Friday, August 22, 2014

What We Love About Game of Thrones That We Shouldn't

We here at Crazy are writers and as such, have this um…problem. It’s like when my friend got a headache then learned on the internet that she was dying of dengue fever, unless the lymphoma got to her first. We writers go to the internet for advice about, you know…writing. The sheer number of “rules” makes us want to stop writing, because we’ll never get it “right.” Yet on every bestseller list sit stories which defy the rule creators.
The series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire (beginning with the fabulous Game of Thrones), sits on a few of those lists. And the New York Times (July 14, 2011) goes so far as to suggest that "it's high time we drove a stake through the heart of J. R. R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings." {GASP!} Did GRRM earn that praise by following the rules? Well, some of them certainly. But no matter how hard I try, I can't imagine him surfing for writing advice.
I can imagine some random brave soul—even in the 1970s when he began writing for real—offering up some writing gospel (“Hey, you know what would be better? If you…”).

I can imagine GRRM applying the blank stare.

We read and nearly weep at the pure genius of the 3 interweaving stories. We marvel at the simple magic of the red comet—how the characters each feel a personal connection to it. We’re jealous that we didn’t think of it first. So what do we love about the series that we would think twice about before writing? Which of these “rules” are given the finger by GRRM?

 1.       Don’t kill the main character. Valar Morghulis. Every man must die. And every character can too (and uh, probably will). Even the main one, the best one, the brightest one. This is risky if the rest of your book does not scream to be read. Readers who are plunged into the cycle of grief are likely to plunge your book off a moving bus (sorry, but hitting the [delete] key on an e-book does not provide the same level of satisfaction). Yet, they tolerate it over and over again in this series. At some point, it becomes a game of morbid curiosity: “I hate this. I’m not reading it anymore. Who is going to bite it next?”

2.       Every sentence should work hard. Not every sentence contributes to the plot. Or does it? How do I know until I get to the end then read it again? Answer: I don’t. Say for instance that I get to the end and realize there were whole sections that were disconnected to the outcome. Writing advice says to cut those. Yet, now that I’ve finished, do I even care that those parts didn’t contribute? Maybe I spend an afternoon at the pool pondering the odds that I’ve been tricked. “They MUST have been part of the plot. I’m just not seeing it! What am I missing?” GRRM has won, because I read the book(s), I enjoyed the story and I’m at the pool still thinking about it.

3.       Write satisfying, realistic characters. Non-conformance to gender roles or other stereotypes runs rampant here! See? Even in a period piece, good guys don’t have to be handsome or strong. Girls don’t have to have girly moments. Other stories develop characters that might seem unique and non-conforming, but somewhere in the text, somehow, they eventually meet reader requirements. For instance, an ugly hero is eventually found beautiful by someone. A tomboy girl eventually brushes out her hair and feels feminine. Nope. Doesn’t have to happen, according to GRRM. And we readers like that. Little girls can kill men. And that’s okay.

4.       Don’t make the reader wait too long. If your story is good enough, you can create a cult following who will a) buy anything, and/or b) wait for a very long time for it.

5.       Start with a theme and keep it in mind. One of the more common themes out there is good vs. evil. Try to pick just one in A Song of Ice and Fire. I dare you. Power? Betrayal? Family? Justice and Judgment? Maybe this is like the red comet: for each of us, we “see” the theme we prefer.

I do not stand on the side of anyone who desires to drive a stake through the heart of J. R. R. Tolkien. Nor do I need to scour the internet for the unbreakable rules of writing. I will deal with my problem in my own way: by giving the finger to these rule creators and getting vaccinated for dengue fever. Then I will read more novels that I shouldn’t.



  1. There is so much I love about this post. I don't know where to begin. First off, I want to steal that sign for my front door. (I'd have to add one disclaimer: *Don't eat in family room.) IMO there's room for both J.R.R, G.R.R and countless other combinations of initials, especially in Fantasy.

  2. The next time you go out you should double-check the locks because I just picked up a bag of Cheetos.

  3. Excellent post. He breaks so many rules! "Don't introduce too many characters." "Don't use a bunch of similar names." "Don't use a bunch made up words." "Don't drop characters for hundreds of pages." "No prologues." "Go light on the backstory and infodumps."

    I think he deliberately breaks them just to see if he can. And he can.