Today I’m wrapping up my George R. R. Martin series of posts. Next week I will be beginning a new series, called Storybuilder Inc., a fun, interactive module where I’ll build a story in stages to demonstrate my story production method. Stay tuned.
[WARNING: SPOILER ALERT]
A book with a stunning plot is the kind that keeps the story alive long after you’ve read it. What is remarkable in George R. R. Martin’s writing is that this plot relies wholly on human drama. It is created by characters, first and foremost. Even stunning things like the walking dead and sorcery are not as intriguing as the characters whose conflicts are as richly layered as the most intricate of spells. In a genre where anything is possible, it shows a great deal of restraint and literary sophistication to build an epic set in a fantastic world primarily on the drama of humans.
And it shows remarkable insight into what truly makes life interesting: the world is rich and wonderful, but it is the journey through it and the translation of experience that makes it richer. Each life has a story, and it is connected to the story of other lives; altogether, these stories create themes and conflict, rich moments worthy of being captured.
Jon and Tyrion are two such characters through whom Martin exemplifies this. Their journeys began together, but even though by Dance with Dragons they have moved apart, Martin reminds us of their parallels by doing subtle things like sometimes placing their chapters back to back. Both characters live beneath the shadow of their father and both have grown up as outcasts. As Jon Snow makes his stand as Lord Commander, Tyrion rides a pig and makes a different sort of stand as he comforts a girl in a way that doesn’t involve his baser instincts.
Martin follows these characters as their life paths diverge, taking them into an unknown as fearful as the external world and its threats. Jon Snow makes his daring move by opposing the factions within the Night’s Watch, and as he does so, his stand against the rising army of undead becomes less significant than his need to prove his worth, to prove he can be an honorable man like his father; as Tyrion restrains Penny from her kisses, we see in him a desire, even if it is small and as fleeting as the tempest that brought them together, to live a different life, to be the son his father told him he’d never be.
Martin treats his characters as real, writes them like their story is true—every sentence, every word. This is just one of the reasons I could read this tale again and again and still find richness hidden in it. It has the intangible feel of experience, where greater depth is always lurking, waiting to be found.
(Based on a series of posts at Following the Footsteps of the Masters, a blog devoted to the things that make epic fantasy great)