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Observations & Lessons

I’m reading G.R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, the first book in his massive fantasy epic. I know I’m a decade behind the curve on this, but I enjoyed the first season of the show, so I thought I would make the plunge. I’ve never read any of Martin’s other works, so this was bound to be a learning venture from the beginning.

And, dare I say, I have indeed learned a lot. Martin really knows his way around words, and he writes a gripping tale. I’m only 145 pages in, but I’m easily bored by such things, and I have a bad habit of dropping novels or tv shows that lose my interest. So, why have I been sticking with GOT?

My first answer should be pretty obvious, I think. The chapters are short, the story really fast moving, and the writing somewhat propulsive. These short chapters remind me in a way of the stylized pulp writing of Jim Butcher’s the Dresden Files. Those books are more formulaic, and they feature short chapters that each end of a cliffhanger, resolve it in the next chapter only to end in another, maybe worse cliffhanger, again and again till done. Butcher’s work is designed to keep you engaged and keep flipping the pages.

GOT does this too, although I would say it’s a little less by the numbers in doing so.

Martin doesn’t weigh you down with exposition. There’s a rich history in Westeros, and a detailed world out there, but he lets the reader put it together in bits and pieces. There’s a cumulative buildup of setting, and it never outweighs the narrative. For example, he gives you enough background on each character to identify with, but not too much. We are not given long treatises on Westeros facial hair styles, or specific clothing styles, or the anatomy and life-cycle of dire wolves, or religious hierarchy, etc.

Martin gives the reader a strong impression of each of the characters and their world. We know Sansa is ladylike, Arya is a tomboy, Jon is kind and idealistic, and so forth. I doubt I could remember any of their eye colors, or hair styles, or whatever, but I remember the characters and their key elements. Martin lets the reader fill in the blanks, and because that’s the way our minds work, by inference, we do.

In effect, is Martin is more interested in telling a ripping good yarn than being an educator. Yes, we get the education as we advance into his setting, but it is never pedantic or dry. He gives us the tools to piece Westeros together as he propels the story along.

Lastly, I will say that while his writing style is not sparse, neither is Martin’s prose purple. It is well crafted and muscular. He does not appear to be attempting full on literature, dazzling us with insights and poetic turns of phrase, but he chugs along happily within genre writing. He seems more intent on entertaining readers than impressive literary critics.

Caveat: All opinions are my own. I come late to the world of GOT, and you may see it very differently than I do. That’s fine.

Published inBlogWriting