Category Archives: George R. R. Martin Series

Character Generated Plot

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]

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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)

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Want to read more by Graeme? Check out The Pact, the first story in a dark epic fantasy series, now available for KoboKindle, and other ebook formats.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog, Fantasy Writing Journey, and if you like learning about a unique word each day, come check out Graemeophones

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Description that Counts

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)

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Want to read more by Graeme? Check out The Pact, the first story in a dark epic fantasy series, now available for KoboKindle, and other ebook formats.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog, Fantasy Writing Journey, and if you like learning about a unique word each day, come check out Graemeophones

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Wonderful, Wicked Queen Cersei

When Cersei Lannister ruled the pages of Feast for Crows, I found her to be one of the most intriguing character in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Martin uses this slower book to show us beneath the many facades of perceived evil and develop a theme that is as disturbing as it is enlightening. Peeling back layer upon layer, Martin takes us into the heart of a woman who outwardly is wicked, but inwardly is as vulnerable and terrified as anyone else. In Feast for Crows, we see in Cersei a steady decay, a growing desperation that feeds vanity and a false sense of invincibility. She generalizes people, she hates, she plots, but she also cowers, hides and frets. She is, at heart, a wounded girl who never learned to trust and has consequently built a life out of lies; she’s good, but she’s evil.

Cersei as a viewpoint character creates a bitter-sweet encounter with the unsettling truths Martin is depicting in his rich tapestry.  It is well done.  His writing challenges our concept of what evil truly is, and the relativity that exists behind the construct we know as morality.  “There is nothing either good nor bad, but thinking makes it so,” says Rosencrantz and Shakespeare both, and Martin in this modern day invokes medieval forms to show us the same disturbing truth.

When I read I like to be challenged not only by characters and their conflicts, but the truths I encounter. It’s not about escape, but about deepening my appreciation for the world and what it means to be human. Martin, in Feast, and through Cersei Lannister, does this fully, making us uncomfortable on the deepest of levels, yet at the same time shaking us with the resonance of profound chords of reality. He’s not out for shock, he’s not out to impress us. He’s simply devoted to the truth–not his truth or my truth or your truth, but the one that lies somewhere in between.

Like Melisandre’s Lord of Light, it’s one thing, bright and burning, but found through shadows; like the Many Gods, it comes in myriad forms. Thus it escapes us, but we can’t escape it.

(Based on a series of posts at Following the Footsteps of the Masters, a blog devoted to the things that make epic fantasy great)

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Want to read more by Graeme? Check out The Pact, the first story in a dark epic fantasy series, now available for KoboKindle, and other ebook formats.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog, Fantasy Writing Journey, and if you like learning about a unique word each day, come check out Graemeophones

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Tribute to George R. R. Martin – The Midpoint

Welcome back to my summer series of posts devoted to my favorite author, George R. R. Martin. Today’s post is about a key part of story structure, the midpoint. 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.

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Every story that is written well conforms to a certain structure, and though there are many ways to describe it, it is essentially the same.  Knowing this structure, one can quickly spot where a writer has wandered away from the essence of their story.  Even without knowing this, a poorly told tale rubs the reader the wrong way.  Maybe the plot wanders too much, or it takes forever for the story to start.  A well-told story, on the other hand, might still catch us off guard, but as long as, upon stepping back, we can quickly see why the author did it and agree that, for the work we’re reading, the technique works, then we will come forward again and keep reading.

Martin’s writing is exemplary of this.  Even in Storm of Swords, a novel built upon the theme of wandering, of being an alien in a large, unforgiving world, he kept true to the essential structure of story.  His opening sequence was long, his midpoint was hard to capture in one small section of the narrative, his inflections on either side were so slight they blended into the major turning points from the opening to the resolution, and his climax drew out one hundred pages.  But it was perfectly matched for the theme – the seeming pointlessness of life’s many paths.

Dance with Dragons is another sort of beast, but Martin has tamed it well.  It is the first book where each section of the story’s main structure is easy to pick out, even if it blends in organically to the whole – exactly how it should be in a tale that is about the synthesis of the pointless with the grandeur of the fantastic.

