Sunday, 6 January 2013

Learn from the greats, writing tips from R.R.Martin (guest post)

George R.R Martin – The Master of Gritty Political Fantasy
At the recent World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, George R.R Martin mentioned reading about a king in Ancient Jerusalem who went mad and began executing courtiers and ordering the hands cut off all the women at court. “Why doesn't the captain of the guard say to the sergeant, ‘This guy is [expletive] nuts’?” Martin pointed out. They should say, “We have swords! Why don't we kill him instead?'”
His fascination with power structures and the shifting sands on which they are built is a theme running strong through his epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire and its massively popular HBO adaption Game of Thrones. Martin’s gritty take on fantasy undercuts conventions of the genre, and creates a fictional world embroiled in war and political intrigue, bringing to mind periods from our history such as the civil wars of Ancient Rome, or the War of the Roses.
Martin was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, so it’s no surprise that his novels look at the brutality of war, the powers behind it and its moral ambiguity. He enjoys creating characters who are constantly forced to make a choice when all the choices are bad; who are constantly caught between the requirements of family and clan loyalties, social and political standards and their own personal desires.
He is famous for being unafraid to kill off major characters, as well as for taking a notoriously long time to write. Fans frequently bemoan the long delays between each new installment, only to be reminded by Neil Gaiman that “George R.R Martin is not your b**ch”.
Tips from the Man Himself
The books are beloved, and the TV series has become a cultural phenomenon. George R.R Martin is a big name right now, and he has always been willing to give advice to budding writers hoping to emulate his success.
  • Fans often ask Martin for advice on writing fan fiction, to which his response is that they shouldn't write fan fiction. He believes writers should get used to creating their own characters and worlds. Whether it’s the universe of Game of Thrones, Tolkien or Star Wars, he believes that writers take the lazy option when they copy someone else’s world. The only way to develop literary talent it to exercise “literary muscles”.
  • Don't hoard your silver bullet: Martin gave this advice to his friend Melinda Snodgrass, who was unsure whether to submit her script for a Star Trek episode entitled “Measure of a Man”. The script had the android Data put on trial to determine whether he is man or property, and she felt the subject matter might be too weighty due to its parallels with the Dred Scott vs. Sandford case of 1857. Martin encouraged Melinda to submit the episode, which would become one of the most memorable in Star Trek history (
  • Start small: Martin says he's been approached by fans asking for advice on writing their own epic sagas. To him that's tantamount to someone who's just started rock-climbing requesting advice on climbing Mount Everest. Martin believes new writers should hone their craft by writing short stories first. Something like A Song of Ice and Fire is the product of years of experience and research.
  • Trimming sentences and such can often significantly reduce the length of a work. This is a technique picked up during his years writing for television, where executives would tell him to cut scenes in order to reduce a script's length. Loath to part with important character development or action-sequences, he'd go through the script trimming words off sentences and dialogue instead, to make it appear shorter in length.
  • On writing scenes: Just as writers should have a clear idea of the characters’ goals throughout the story, they should also have a clear idea of their goals within each scene. The intentions of each participant are important to build the dynamic of the scene, and to ensure the reader feels something significant has occurred by the end of it, whether it’s a character change or resolution of some kind. This scene-by-scene approach results in stronger work overall.
  • Read and write a lot: This advice often given to budding writers, but Martin goes further and insists they should experience writing in every genre and on every medium, and should write as much as possible, even if it's just a page or two a day.
George R.R Martin is well known for regularly participating in fan conventions and the like, where he readily interacts with fans eager to seek advice from one of the masters of the fantasy and science fiction genres.
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Written by Matthew Flax on behalf of House of Publishers, a directory of publishing resources and advice portal for aspiring writers.

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