I wasn’t planning on writing another ‘What I’ve Learned’ post so soon after the one I wrote for The Hunger Games, but since ‘A Game of Thrones’ is one of my favorite books, I couldn’t resist. It’s been a good couple of weeks for literature and book adaptations.
Because I started reading the works of George R.R. Martin after I started writing my own books, (The Dark Matter Chronicles and another fantasy series I’ve got planned), I can’t say I’ve been directly influenced by his work. Having said that, I’ve found that Martin does two things that all writers should do but often don’t.
Kill Your Darlings.
If you’re a writer, this is a key piece of advice that you’ll hear again and again. No one does this better than Martin because no one in his books is beyond the reach of death. A single stroke of a red pen, and they’re cut. And that’s exactly how it should be.
Sure, it’s nice when the good guys prevail and get out a difficult situation unharmed, but it’s not realistic. Good and evil aren’t divided by clear-cut lines, and in a high-stakes situation like war, (I’m going to quote Arya here), ‘anyone can be killed’. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: when you write, you have to tell the truth. And the truth is that anyone can suffer.
But the concept of ‘kill your darlings’ goes beyond that. It doesn’t just apply to the fate of your characters, it applies to your favorite sentences, chapters, that plot twist you thought would be interesting but has no real place in your book. You have to be willing to let go of it all. Why? Because like Martin, you should write in service of your story.
The Story Comes First.
Not you as a writer. Not your wants or your agenda or your plans. The story always comes first and it’s your responsibility to write in service of it. This is why you kill your darlings, go in directions you’re not entirely comfortable with, and spend hours and hours rewriting a few sentences to get them right. It might be easier to write whatever you want and not be concerned with what the story demands, but it’s certainly not better. Writing is a difficult art. It’s not about who you are and your ego; it’s about creating something of value, something that enriches the lives of others.
It isn’t an easy to thing to do. The outline for the second book of The Dark Matter Chronicles is complete…with one exception. There’s an event that I’ve been debating about including for a while now because it has significant repercussions in the third book and will really hurt some of my main characters. It will likely be one of the most difficult scenes I have to write. Even as I write this post, I’m trying to think of ways around it. But I know it must be done because the story will be better for it. I might be unpopular as a result, but the story will be better. That’s what’s required if I want to write in service of my craft rather than myself.
So, with that in mind, I hope you all enjoy the season premiere of A Game of Thrones tonight. If the brilliant plot lines, constant twists, and fantasy world don’t get you, then remember this: it has dragons. Dragons!