Welcome to a new series of posts I will be contributing over the summer. These are from several articles I wrote over the last year, devoted to my favorite author, George R. R. Martin. Today’s post is about narration. I hope you enjoy these, as I had a lot of fun writing them, and look forward to sharing them over the next few months.
Broken characters are interesting characters. In George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, we meet many of them, and most of quite likable.
Take Tyrion Lannister. Introduced as a witty, amusing character whose japes and intellect make for page-turning chapters all through Game of Thrones and Clash of Kings, Martin sends him for a downward plunge in Storm of Swords, then in Feast we flesh out a lot of the background to Tyrion’s scars by developing his siblings. In Dance with Dragons, Martin turns full-force to this little dwarf, presenting a character who’s as much a ruin as the dragon queen he’s rushing to meet.
Nevermind the Starks, Tyrion Lannister is the center player in A Song of Ice and Fire, a broken character who we love. It seems that everything Martin’s built, he builds to expands the vast world of this little man. Even Jon Snow, another character who, one might argue, is equally as pivotal, was seen to look up to Tyrion long ago, when we first started flipping through the pages of their story.
Martin’s built his world around broken characters, and he’s made a point of breaking them more, and not for the good. Take Penny, the dwarf girl. In Dance, Tyrion sinks lower and lower into drunkenness and depression. It’s easy for him to escape into a world of self-pity and sarcasm, but it seems this girl has touched his heart, in a way he doesn’t like. So begins the war in Tyrion, a war that touches on the truest, centermost things that involve his conflicted character. Yet can we know better by now than to expect it will follow a predictable path.
“And he lived happily ever after,” is not a trope that Martin is susceptible to.
Traditionally, when authors weave the arc of their plot around a character, it serves to develop them, to change them through a key conflict, and usually this transformation is something the reader likes. Martin does no such thing. Rather, we’re left with the bitter taste of reality in our mouths, and something about that creates a greater sense of satisfaction. He’s got it right; he’s got it true, I feel, when I finish each one of his chapters.
And his message isn’t dark, even if it encapsulates the darkest shades of the world we experience. There’s light in it, precious moments that glimmer as shadow and blood surround them, and its for these that I keep reading A Song of Ice and Fire. As a writer, it makes me question what good fiction is, what it aims to do to both reader and writer alike.
It’s the effect that it has long after it’s written, and long after it’s read, that matters.
(Taken from a post at Following the Footsteps of the Masters, a blog devoted to the things that make epic fantasy great)