Saturday, February 11, 2006

George R.R. Martin

I've been reading George Martin's fantasy saga A Song of Fire and Ice for over a month now and am mid-way through book three. Book four is now out. There are days I love the series and days I am bogged down and think it will never end. Sometimes the things I love and hate are the same.

For instance, he has created a very indepth and fully functioning world. The downside? There is so much I can't even begin to keep it straight. If Martin himself has made errors on which lord flies which banner and who that lord is currently loyal to and how that differs from whom his father was loyal to, I will never know. I cannot fathom Martin himself keeping it straight with even the best database available. The amount of minutae is amazing.

There are thirteen point of view characters, and it's possible I missed some in my counting. One of them has not yet intersected any of the others, and he's killed a couple off so I guess we're down to eleven. Thankfully she is interesting in her own right, and is advancing on the rest of them. Martin does not rotate through them like clockwork, which is a good thing because their circumstances are not all equally compelling at any given moment. Unfortunately, not each character is all that compelling either. One thing Martin HAS done well, though, is title the chapters with the pov character's name and make each pov voice distinct. They do change and adapt and learn things, but their personalities remain strong and clear. A couple of these characters are not clearly either *good* guys or *bad* guys, and that keeps them interesting as well.

What would it take to write a series like this? My mind boggles at the thought. I have to admit I don't really want to write something similar. I prefer getting in less heads and having one major story to tell with a few subplots woven in. Is it because I am a lazier or newer writer than Martin? I don't think so, but some may differ, and time may prove otherwise. This is not what I aspire to.

One thing I want to do as well, however. I want my characters to be as unique. I don't want a family to have eight kids simply because that's the size of families typical for that era or its birth rate or birth control level. If a family has eight kids in one of my stories, I want it to be because eight different personalities need to interplay to bring the story to completion. A story can't afford to have a bunch of second level characters that bring nothing distinct to the table.

Anyone read this series? What did you like or dislike about it? Enquiring minds want to know.


The Hermit said...

Martin is incredibly good at keeping track of all his variables--which is one reason why it takes him so long to get a book out. Yes, the minutae can be overwhelming if you're focusing on it--but for me, whenever a new Martin book (or short story) comes out, I read through it as quickly as I can, getting the basic idea for what happens in the story. Then, I re-read at least once (usually lots, lots more) picking up the details and allusions to the wider legends/history that I missed on the first run. To me, that's what makes his books so enjoyable; I can re-read with just as much gusto as I read the first time, and get something new out of each re-reading.

Also, you're right. His characters are gripping, compelling, and dynamic. For example, Jamie Lannister has turned out to be one of my favorite characters--and at the beginning of aGoT, he was the one I wanted to see skewered. I disagree though about secondary characaters; I think a number of characters that hang out on the fringe of the story are useful in a variety of ways. The trouble with Martin is, a character that seems secondary might, in fact, end up being a POV character later on (like Davos the Onion Knight); or, one of those secondary characters turns out to be of major importance to the story (like Barristan the Bold).

Martin's distinctive style, I think, comes from his years of working in TV and Hollywood; he's able to adapt screen-image and POV shifting to writing, but isn't about the usual Hollywood trite. Good people sometimes die unjustly and bad people get ahead; that's the way the real world works. But, I get the feeling from Martin that there's more than that--the magic and the heroic and the legendary that are, at the moment (as of the end of A Feast for Crows), just beginning to emerge into the main, have something to do with a larger concern for life and the world.

I hope you really come to love this series. I think he's one of the best writers of fantasy out there right now. (P.S.--I'm a friend of Karens, she asked me to give you some of my thoughts on GRRM)

Valerie Comer said...

Thank you for your comments, Hermit. I think what I was meaning about the second level characters (in reference to the family) was that each of the Stark children has a very distinct personality. For example, even if you missed the header you would never think Arya's chapter was Sansa's, even when they were together at the beginning of the series. Their outlook on life is completely different, and I appreciate that. They each have their own part to play.

Davos and Baristan started out more like third level (or further down than that), just parts of lists of names, until they surfaced again later on with real parts to play of their own.

I finished book three today. I'm taking a brief vacation before starting Four! There's a bit of a build-up in my TBR pile.

Nienke Hinton said...

I agree about the individual character voices. Not easy. Perhaps you could go a little deeper into how Martin did it or how you would do it?