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VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: How to Write a Better Conclusion than Game of Thrones: Unlock a Powerful Storytelling Mindset the Writers Ignored
Hello and welcome. My name is Renee Long from the LitHabits Blog and Workshop and welcome to this weeks video broadcast. And today we are actually talking about what creative writers can learn from the Game of Thrones finale. So, if you're a Game of Thrones fan, and even if you're not, this is definitely something to watch, because there is a ton we can learn from the finale of this epic series.
What we're going to talk about today in this video are some general reactions to the Game of Thrones finale, my overall reaction to the finale and how that relates to good and effective storytelling, then we're going to talk about what the heck is resonance? And why should it matter to creative writers?
I'm going to talk a little bit about what my goal as a creative writer is when I write a story, and also what my goal is as a reader, so stay tuned for that. And I'm also going to talk a little bit about what I loved about the Game of Thrones finale and all of this, how all of this connects to writing practice and consistently showing up with a writing habit.
If you are struggling to write your own epic HBO-worthy story, hang tight, watch till the end, because I have something extra, extra special for you that's going to help you push through any blocks or any fears about writing your own wonderful dragon filled tale, if you happen to be writing fantasy. But really, any story, if you need help getting there, stay till the end, I have some goodies for you.
Let's dive in. So, of course, I have to give a spoiler alert. This video absolutely contains big spoilers for the Game of Thrones series finale for Season Eight, Episode Six, The Iron Throne. So, if you have not watched Season Eight or any of the episodes, or the finale, stop right now, bookmark this post, go watch it and come back and watch this, because I would hate to spoil it for you.
As many of us know, who have been scanning the interwebz for what people are saying about this epic series finale, clearly not everyone is pleased, right? And I just want to put out there for anybody who wants to write their own story in the future, or is a storyteller already, Game of Thrones had so many different storylines and so many different characters you're never going to please everyone, okay? So, I really didn't ... Regardless of how the finale went, I really did not expect there to be a consensus on whether, "This was an amazing finale, we love it, cheers to everything, bravo," standing ovation, because there were just so many storylines in the narrative.
From Season One to the finale in Season Eight, there was no way to please everybody because everybody's different, has different favorite characters, has different favorite storylines, has different outcomes that they were rooting for; you're not going to please everyone. So I think that's an important thing for us as writers to also keep in mind for when we're working with such a broad universe as the one that Martin created.
All right, so the general reactions. Many folks thought it was, these are the negative reactions, many folks thought it was anticlimactic, meaningless, cheesy, and a lot of folks thought it was very rushed and careless. Some people even pointed out that the fact that there was a coffee cup and a water bottle left on set and not even noticed during the editing process was kind of almost symbolic of the rushed nature of the last season.
Before we dive in I just want to give a little recap of the big highlights from The Bells and The Iron Throne episodes. So, what are the big bombshell things that happened? Arya assassinated the Night King, a lot of people loved that, a lot of people were up in arms about that, Dany's forces, Dany and Jon's forces, take King's Landing and then she, in this epic moment, this epic turning point, she burns it to the ground, with many women and children. Then, later on, a conflicted Jon murders Dany, Bran is eventually chosen as king, Sansa is Queen in the North, and Arya sails West as an explorer. And Jon goes beyond the wall, defying all expectations, goes beyond the wall and joins the Freefolk. So I didn't get everything in there but those are kind of the big highlights.
If you're familiar at all with my blog, you know that I typically talk about writing practice, writing habits. I talk about writers who have shared their routines, either in interviews or in their own works, so this is a special one because I felt that it bubbled up so many reactions for so many different people. I thought it was a really great example of something that we could look at as creative ourselves, and how that ties into writing practice and a writing habit itself, so just hang with me.
Okay, now I'm going to get into a little bit of criticism on the actual finale itself. So, for me, and I had to take a few days to process this, I actually texted a friend after I finished the finale and said, "I need a few days to process this," and after those few days, these are my thoughts. All the loose ends were wrapped up, tied up neatly in a bow, everybody got some sort of ending, everything was tied up, which, there's something to be said for that, but I was kind of left with this feeling of, "Sure, okay, I guess that makes sense, sure." And to me that means it fell flat, and when I say flat I almost mean it in the musical terms of like a flat note, or if something is not quite on pitch. The rest of this video is going to focus on a musical metaphor which I'm going to call resonance.
