Here is an excerpt from a recent interview with George R.R. Martin regarding his apparent underutilization of magic within Westeros (link):
Magic should never be the solution to the problem. My credo as a writer has always been Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech where he said, “The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.” That transcends genre. That’s what good fiction, good drama is about: human beings in trouble. You have to make a decision, you have to do something, your life is in danger or your honor is in danger, or you’re facing some crisis of the heart. To make a satisfying story, the protagonist has to solve the problem, or fail to solve the problem – but has to grapple with the problem in some kind of rational way, and the reader has to see that. And if the hero does win in the end, he has to feel that that victory is earned.
The danger with magic is that the victory could be unearned. Suddenly you’re in the last chapter and you wind up with a deus ex machina. The hero suddenly remembers that if he can just get some of this particular magical plant, then he can brew a potion and solve his problem. And that’s a cheat. That feels very unsatisfying. It cheapens the work.
Holy crapsticks he’s right. It’s something I suppose I always knew in my soul, but could never explain to my brain. There are many stories I’ve read – highly regarded stories – that left me dissatisfied, without ever being able to say why. If I look back, I imagine many will have fallen into this trap, in genre and out. In Science Fiction and Fantasy, we love our magic, or our force, or our uber-tech super weapon. We get excited about the shimmer and sparks, but we fall in love with the people.
Magic isn’t the answer…it might, in fact, be the problem. Words to write by.
It’s done. Four whirlwind days rife with strange faces made familiar, familiar faces now friendly, and friendly people united in the love of the strange. Everything I hoped, little that I expected; LoneStarCon 3 was exactly what I needed.
WorldCon in San Antonio was my first SF&F convention of any sort, and I stepped in with more than a little trepidation. I had no sidekick, no friends waiting for me with back-slaps and jovial greetings, but a myriad of stereotypical fears of those who spend their hard-earned money and vacation time on such a nerd-gasm. Just me and my backpack, alone in the wilderness. Days previous were spent sifting through the hundreds of panels and events, filtering down to maximize my time and learning. While I am certainly a huge fan of the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre, my trip was intended to target ways to grow as a writer, as opposed to sheer fandom. I absorbed a vast assortment of helpful nuggets, but the true epiphanies were the realizations that surprised me…
SURPRISE #1: Nerds are just better than normal people
There is no more genuine, welcoming, kind and open group of individuals than those at a convention like WorldCon. The stock broker and gas station attendant stride side by side in their wizarding robes, standing fast against the tide of evil-doers. I watched a young man wait in line for a seat to a panel, then give it up to an elderly women who arrived late. Doors were held, compliments were given, assistance was rendered and smiles abounded. It was nearly utopian…if not for the food prices, it would have been.
SURPRISE #2: There are a LOT of aspiring writer’s out there
Everywhere I turned, I met people just like me; aspiring writer’s in various stages of their development, of all ages, races, and opinions. In fact I’m not sure I spoke with anyone who WASN’T writing to some degree or other. But they were universally great. Whether talking about their work, sharing ideas, or occasionally gushing over favorites, as far as the eye could see were huddled masses of recent strangers turned compatriots.
In addition, I met many published writer’s – highly regarded by the industry – who I had never heard of. Apparently, writing a great book isn’t the only factor involved here folks. Many great books were being given away free to help introduce fans to writer’s they’d missed…and there were a lot of them…
SURPRISE #2: Writer’s are People…like, regular People
Over the four days, I had extended conversations with many amazingly talented people. Saladin Ahmed (nominated for the Hugo and Campbell) and I chatted over coffee for a half an hour about life, writing, and things we find both great and annoying about Michigan (I grew up there). He was a joy to speak with, candid and open as an old friend reunited. It was the same with Chuck Wendig, John Scalzi, Sam Sykes, Kevin Hearne, Genesa Davis, Myke Cole, Wesley Chu and more. At times, it seemed they felt as awkward as I with the sudden influx of attention.
I spent a several hours in the company of Steve Diamond (Hugo nominee for best fanzine) who to a degree took me under his wing and showed me the ropes of correct con behavior. I was both amused and slightly terrified by Justin Landon’s exuberance (Staffer’s Book Review). I shared a drink and several stories with toastmaster Paul Cornell, who chatted with me like he was just a regular fan for nearly 15 minutes before I realized he…well…that he was kind of a big deal (I have some Dr. Who episodes to catch up on now). I think I also somehow annoyed Howard Tayler of Schlock Mercenary & Writing Excuses fame, though I honestly can’t tell you how.
Through it all, one thing was constant: writer’s are just people whose names I know. They like to laugh. They like to argue. They (speaking of Wendig, Sykes and Hearne in particular) like to drink…occasionally (Sykes) to excess.
SURPRISE #4: I am not as weird as I imagined.
As I’ve written before, I have no support group. My nerd-ness lacks the protective buffer of like-minded individuals in daily life, and its easy to feel alone in some ways. But at WorldCon, everyone I met – to one degree or other – had a common love I could share in. People could be themselves, without fear of outside opinion…though to be fair, some of the cosplayer’s should have had at least one person tell them what they should and should not attempt to pull off.
SURPRISE #5: I am not as good as I hoped, nor as bad as I expected.
WorldCon was my first ‘real’ writing workshop; professional people telling me their real thoughts without concern for my feelings. I walked in expecting the worst, and was moderately, though pleasantly, surprised. While my piece certainly had its fair share of issues, the general positives (in some cases very positive) outweighed the problems, and I walked away feeling like I may have hope after all. It was surreal to have Fran Wilde and Jack McDevitt (winners of multiple prestigious awards along with publishing a myriad books) tell me I had real writing chops, admittedly in need of smoothing and fine tuning. I may have to add them to the acknowledgements, if I ever get that far.
WorldCon was all that I hoped, and a bit more. As my backpack and I left the convention center, I was bid farewell by both new friends and new goals. Writer’s are just people whose names I know. Now a few know mine. Time to give them reason to remember…