, all-powerful weapons of destruction (YAY!)
*Oh, the fucking irony.
And so her character stays within the same loop of -
Arrive at new place.
Intimidate via dragon.
Murder those who get in her way.
Instate herself as Queen.
Rage when the people refuse to accept her.
Astapor, when she cannot actually afford to buy the Unsullied:
Yunkai, when the City sends a diplomat:
Meereen, at the fighting pits:
Slaver’s Bay, after Tyrion’s peace talks fail and the Cities’ economies are on the verge of collapse:
The sheer profusion of victories accorded to her character is frankly insane.
She never loses anyone she cares about, because she cares about no one. She says it herself. Over, and over. Westeros isn’t a country, a people, a culture. It is reduced, for her, to a pointy chair, and the legacy of her mad, murderous ancestors.
If the smallfolk must die, let them. If the soldiers must die, let them. If the Lords must die, let them.
She’s callous to the point of psychopathy, and so, I repeat.
Even Cersei, arguably the series primary remaining antagonist has suffered far worse than the woman they’re pushing as the Saviour-Hero.
Cersei loses her father, loses all three of her children, watches her son die in her arms, is tortured in a dungeon, is made to parade naked through the streets of her own city, is heaped with literal excrement and abuse and the kind of horror that would break anyone.
Sansa loses her father, her mother, her oldest brother, her youngest brother, she is beaten and humiliated in front of her peers, subjected to Petyr’s advances, repeatedly beaten and raped by Ramsay Bolton, forced to look at her Father’s decapitated head, forced to look at her ally in Winterfell, dead and skinned bypassed by the Northern Lords for her bastard brother even though her efforts turned the tide of a war Jon Snow lost.
Jaime loses his father, is betrayed by his brother, who joins the enemy, loses all three of his children, watches his daughter die in his arms, loses his sword hand, is tortured by brigands, is called Kingslayer for saving a city from burning to the ground.
I could go on, but the point is this -
Daenerys has lost nothing. Daenerys has gained everything.
If she survives this story, if she initiates the Targaryen Restoration, if she takes the Iron Throne easily, not only does it devalue the entire point of A Song of Ice and Fire, it is a step backward for the story - a series that has devoted itself to destroying fantasy tropes, deconstructing human ambition, and reminding us, again and again and again, that the most important battles are the ones that fought in our hearts.
It is a betrayal on a scale that spans two decades of ambitious, brilliant, life-changing work.
It reduces the worth of everything they’ve constructed so far.
Okay, so you might know about the Open Circle symbol and it’s very gay Wookieepedia description, if not:
Ships of the Open Circle Armada were easy recognized by the distinctive
red-and-yellow emblem painted onto their hulls. The heraldic emblem
consisted of a yellow circle that was formed by two separate semi-circle
arcs. One arc represented Kenobi, the other, Skywalker. The image
signified that while they were both two independent halves, together
they formed a single entity.”
But I’ve been thinking, if they both represent one arc, who would be which? Anyone thoughts about that?
I've got a whole manuscript, and just now come to the realization that I don't have an overarching conflict. There's a protagonist who appears at the beginning, disappears while a new minor protag comes in, and then returns at the end--but that ends up creating more questions than answering them. Any suggestions? (I know I didn't give very much detail, sorry ): )
I think you’ve prompted a great topic anon :)
The Overarching Conflict
You talk about a lack of an overarching conflict. Let’s break that down to what that actually means. When we say a story has an overarching conflict, we’re talking about a conflict that is present throughout the whole story and contains all of the “plot stuff.” The plot stuff includes all your characters’ actions (protagonist, antagonist, and any and all minor characters), and any plot events. All of this “stuff” should be happening within your story’s main conflict.
Our anon is suggesting that their story breaks in the middle so that the overarching conflict is split momentarily, before it continues on down to the end, so that it looks like this:
The black rectangle is this interruption from the overarching conflict. It’s divergent plot information that leaves the main conflict and goes off somewhere else to create a brand new arc. Imagine if the black line disrupting our arc here goes straight up and then expands to become the bottom of a new arc. So you basically have a story that branches off into another story and may come back or may not come back.
This is what the anon thinks is going on, and yeah it’s not a great situation. But this may not be where you’re at, at all. Because there’s a difference between an interruption to your plot and an interruption to your conflict. So I’m suggesting that perhaps the anon is dealing with the situation in the graphic below. And if not, this is what they should strive to get to.
You can go off on as many tangents in your plot as you want, so long as it still is contained inside your conflict. What does that look like? Here’s an example.