The Game Of Thrones finale lacked resonance.
What do I mean by resonance? As a writer, my purpose, and as a reader, I want there to be resonance. As a writer I want to create resonance through storytelling. So, what does that mean? The literal definition of resonance, it refers to the quality of sound, a deep and reverberating sound.
So when I come out of a story, or when I close a book, or finish a series, I want to be left with the feeling of reverberation, of resonance, as if I were just at a symphony listening to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and weeping. And I understand not all stories are going to do that, but that's the goal, right? Regardless if you're writing that might be an HBO series or just a realist novel, you kind of want that to get down deep into the gut and resonate.
So, again, to take this metaphor a little bit further, I used to play violin, I played the violin growing up, so I'm literally going to give you a literal definition of what I mean by resonance. So, resonance is a note that rings out clear and clean, and when a story has resonance it's the feeling of something stirring in your soul, that it all fits together just like a perfectly tuned chord, or a perfectly tuned note.
So, for example, this, and my violin may not be in perfect tune and I haven't done this in a long time, so don't be like, "That A is too flat," this is what I mean by resonance. [Plucks note on violin.]
You can hear it ringing out. I'll even draw it out a little bit, I'll play it. [Plays note on violin].
So, this is what I mean by resonance. You kind of hear that aftershock, even a chord, even something like this. [Plays chord on violin]. Hear how they're mostly in tune and it rings out beyond?
So that's resonance and typically, when I'm in a story, that's typically what I'm looking for to feel. [Bow drops to the floor]. There goes my bow. It's a created feeling, and so the opposite of resonance is dissonance. [Taps the side of the violin with pen]. That's dissonance, right? That's one form of dissonance, kind of like clunking on wood, it's not ringing out, it's not reverberating. [Plays out of tune chords on violin].
And this is another form of dissonance, is just an off-key chord, right? And off-key chord or an unresolved chord. [Plays the first few notes of “Old MacDonald”]. You want to sing Farm, right? That's resolving the chord. So a dissonance would be not resolving the chord.
Okay, so I'm pushing this music metaphor really, really far, but I want you guys to know that that same kind of reaction that people can have at the opera or at a symphony or listening to a lone violin play a sad or happy song, and it just fills you bodily with an emotion, whatever emotion that may be, that's resonance, and that's what I truly believe should be happening in a story. And, for me, the Game Of Throne finale kind of felt more like clunks, like it all fit together, it was all tied up, but it didn't ring out, it didn't dig into me and create that reverberating, "Oh, this was what this was leading to, this is what this needs." Resonance creates meaning.
Resonance is earned, resonance occurs when the writer earns their conclusion, when the character has journeyed so far, they've learned so much, they've overcome so many obstacles, that the end of the story slides into place like a perfectly tuned chord. And when you close the book you're like, "Yes, that is how it's supposed to end."
Okay, you might be thinking, "Yeah, but it doesn't have to be a happy ending," or, "Doesn't that mean that it's expected?" No. Resonance does not mean that the ending is expected, like an expected outcome, like, "Oh, yeah, I could have totally predicted that." No, it can be totally unpredictable, it can be a gut wrenching ending, it could be horrible, it could be a dig out your heart and throw it on the ground ending, but if it's earned, it's resonant.
Okay, and just to prove this to you, a resonant conclusion can be unexpected, even gut wrenching, here are some examples; the Red Wedding and then Arya's revenge. Arya's revenge was so resonant. Hodor's story, it was tragic, so tragic, and I don't know about you, but if you weren't crying in Hodor's last episode, we can't be friends. I'm just kidding, but really, Hodor's story is truly, truly a resonant story, and it's gut wrenchingly sad.
For me those were example of really resonant story arcs within the Game Of Thrones series. So, wrapping that up, it can be triumphant; the feeling resonance evokes can be anywhere on the human spectrum, it can be sadness, it can be joy, it can be triumph like you're at a sports game, think Chariots Of Fire, but it has to be earned to be meaningful.
