If you’re a writer—not just a fantasy writer, but anyone who wants to study someone who is doing things well—then you need to read a little George R. R. Martin.
Now, admittedly, you might not read a lot of him. After all, his fifth book in the A Song of Fire and Ice series clocks in at nearly a thousand pages, and he’s not even done telling the story yet. I can see how you might not have time for that.
But it is worth it to pick up one of his books to study two things: character development, and scene writing. Martin is excellent at both of these important tools in the author’s craft. His characters stand out as unique and believable people, and that’s a feat, given that there are so many characters whose stories are being told in these books. If you’re looking to learn about how to write different characters inhabiting a fantasy milieu, Martin is someone to study and consider.
The other thing that Martin does well is craft a scene that holds your attention from beginning to end. This is particularly noticeable in the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, which has the advantage of being new and driven toward action and character development to hook readers for future books.
But it’s also noticeable at the start and end of each chapter. Martin usually starts off with a sentence that grips you, and usually ends at a mini-cliffhanger to keep you reading. In his case, this is essential to his structure. He switches from viewpoint to viewpoint, and tells the overall story from at least ten characters, and this number grows as you go on further in the series. It’s a bit overwhelming, and the only way to keep a reader going is to make each chapter a scene with punch. Martin for the most part does this consistently.
For those of you who read but don’t write, Martin is a mixed bag to recommend. I personally enjoyed A Game of Thrones greatly. It’s fantasy, but told very realistically, as though it’s an in-depth look at what life is like in medieval Europe and the Near East. A lot of the characters are likeable, and those who aren’t likeable are at least understandable. No one is a full hero, or a complete bad guy. Instead, they’re real people with a mix of admirable qualities, brutal failings, and wounded parts.
As I’ve gone further in the series though, I’ve been reminded why I gave up on reading fantasy series years ago. The fifth book is sitting on my chair at home. As I said, it’s nearly a thousand pages. And the first chapter (aka prologue) starts with a character I’ve never heard of. But who wants something new, especially now? I want to see how this story ends, and I wonder if Martin and I will ever get there.
A Song of Fire and Ice was originally pitched to publishers as a trilogy. Now, though, Martin is five books in, and probably won’t finish the story for at least three more books. An octology? Octet? Octopus? It is certainly starting to feel like an octopus of a story, with so many arms that I’m getting a little weary. I suspect there are some readers who feel the same, but many others love Martin now as much as ever.
So, should you read Martin or not? This is definitely a personal decision for you to make. How much time are you willing to commit to reading a series? Does it bother you to read novel after novel without an ending in sight? If so, then Martin's a no. But if you are willing to commit to a series that is still being written, you should give Martin a try. He’s definitely one of the better writers on the fantasy shelves.
Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.