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.
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)