The midpoint is the tipping point of the story, where the circumstances the author has introduced us to change.  In the sense of an arc, this is the apex.  From this point forward the stakes are higher and the narrative rushes toward the resolution of the conflict(s) that move the plot.  Martin’s machine in his books is like a complicated bunch of gears, turning in several increments, a little here, a little there, yet when the clock hand strikes twelve, we know it.

Take, for example, Areo Hotah. We meet him in Feast for Crows, a sort of window character who Martin introduces to show us what is happening behind the scenes in Dorne.  Dance then developed the other side, showing us Quentyn and Prince Aegon.  The conflict is changing, not just for this novel, but for the whole epic.  Dragons are indeed dancing into view as an inevitable Targaryen contest waits to erupt.

Martin has done something else quite interesting with his Song of Ice and Fire.  Rather than building his overarc toward a climax, he has built it downward, to an extreme low, so that here, in his midpoint – a midpoint of a midpoint – he begins a steady ascent upward.  Fire stirs, and the ices come, but the climax anticipated is not so much a descent toward resolution, but an ascent from pent-up conflicts that have been waiting to spring from dormancy.  It is brilliantly done, a story that is rooted in all the details of the present narrative, yet structured so that as a whole it moves like a planet on its set orbit, a path we can trust will take us to where it promises.

(Taken from a post at Following the Footsteps of the Masters, a blog devoted to the things that make epic fantasy great)

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Want to read more by Graeme? Check out The Pact, the first story in a dark epic fantasy series, now available for KoboKindle, and other ebook formats.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog, Fantasy Writing Journey, and if you like learning about a unique word each day, come check out Graemeophones

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Tribute to George R. R. Martin – Don’t Forget the Four Senses

Welcome to a another posts in my summer series devoted to my favorite author, George R. R. Martin. Today’s post is about the power of the senses in fantasy writing. I hope you enjoy these, as I had a lot of fun writing them, and look forward to sharing more over the next few months.

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Visual description usually gets the most attention in writing.  An author describes what their character sees, describes the events that unfold, describes buildings, the setting sun, the ladder-back chair against the far wall, a character we meet sketched quickly with some well-chosen adjectives.  But there are four other senses too that make our world disparate and real.  There are sounds, smells, touches and tastes.  Sounds are often not forgotten – the world is as noisy as it is colorful, but smells and tastes and touches can be forgotten when we go into the realm of imagination.

John might walk down the street, where shadows stalk the alleyways and a brindle cat watches from a lantern-lit window, and this is intriguing.  But how much more real is it if he walks down that same alley and smells nightsoil in the ditches, mingled with the reek of mold and wet stone, if the cool fog clings to his forehead and a bead of sweat scurries down his cheek, if someone is screaming far away, a distant echo…

Suddenly, I’m not just in a dark alley.  Now, I’m John, and I’m in the dark alley with him.

George R. R. Martin does a brilliant job with the senses. Particularly, in his depiction of Arya as a blind girl. He uses the opportunity to do a fascinating depiction of those four senses we often forget.  These few chapters, the most recent installments in his epic, are full of descriptions of smells and sounds, touch and taste.  “Men had a different smell than women,” we read, “and there was a hint of orange in the air as well.”  Or, as Arya is eating, we find her “savoring the tastes and smells, the rough feel of the crust beneath her fingers, the slickness of the oil, the sting of the hot pepper when it got into the half-healed scrape on the back of her hand.”

Martin is vivid, and therein lies his power.  Fiction that skims over the details that make it real creates a distance between the reader and the characters who they have the opportunity to experience vicariously.  Remembering to give attention to the five sense allows the emotions embedded beneath their experience to be believable.  This is yet another thing Mr. Martin does that should be noted for anyone who wishes to see how writing can be full of realism and thus, fully engaging.

(Taken from a post at Following the Footsteps of the Masters, a blog devoted to the things that make epic fantasy great)

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Want to read more by Graeme? Check out The Pact, the first story in a dark epic fantasy series, now available for KoboKindle, and other ebook formats.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog, Fantasy Writing Journey, and if you like learning about a unique word each day, come check out Graemeophones

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Tribute to George R. R. Martin – In Medias Res

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 effective beginnings. 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.

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A good story starts in the middle of the action and let’s you fill in the pieces when the momentum wanes.  This way, as a reader, you are always kept busy, never losing interest in the tale.  Effective tale-telling intrigues; it’s not just action for action’s sake.