In the Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet, the book begins from Watson’s perspective, as we usually expect. This is the first novel, so he meets Holmes and they begin investigating a case together. But about halfway through, the story suddenly flashes back 30 years to a setting we’ve yet to see with characters we’ve never met. It seems tangential, unrelated, and distant to the plot at hand. And yet, by the time this diversion comes back around to the present day, we now understand the context and motive of the story’s murder. The “tangent” worked because it was contributing to the conflict - the murder that Holmes and Watson were investigating.
It’s okay to switch points of view halfway through, and it’s okay to delve off into plot points that seem to go off on tangents, and it’s okay to completely turn your story on its head to pursue something unexpected. The key is keeping it within your story’s defined conflict. For all of these black rectangles that try to disrupt your plot, don’t let them break through the conflict boundary. They might form new mini-conflicts, and they might run amok inside the smaller circle under the arc, but as long as they stay inside that blue area in my graphic, you should be okay.
Cleaning up a Messy Ending
As for your concern that you’re raising too many new issues without resolving old ones, that’s just a matter of problem solving. As you’re heading into the downturn of your story’s overarching conflict (around the climax area), list everything that you see as unresolved. Don’t be afraid of how long this list is. A long list doesn’t necessarily mean that the story’s a mess. It just means it’ll take a little more thought to bring it all together. And you can bring it together!
For each item on your list of unresolved issues, think about a specific solution for each problem. Your goal is to develop solutions for each issue individually. Break it down piece by piece. Hells yes it’s overwhelming to plot an ending when you’ve got so many loose strings tangled up together. So isolate them. Try to untangle each string one at a time.
Then, once you’ve figured out how to tie up each loose end by itself, you can start to look at the bigger picture. And at this point, you might be able to see points where you can tie up two ends with one knot. Two unanswered questions may be resolved in one idea.
It’s a lot of work, so be patient with yourself. Immerse yourself in the process, and enjoy it! Working through these problems can be challenging, but also incredibly rewarding.
This rare sight is a combination of several optical phenomena collectively known as arcs and halos. The arcs and halos shown here include the 22 degree halo, parhelia, parhelic circle, Parry arc, Parry supralateral arc, upper tangent arc, supralateral arc, circumzenithal arc, heliac arc, upper Lowitz arc, Hastings arc, and perhaps the Wegener arc. High clouds composed of ice crystals having various shapes, sizes and orientations, some spinning some still, triggered this dazzling display over Huntsville, Alabama. (Credit: David Hathaway/EPOD)
Except that Shin's characters have literally nothing to them so they're not exactly a gift to the genre. Not to mention the only character who has to develop is Kacyo Ann aka the only major female character
Kayako. Her name is spelled “Kayako.”
I LIVE for these messages. The “Except here’s my pithy blanket-response presenting my opinion as fact therefore you’re wrong” messages.
There’s an OBSESSION amongst internet film-analysis circles with “character development” and “arcs.” It’s a handful of fancy words representing a poorly understood concept that makes people feel like they’re informed on film theory when they throw it around.
Here’s the secret: there’s more than one kind of film and more than one kind of character within film.
The “character arc” is something that western storytelling is definitely fixated on, often to a fault. Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces has become a go-to tired reservoir of lazy tropes because westerners are positively smitten with the “hero’s journey” and think that because a film’s cast doesn’t have arcs therefore it must be bad.
Japanese media tends to approach storytelling a smidge differently. It’s often more about a feeling or telling a particular perspective that drives the story, and characters are just window dressing. You’ll notice that a LOT of kaiju films don’t have arcs for their characters. You know what film also has no character development? Ghostbusters. Plus a handful of others, but the ultimate point is that Shin Godzilla’s thin characterizations don’t bother me because they’re ultimately not the point. The response to a nationwide threat is the point. Watching all of these dozens of characters come together and figure out the puzzle that IS Godzilla is the story that the film is trying to tell. There are no arcs or development to be had because everyone is already a fully formed character and grown-ass-adults, so none of them are going to be wasting time on their kid’s softball game or their fucking marriage woes because THERE’S A GODDAMN MONSTER DESTROYING THE CITY. We get little snippets of their personalities and lives through the beauty of visual storytelling (a family photo on a phone, the scribbled and haphazard notes written by an Apocalypse-theorizing scientist, a biology expert who rarely makes eye contact because she’s sick of being the smartest person in the room).
If you want shoehorned character development in a larger-than-life situation, Roland Emmerich has you covered.