There were a lot of things at the end of Game Of Throne that did not feel earned, and here's a couple of reasons why. Every prophecy and foreshadow began to feel, at the end of the story, it felt like the whole series was filled with red herrings. Here's a couple examples of things that the writers and show creators decided to focus on and turned out to be total red herrings.
Jon Snow's birthright and all the attention given to his story and Lyanna Stark's story and Rhaegar Targaryen's story: total red herring, in my opinion. The whole Night King storyline, the whole storyline of the dead was just done, Arya finishes it, which, great, love Arya, I am one of the folks that enjoyed the fact that she got to take out the Night King, still didn't feel like that ending was earned.
Another one: the Prince Who Was Promised, total red herring. So the Prince Who Was Promised was Arya, which, totally fine, but we need some more context there, it needs to line up a little bit better to have, again, like I was saying, that feeling of sliding into place, that feeling of a nicely tuned chord.
And red herrings are fine, they're great to use in storytelling, they're so much fun, but really, as storytellers, I believe they should be used sparingly, otherwise your readers are going to feel like everything is meaningless, like, "What did I just spend years of my life watching? None of this meant anything? What the heck?" And that is fine if that is the type of feeling you want to leave your reader with, if you want to leave your reader with dissonance, go for it, there are many stories that do that intentionally, and I think when it is done on purpose the dissonance becomes resonance, it, in itself, creates meaning. But I don't think the HBO writers were trying to be intentionally dissonant and create zero meaning with their finale.
I want my story, or the story that I write, to reverberate deeply somewhere on my readers' emotional spectrum.
I want them to feel something that's not meaningless, right? And what does that mean? I mean I want it to challenge their views on the world, I want it to challenge their views on people and how people relate to each other and societal expectations, I want it to challenge their views on art and what can be done in art, what can be done in life. I want it to challenge everything, and also, at the same time, have it sit in them so that they're thinking further, and that is how I want stories to create meaning, at least stories that I'm creating. And stories that I read, I want stories that I read to really make me feel something on the deepest level or challenge how I see the world.
I'm going to move on to tell you what I loved about the finale, and you might have already guessed at this far since I'm focusing on storytelling, that I really loved the homage to storytelling in the show. And a lot of people thought it was super cheesy, super heavy-handed, which it was heavy-handed, but in the context of ... and I'm going to use this word because I can't think of anything else, a crappy finale; for me anyway, as a viewer, I appreciated the homage to storytelling because the finale at least didn't ruin the entire series for me, I still have a lot of connection. Each episode and each season in the series really can stand on its own, as far as creating resonance and meaning. I wouldn't have watched all the way to the end if the previous episodes and previous seasons hadn't done their work to be resonant just on their own. Like I was saying, the Hodor story, all of that created meaning for me in different ways.
In the context of a not so resonant ending, Tyrion's speech on storytelling and how really that's the winner in all of this because it kept us entertained since 2011, I appreciated that nod, even it was very heavy-handed and you can kind of see the writers being like, "Hey, this is us." And it also reminded me how I experienced the story, it was very deeply personal.
A couple of years ago I moved from Portland down to Southern California and back in Portland I would watch the show every Sunday night with my best friends. We would pop popcorn, make tea, drink beer or whatever, and just enjoy this crazy, wild story and these crazy, wild characters and it was resonant for us in the standalone seasons. And that is also why it's resonant for me when Tyrion talks about storytelling, because it connected me closer to people that I love, it taught me about good storytelling, it taught me about great character development, it taught me about world-building, it taught me so many things, it challenged how I saw the world.
And one very specific example, and I think this applies for a lot of folks, is Sansa stands as such a powerful symbol of rising from trauma, specifically for her, sexual trauma, and just standing powerfully in her own strength and rising from that horrible trauma. So that is how the story itself, as a whole, resonates with me, so I'm okay with Tyrion giving that little heavy-handed nod to storytelling.
To dive deeper into that, I really believe that humans experience the world through story. I think it's the first thing we did when we were trying to develop language. Storytelling is so deeply ingrained in us, and I really believe it was what prompted us to create language at all, and so it's how we learn, it's how we experience the world. So, to say that, I want you to know that I think it's really important that we continue, all of us, to create stories, regardless of if your series or your story gets ripped to shreds online by critics or people like me, regardless of what faceless names on the internet say.