Every chapter that George R. R. Martin presents us in his Song of Ice and Fire series, like the beginning of a new story, is introduced in medias res. For example, in Dance with Dragons, a chapter begins with red fires burning while Jon Snow observes the wedding of Alys Karstark, but last we left him we were informed that Stannis was marching to his doom.

Wait a minute…where the heck did this wedding come from?  Ah – that’s just the point.  Martin always makes sure to knit the seams together, eventually tying back to the previous narrative sequence, but only after he’s established a new layer of development.  Lots of things happen between chapters, parts of the tale that aren’t told, so that the parts that are leave lots of room for speculation.

A deeply engaged reader is a happy reader.  Martin chooses to hold back pieces of his tale from us just as carefully as he chooses what to reveal.  This is hard to accomplish, but, as with many other things he is doing, Martin is setting a standard for many writers to come, showing how to define narrative scoping and pacing.

Doing this effectively, Martin can tell a story larger than the word count he delivers, much like the ravens that take wing from one castle to another, telling the tale not just of one hero or two, but of a whole host of people, good villains and wicked protagonists – just like the story of life we all know too well.

(Taken from a post at Following the Footsteps of the Masters, a blog devoted to the things that make epic fantasy great)

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Want to read more by Graeme? Check out The Pact, the first story in a dark epic fantasy series, now available for KoboKindle, and other ebook formats.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog, Fantasy Writing Journey, and if you like learning about a unique word each day, come check out Graemeophones

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Tribute to George R. R. Martin – Broken Characters

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.

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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)

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Want to read more by Graeme? Check out The Pact, the first story in a dark epic fantasy series, now available for KoboKindle, and other ebook formats.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg), and if you like learning about a unique word each day, come check out his new blog, Graemeophones

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A Summer Series – A Tribute to George R. R. Martin

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.

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Choosing how to tell a story has been an ongoing exploration in the world of fiction ever since us writers started trying to write our stories down.  The appeal of the omniscient narrator invokes the truest spirit of the fireside story-teller, while the first-person tale gives the intimacy of a secret whispered in the ear.  In our modern age of evolving fiction, perspective narration, a fusion of the two, is emerging as a powerful, engaging medium for the artists who choose the keyboard as their paintbrush.

Martin brings this medium to its edge.  His chapters are a beautiful balance of sensory, emotional and mental descriptions, a live-action third-person that takes you directly into the characters he chooses to inhabit.  This power is evinced in his ability to introduce a new character and immediately establish a connection to him or her.  I’ve seen Barristan Selmy, the knight who’s always watching, always ready with a wise word for his queen, but now, in a short chapter (beautifully its own small story in a larger arc) I know him.  Martin doesn’t rely on simple rules and idioms, either.  He genuinely walks in each character’s shoes when he conveys for us these episodes.  He’s not just writing; he’s acting, and doing a damn good job of it.

Then there’s Victarion.  I haven’t seen this guy in more than 800 pages, and for me with my busy schedule that’s 5 months, but in the short course of a chaotic scene full of monkey shit and homosexual jibes, the spirit of the Iron Islander lives again.  When Martin returns to this old character, he hasn’t changed.  Victarion Greyjoy isn’t just a bunch of details on a profile page, crafted for the sake of an evolving story.  He is the story, as much the whole of it as a component, like a cell in a living thing.  That’s a real character, and that’s what I, as a writer, strive for in my own writing.

As one who wishes to learn from those who have a masterful hold on this wonderful craft, I take away from Mr. Martin the desire to make my characters come to life.  That’s the heart of the story, as he so aptly reveals.

There’s the fireside storyteller, then there’s the first person account.  Yet something new is emerging, a storyteller who makes their storytelling real – the hypnotist, with their hypnotic suggestions – and Martin is edging in closer with his pioneering masterpiece, leading the way for those of us who eagerly work to take fiction somewhere it’s never been before.

(Taken from a post at Following the Footsteps of the Masters, a blog devoted to the things that make epic fantasy great)

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Want to read more by Graeme? Check out The Pact, the first story in an epic fantasy series, now available for KoboKindle, and other ebook formats.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg), and if you like learning about a unique word each day, come check out his new blog, Graemeophones

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