What I’ve Learned from ‘A Game of Thrones’/George R.R. Martin

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!

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What The Hunger Games Has Taught Me About Writing

If you haven’t heard of a little book/soon to be in theatres movie called The Hunger Games, then chances are you don’t live on planet Earth, (or you’re not a fan of YA books which is also possible but somehow less likely in my twisted mind). With all the anticipation surrounding the movie, I couldn’t help but reflect on how I have been influenced by the books. I’ve read through the series 3 times now and each time, I’ve learned something new.

Here are a few of the most important lessons I’ve taken from The Hunger Games:

Introduce your world at the beginning.

I don’t just mean within the first chapter, I mean within the first paragraph. I’ve mentioned how important an opening sentence is to setting the tone for the rest of the book in an earlier post. It’s equally as important that the reader knows what kind of book they’re getting into. A strong opening that captures the essence of the book and hooks a reader in will help your audience stick with it for longer. Not only that, it lets them know what they’re in for. In the first paragraph of The Hunger Games, we know that Katniss wakes up on the day of the reaping (a word closely related to reaper, which we associate with death). Just a quick mention of reaping day and that’s enough to keep readers going until the author has a chance to build an emotional connection with the reader.  Which leads to my next point…

Create an emotional connection early on.

When you reveal something personal about your main character, (e.g. the relationship between Katniss and her younger, more fragile sister Prim), it makes your protagonist more relatable. The easier it is relate to him or her, the easier it is for you to build an emotional connection with your readers. That’s how you get people invested in your characters and stick with them until the end. For me, I connected with the story when Prim’s name was chosen and Katniss volunteers in her place. That was the moment I became fully invested in Suzanne Collins’s world. Again, this plot point occurred early on (end of chapter 1/beginning of chapter 2).

Be honest about human nature.

The reason why this series strikes such a chord with so many people is because the issues presented within it are a reflection of many things happening in our world. The division between rich and poor, the garishness of reality TV, and the ongoing wars and violent acts that are carried out everyday are just some of the issues that it touches upon. While your story doesn’t haven’t to revolve around specific events in our world, (or even take place on Earth), it should tell the truth about human nature. Like all artists, writers have a responsibility to tell the truth—about who people are, what we’re like, what we’ll do—in any given circumstance. A good book will hold up a mirror to humanity and say ‘here you are’. And when a book tells the truth as well as The Hunger Games does, people are responsive to it.

Create a logical and consistent world.

Everything about the world within The Hunger Games is rational. It makes complete sense as to why society organized the way it did, why the games take place, why the people behave as they do. I’ve found that if I ask any ‘why’ question about the world, the answer I get will be consistent with the answer to any other ‘why’ question.  This is because the world is well thought out. This is what every writer should strive for. I find that sometimes writers don’t spend enough of time on this and when they don’t, it always shows. It usually means there are gaps in the background story, plot, or with character development. Odds are that your reader will walk away unsatisfied. If your world fundamentally doesn’t make sense, your readers will know. And it will detract from the quality of your work.

If you’re like me, (neurotic with a long list of issues), or a fan of the book, you’ve probably already bought your ticket for opening weekend. In which case, I’ll see you guys in line at the theater. I should warn you though; I have developed a method to shove people out of my way as I run to the best seats at back. And since there were 8 Harry Potter movies, I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

May the odds be ever in your favor.