10 Takeaways From George RR Martin

Isabel Berwick had lunch with Game of Thrones author, George RR Martin, and wrote this great article for the Financial Times. This post is not meant to replace it, but here are a few takeaways that stood out to me, for those of us who love and write epic fantasy. Please do read her article. It is very interesting, but be warned – it will make you hungry!

George RR Martin

1) During their lunch,  George RR Martin sees a map in Ms. Berwick’s “giant slab of breaded chicken.” He points to different parts and explains: “There are various little inlets where cities could be.”

I have seen elves in coffee shops and magical tunnels in my local park. These magical worlds are not hidden from us, they are right in front of our eyes.

2) Having famous fans of your works helps. Apparently, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg held a Game of Thrones-themed barbecue which made the news.

3) Martin didn’t have much as a child as his family struggled to keep financially afloat, but the seeds were sown – he was “the kid with his nose in a book.” Stephen King speaks of the need to be constantly reading – in your genre and outside.

 4) There are explicit sexual scenes in Game of Thrones (though I don’t remember much from the book apart from one scene – I have only read the first so far). This caught my attention because I use sex in my social-justice themed novels. Both A Gardener’s Tale and The Accidental Activist has vivid sex scenes. I believe these can reveal so much about a character, but I suspect HBO saw the fact that people like sex on their screens was reason enough.

5) It is okay to fail with a few books. Martin expected his breakthrough would come with his fourth book, Armageddon Rag, about a rock band. He concedes that: “it was the worst-selling of all my novels and essentially destroyed my career as a novelist at the time.” The most important lesson from this is DON’T GIVE UP!

6). When asked about his world-building, Martin, despite his success, is quick to give credit to J.R.R. Tolkien: “There were thousands of years of fantasy before Tolkien but the way it is shaped as a modern commercial publishing genre and the fantasy books that have been written in the past half century have all been influenced by Tolkien. So it still sort of defines the playing field.”

Martin has shown us that Tolkien’s legacy continues. People want to immerse into a rich world and are ready to read deep and vivid descriptions. 

7) Leave your own mark. Martin feels that his strong women, just as politically contriving and sexually adept, send a strong message that the female character needs to be as strong and vivid as the males.

I also think the way he perceives a hero is unique. John Smith and Tyrion Lannister are as close as I got to a hero (Edard Stark cuts a more typical Man For All Seasons-type hero). But they are clearly flawed and tainted enough to only just stand out from the rest. I admire this aspect of Martin – I am not aware who else succeeds in doing this.

8) Martin believes that maps are very important. I have talked about them in this blog before, but he confirms the necessity. It was important enough, he notes, to be at the beginning of each HBO episode. 

 9) The reader is willing to cope with many characters. This means the writer needs to stay extremely organized. Martin has over 1,000 characters in his series and his plots are both complex and spread over years. 

There are many ways to keep track of plots and characters. I think methodology is a very individual choice and will touch on this in a later blog. What is certain is that the passionate reader will remember what happened several years ago and not forgive you the error.

10) Martin, the successful author is traveling around the world.  I am sure it is very interesting and gratifying, but you can tell a writer when he says: “These trips are fun but they do interfere with my writing.”

Write. Write. Write. This is a busy period for me at the work which puts the food on the table. Anticipating this, I am mainly editing and blogging. The next book will wait for a quieter part of the year. But man, am I cranky!  

Finally, I just loved this quote. It requires no comment.

“When I am writing best, I really am lost in my world. I lose track of the outside world. I have a difficult time balancing between my real world and the artificial world. When the writing is going really well, whole days and weeks go by and I suddenly realise I have all these unpaid bills and, my God, I haven’t unpacked, and the suitcase has been sitting there for three weeks.” 

If you’ve been there you know it. If you haven’t, I hope you soon discover it. Terry Brooks says that this is when the magic happens. Here’s to those magical moments: and many more books from the world of Westoros.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written three epic fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

13 comments on “10 Takeaways From George RR Martin

  1. lisafender says:

    I absolutely love George R R Martin’s Fire and Ice series! I have read all five books twice and I watch the series on HBO! I cannot wait for the sixth book! I wish it would hurry up and be on the shelves! He has inspired me in my imaginary world that I am writing now! His attention to detail and rich characters are amazing and I can’t seem to get enough! this was a great post and I will read the article!

