It is rare in a book that an author can keep every sentence alive until the very finish, but Martin doesn’t lose a beat yet, even after three consecutive books whose word counts hover around 400,000. Every chapter opens with a hook, like a new story that pulls you in until its finish, and every chapter, like a story, has its own structure and unique twists, a sequence of disparate moments that are full of meaning.
Martin’s descriptions are rich not just because they are so vivid, but because they are well chosen. In chapters about submission, snow and fickle flames are meaningful elements, and Martin uses them well to highlight his themes. In Dance with Dragons, Theon walks once more in a castle he once grew up in, a place that he ruined, and he himself is a ruin. Asha is captive, marching alongside a man whose vanity is deep as her brother’s, and Daenerys continues to deny herself, even when confronted with a pact that was sealed when she was a girl in Braavos. The snow falls and Martin’s words flicker beneath it with resound to suit a much deeper purpose.
Perhaps that is his secret. It is a general no-no for any writer to overdescribe, yet Martin’s epic would be spoiled if he held back. He has opened up the veil to a world with themes as deep as the detail in the richest of paintings. Full of characters, vignettes, and powerful moments rooted in emotions that linger, his prose breathe life into fictitious realism that is unforgettable.
As a writer, I know what it means to try and make every word count. It’s damn hard, and involves a lot of rewriting. One learns not to rush this process; I am not a fan of quick drafts that demand fixing. Words shape themselves like paints from an artists brush, and they must be chosen carefully, stroke by stroke. Martin does this, making every word, and thus every description, count.
And this is the difference between stories that live for a season and stories that live forever.
(Based on a series of posts at Following the Footsteps of the Masters, a blog devoted to the things that make epic fantasy great)