How does this relate to writing practice? Again, tell your damn story.
I just ripped the HBO writers a new one, or maybe not so much, and hundreds of others have been way, way more harsh than I have on the Game Of Thrones finale, and I see that this is the biggest fear that we have as writers, we think, "Oh my God, if I write a story and it goes out there in the world and everybody rips it to shreds, what if people find mistakes, like a water bottle in the shot? Or they rip it to shreds and say it's not resonant?"
Adult language, for anyone who has little kids has around… who fucking cares? I'll tell you right now, George R. R. Martin and the HBO writers don't give a shit about my review right here. They don't give a shit about that other dude's review who said it was careless, and the fact that they left water bottles in the scene showed how careless they were. They don't give a shit. For the most part, I mean I can't say exactly what they're feeling.
But they made the damn thing. They did it. They put it out there in the world. What we think, what I say or what that other reviewer says or what you say, is none of their damn business. They made the thing, and it created meaning in whatever way we decide it created meaning.
So what do we take from that as storytellers? Is that just write it anyway; wouldn't you rather have it out there with people having dialogue about it, with people either ripping it to shreds or screaming, "Yeah, that was amazing," than not have it be out there at all? To not have us have fun and have a conversation about it, and hopefully in a loving, kind way. But it's worth putting it out there into the world, regardless of what people are going to say about it, because some people will hate it, especially if it gets to the magnitude of something like Game Of Thrones, people are going to hate it and rip it to shreds and others are going to love it and it's going to change their lives.
Again, how many people in the world were affected by Sansa's phoenix-like (pun intended) rise after her trauma in the middle of the series? And people thought, even though she's a fictional character, if she can rise from something like this and be a fucking badass queen, so can I. I can rise too, and she's inspiring me, even though she's fiction, her story inspires me.
Do it anyway. Even if it gets to two people, they're going to have two different opinions about it, even if your story is only read by two people, they are going to have thoughts about it and they're going to talk about it and say, "Well, I thought it sucked, I thought it wasn't resonant, I thought it was blah blah blah blah blah, I thought it was amazing." Do it anyway. What they think is none of your business, your job is to create the damn thing, okay, and then to keep doing it.
Because to keep doing it, your work is going to become more and more resonant as you develop skills and taste, so that's how you build resonance into your work, you practice. You get up every day and you write the damn thing, whether that's every day, once a week, every other week, you get up and you write the damn thing, otherwise you're never going to find that resonance. There's a bunch of excuses that I've heard, that I've made myself, it's all been done before, "It's going to be shitty the first time it comes out," or, "I'm just not that creative enough." When I really don't have enough time, that's a huge lie.
Your fans are waiting for it, your critics are waiting for it, let them rip it to shreds. What an honor to have your work ripped to shreds. It's better than living with regret, having your work ripped to shreds, so put it out there, who cares? Just do it. You're the only one who can tell your story. Which leads me to the next part.
If you feel like it's all been done before, that's the biggest excuse I hear. I hear it in myself, my own internal critic says the same thing, "It's all been said before, it's all been done before," if you feel like that and it's actually something that holds you back, I've got you, because it's total BS.
And I have a whole workshop on this topic, it's a free workshop, just fill in your email, click below, grab that workshop, it's totally free, lots of folks have gone through it with amazing results, they felt really inspired, so if you suffer from, "It's all been done before," syndrome, give it the old heave-ho, click the link below and jump into that workshop, because I guarantee it will help you. Your fans are waiting.
All right, so that's it, go make some resonant and not so resonant shitty work, it's okay, go create your special brew of resonance and storytelling. Go put your work out there for your fans, for your critics to scream over, and don't expect to be first chair violinist in the New York Philharmonic, to create that resonance, don't expect to get that on your first go, because you're just not, and that's okay. Just do your best, consistently, develop an ear, fine tune your work, develop taste, and the resonance will come, I promise. If you show up, your story, your muse, your genius will show up too, keep showing up. Your story is needed, all right? Make some noise, make people make some noise about your work.
All right, thank you so much for watching/reading, I love you, tell me what you think of Game Of Thrones after you've gone through that free workshop. All right, my friends, thanks so much for listening and watching. Bye!