Grimspirations #1: Joe Abercrombie and Desperate Housewives


Welcome to Grimspirations! This is a new feature on where Rob, Phil, and sometimes special guests will share how some grimdark writers (and maybe some other strange sources) have inspired them as readers, writers, artists, etc. If you’ve been grimspired, feel free to share with us!

No, this is not a trick. I seriously changed my views on writing after watching the complete series of Desperate Housewives and reading Joe Abercrombie for the first time. It comes down to this word: episodes.

Some background info. I was getting tired of reading fantasy epic after fantasy epic. I enjoyed Abercrombie’s world so much I was delighted to see stand-alone novels featured with some of the same characters. However, some minor characters made cameos, weaved in and out of the stories, or became major characters themselves. Nicomo Cosca, Bremer dan Gorst, and Black Dow stand out to me as good examples of this. Then there’s the short stories that introduce new characters to the world that later ended up being in novels like fan favorite Whirrun of Bligh. It all had a very TV feel to me. Characters get promoted to “main players,” characters leave and go on their own adventures, characters die and get replaced by others. That made me think of Desperate Housewives.

Yes, that Desperate Housewives.

I started watching Desperate Housewives several years back thinking it would be something fun to laugh at how silly it was. While there were silly moments, I was surprised by how good the writing, character development, and plot structure on the show turned out to be. It might be considered a sin by some to mention Desperate Housewives and the First Law series in the same breath, but hear me out. While I might be stretching to compare the two, I enjoyed the overall “lived-in” feel of the show. That even though some characters died or moved away, the common theme of drama on Wisteria Lane stuck with the four main cast members, Susan, Bree, Lynette, and Gabby with some minor characters getting promoted to bigger roles in later seasons.

So I wrote “The Unicorn-Eater”, my first Splatter Elf title, with these things in mind.

Wait, what?

Burned out with failed novel after failed novel, I decided to write in a shorter, episodic style. Main characters get over-arching stories, but I feel like each story can be read by itself as a stand-alone if needed. For example, Katzia of Clovenhoof is a monster hunting sword-collector that has a penchant for cursing at anyone and anything. She appears in all of the Splatter Elf stories so far, but she has a minor role in “The Bog Wyvern.” In turn, I gave Katzia the main story of competing with her father, also a sword-collector, and her shitty relationship with him. Yet in “The Bog Wyvern” she is dealing with some other issue so she goes off on her merry way “off-camera.” Instead we get the focus on Bathbrady, Katzia’s partner from the first story “The Unicorn-Eater.” The same goes with my first novella One Goblin Army which shifts the focus to Grinner, Bathbrady’s goblin partner in “The Bog Wyvern.” Lots of criss-crossing, weaving, and exploring characters. So why do this? Um, because? Maybe it could be best explained through a fancy list. Everyone loves fancy-ass lists, right?

1.Character Development AF

Ever read something and thought “I wish I could learn more about that character.” This is my way of thinking when doing the Splatter Elf stories. As Joe Abercrombie’s characters change and grow in different stories and novels, I’m attempting to do the same thing. A good example would be Black Dow, but I won’t get into SPOILERS here. For Desperate Housewives, the best choice would be one of my personal favorites Mrs. McCluskey, who starts out as curmudgeonly neighbor, but later grows to be beloved by everyone on Wisteria Lane for her incredible kindness. Giving various characters the spotlight allows readers to learn more about them and watch their journey. Doing this with too many characters can be dangerous, but in moderation it can be fun for both the writer and readers.

2. Explorin’ and Shit

One way to show more of the world is to allow characters to travel. I’ve introduced numerous places in the main continent of Groteskia by honing in on different characters experiences. Wyvern-infested swamps, desolate post-war landscapes, and sites of unicorn butchery. While Desperate Housewives tends to spend almost all of its time on Wisteria Lane, we do get to see inside the homes of most of the characters. The places where murders were hidden, secrets were told, and affairs were had. Mary Alice’s home in particular was a uniquely grim place on the show, the site of a murder, a suicide, stealing a baby, all sorts of horrible shit.

In turn, I began looking at locations as more than just places. They have their own stories, their own lives. Abercrombie’s approach made me think about this idea even deeper. The people of the world don’t just sit there and do nothing, waiting for the main characters to appear. They have their own wars, atrocities, victories, etc. Case in point, Styria, only briefly mentioned here and there in the original First Law trilogy, we get a close-up of it in Best Served Cold. I love this style of seeing new places through different eyes and not just through one set of characters.

3. WTF Moments

One thing we’ve talked about on The Grim Tidings Podcast before is having WTF moments in books. George R.R. Martin seems to be the master of smashing his readers in the face. Abercrombie excels at this as well by having characters that do surprising and unpredictable things. Logen Ninefingers, the Bloody Nine himself, had a lot of depth as a character because he had done so many terrible things in his past. So when he went batshit crazy and slaughtered people on occasion, it gave his arc some WTF moments that can keep the readers hooked.Same with one of the most complex characters in all of fantasy, Sand dan Glotka, former hero turned torturer. Any time he would come up in POVs, it was always exciting to read because you never knew which direction he would go.

And Desperate Housewives builds itself on WTF moments every episode. Seriously, watch it.

I’ve tried to create that same element in my own writing. I wouldn’t call it “shock value” but more along the lines of keeping the reader entertained through off-the-wall characters and situations.

So that’s it for the first Grimspirations post. I didn’t expect to bring Desperate Housewives into this article about Joe Abercrombie’s style having a great influence on me, but it seemed apt. Plus, that’s a grim ass show.

How has Joe Abercrombie made you interested in fantasy fiction? What elements do you think he does the best? Share in the comments below!

-Philip Overby


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