One of the arguably grandest television events in history concludes tonight. A Song of Ice and Fire rates up there with The Lord of the Rings when it comes to enthralling story development, but what makes these stories the successes they have become? Well, in my opinion, they each bring something a little bit different, but equally important, to the table.
First off, I will admit that while I have listened to A Song of Ice and Fire, I have only watched the first season of the TV show and part of the second for reasons of my own.
As regular readers know, I have a bit of a hike to go into the office, but the Visible Means of Support™ demands my presence onsite, so I listen to audiobooks during my commute. The readers for both A Song of Ice and Fire and The Lord of the Rings are quality voice actors who bring the stories to life in the audio presentations.
George RR Martin has developed the characters to such an extent, that you feel you know those people. As the novels progress, you can feel the personalities change, how the characters come to hate or respect each other, however grudgingly in some cases. Now, some of the nuances of Who an individual is on the inside can only be alluded to by the actions of the actor on the screen; in the books, you get in their heads. My understanding of the various characters’ motivations come from reading, not watching.
Martin kept us captivated with characters that developed organically, each with their own motivations because of their pasts and their places in the world. The characters are deep and complex, just like real people. In some cases, their descent into greatness or madness is steep, in others, it is much more restrained. What is not as obvious is a solid story arc. And from all the chatter I see on social media, the fans are less than pleased with how the television show is reaching its conclusion.
But Martin has left foreshadowing all over the place. In some cases, those hints are glaringly obvious, in others, they are so subtle that you could easily miss them—especially in the TV shows. As I said earlier, it’s harder to show the nuances of a personality on the screen than on the page.
JRR Tolkien brought his stories to life with a solid story arc and serious character development. He told the Hero’s Tale well. The movies captured the vision, the actors portrayed the internal conflicts and emotions, and the viewers either interpreted the feelings correctly or not. In the books, I listened to the thoughts in their heads when those thoughts were shared by the author, a task that is up to the actor to convey either through action or facial expression and therefore, subject to individual interpretation.
While I realize that a screen adaptation of any novel is the vision of the actors, writers, directors, and producers, when classics such as A Song of Ice and Fire and The Lord of the Rings sagas are produced on the screen, I think fans expect to see their own visions come to life. I know I do and am disappointed when a movie falls short of the book.
So, how do we, as writers, bring the strengths of these works together to create our own masterpieces? I’ve read several articles on how other authors write, and like most other pursuits, the writing process is an individual endeavor. I am not much of a plotter. I get a rough idea for a story that goes something like this:
Ordinary life is suddenly upended by an extreme event, and the protagonist(s) must react to the sudden change in circumstance. Another external event occurs to derail the original plan the protagonist(s) made, and they must make a new plan. In the meantime, the antagonist is close on their heels, so they need to find a way to confront their own fears and the antagonist, and find a way to safety.
Now, that’s more of an idea than a plot outline, but that’s as far as I usually get when plotting. Characters, on the other hand, tend to tell me what they want and where they want to go. Mostly they follow the direction the rough “plot” I have in my mind, but boy do they get sidetracked.
What I see happening in A Song of Ice and Fire is that the characters have hijacked the story, and now the writers are scrambling to land the story arc according to the vision of the author, George RR Martin. Gathering all the story threads and neatly tying them off might not be possible when you consider the many thoughts, actions, and pressures the characters have experienced, not to mention the sheer number of characters in the series.
I think we always knew how The Lord of the Rings arc would end, but the adventure was in how the Heroes dealt with the challenges thrown out by the Villain. Not so with A Song of Ice and Fire. When the first of our Heroes went down in Book One, I realized this series was like no other—expect the unexpected and look for clues and foreshadowing.
I have no idea how this series will end. I have my theories but will keep them to myself, as I haven’t listened to the saga in some time, so some of the nuances of the story have slipped my memory. But I can almost guarantee it will be a surprise that will leave fans wanting more.