  2. fonch38 says:

    Well George R.R.R. Martin produce in my diferent passions on the other hand it is grateful that somebody in this time of the politically correct is rejecting the Tolkien influences, thah he recognized the Tolkien. I have not read this book yet, but i am convinced he is a good writer. Respect the people i have found different opinion about this novel one loves his books, an other that he said to me that his book had received excesive atention, some of them can not finish their books. I have not read the book but i have watched some chapters of the serie. I believe that is excesive. George R.R.Martin say in a interview that the TV Serie is a bit diferent of the book. But i consider, perhaps George R.R. Martin play with elements demagogic, i believe that all novels require sex and violence, but the novels not only are this element, require a body an soul. Besides i believe he rape the rule given by Evelyn Waugh you do not kill your fictional character. I suppose that the structure of the George R.R. Martin depend of this killing, because he tell the story of three families Thalgarian, Starr, and Lannister. Other thing i do not understand the behaviour of the kings in my country we have a monarchy, and i believe that George R.R. Martin paint a King very strange, or they are mad, evil, and they are unuseful i do not understand because in Invernalia do not create the Republic. Besides my main objections would be, there is not exist a positive character the good, and the evil character are so grey, that you can not apreciate who are good and bad. Some ocassions the good charater do a cruel action without motives, although i like very much the character of Tyrion Lannister. I wish conclude your novel cycle only we can apreciate their novels, although i heard that George R.R. Martin has a serious helth problem. And my last words i agree that there is sex in the books, also.

  3. […] (begrudgingly as it is sometimes hard to read) the gruesomeness of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones series. What he describes in his battle scenes are probably the closest we come to the reality of […]

  4. Anita M. King says:

    Ah, he’s a man after my own heart when it comes to maps. My favorite method for creating island maps is to make a cup of hot cocoa and watch the powder sink into the milk.

  5. […] or 40th novel released, are they just as excited? Yes, I’m thinking of you, Terry Brooks, George R.R. Martin, J.K Rowling. Are these authors and others coolly not checking their email every hour for the […]

  6. When it comes to characters George is the king, the amount of information you have to process to make something like Game of thrones is dazzling! And like so many i loved his books from first sight, i remember when i started reading book 1 and it pulled me in so fast i kept thinking “how did he do that”.
    But sadly i do find the later ones drifting off some what, he started to add so many details that start to kill the story, stuff that i think was left in as so much pressure is on him to publish the next book as fast as he can, i would rather he took his time and gave us a product like the first three books were. Yes i know if he took his time more than he usually does, most probably most of us will be dead 😀

    • Elf Writer says:

      You summed it up so well. I totally loved Books 1 and 2, but struggled through 3 & 4. Stil enough to be engaged though. I suspect you are right about the pressure to produce. He is, by his own admission, a slow writer. I write mainly early in the morning before work or after my kids go to bed at 9.30. So I was surprised when he says that a days work for him is five pages. Still, he is about quality not quantity and I know I don’t want to have to wait long between books.

      Thank you for your comment.

  7. […] that isn’t proof enough, I am preparing to read Book 5. I have sung your praises on my humble elfwriter blog and keep your photo under my pillow (I don’t – but I wanted to make sure I still had […]

  8. Interesting post, thank you. And one very interesting detail: that”Armageddon Rag” nearly killed his career. I loved it.

  9. […] or 40th novel released, are they just as excited? Yes, I’m thinking of you, Terry Brooks, George R.R. Martin, J.K Rowling, Terry Goodkind. Are these authors and others coolly not checking their email every […]

  10. […] task for anyone and Martin does it with a thousand characters. I have mentioned before how much I have learned from him. Okay, I have also taken his name in vain, but I am full of respect for […]

  11. […] proof enough, I can’t wait for Book 6 (hint, hint). I have sung your praises on my humble elfwriter blog and keep your photo under my pillow (I don’t – but I want to make sure I still have your […]

  12. […] to exalt a book by the creator. It is not the first time I have written about Martin, either in awe or […]

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