Spoiler-free thoughts on A Dance With Dragons
Confessional week ahoy! I must confess: I haven’t been writing at all, the last two weeks. I got stuck in Westeros.
I’m a huge fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, so much so that I refused to read A Feast for Crows when I learned that it was really one half of a much longer book. Imagining a split along the lines of Tad Williams’ 2-volume To Green Angel Tower, I put my copy of A Feast for Crows on the shelf and waited. And waited.
So I dropped everything when my copy of Dance of Dragons appeared in my mailbox, and I finally finished it today. (No spoilers here.) I couldn’t stop reading the darn thing, but honestly, the pace was not what I hoped it would be. Winter is coming… and ASOIAF‘s main plot got caught in the blizzard.
I will also say, and this is petty of me, but I pray to the old gods and the new that GRRM, bless his heart, never pens the phrase as useless/useful as nipples on a breastplate ever again. You hear me GRRM? All the lamprey pies and turtles and neeps and “words are wind”s and “you know nothing Jon Snow”s and “A Lannister pays his debts” you want, but for the love of little green Fossoways, no more stolen stale jokes. Especially not a dozen times, out of the mouths or thoughts of several different characters.
We’ve heard it. And, having penned some of the best one-liners I’ve ever read, I feel it’s safe to say you’re way better than that.
So now I’m thinking- what can I learn from A Dance of Dragons? As a reader, I know I will continue to read the series. In fact, it’s still my favorite thing going. Hands down, by far, no question. As a writer, I ask myself, why? I’ve abandoned plenty of other fantasy sagas due to what I felt was bloat (Wheel of Time, Sword of Truth, Dune etc), so what’s so special to me about ASOIAF?
I love some of the characters.
So, despite a slower pace than what I would’ve liked, I still want to know what happens to them. But what do I mean by that? Do I care who wins the Iron Throne?
Actually, no. I don’t. Huh.
I just want justice. I just want everyone to reap what they’ve sown. That’s all. So I complain about 900 pages of creeping plot, but I’d read another 900 pages of creeping plot tomorrow if I could get my greedy little paws on it. Oh yes, I would. Because the characters are compelling. Awful things happen to all of them, some deserved, most not, and I’m dying to know how it all shakes out.
So I conclude: Write some well-rounded characters, and then wrong them. Horribly and repeatedly, and then stand back and see what they do. Set it up well enough and readers will beg for the payoff, especially if the payoff feels uncertain.
…oh, and if you’re going to write an epic story, make sure you have the whole thing plotted first, or else your author’s notes may state that writing your book was “three bitches and a bastard.”
As the Kindly Man would say, It is good to know these things.