A Private Letter to George R.R. Martin

Dear Mr. Martin,

Let me begin by saying that I am a big fan. I have just finished Book 4 and, if 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 your attention).

It’s like this, sir. One day I want to be a bestselling epic fantasy author like you. My third book comes out in the fall and I have probably sold as many books as you’ve killed noble characters (actually I might be being a bit optimistic there).

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I spend a lot of time hanging out with other writers: online and (I know this is rare) actually in person. Everyone tells me to “observe the rules,” “don’t break the conventions,” and, my favorite, “Tolkien was one-of-a-kind. You wouldn’t get away with that.”

But you, sir, have broken the rules. You have tippexed (anyone?) over the conventions. One friend suggested that you only get away with it because you are already famous, already have a huge following, and probably don’t care anymore what anyone outside of the Seven Kingdoms thinks.

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So here is my list of 10 things you have done wrong:

1. Your books are too long. I keep getting told that 90K is way beyond the commitment that most readers are willing to invest today. But then why do I enjoy them (and Christopher Paolini, and J.K Rowling, and some unknown ancient language, Oxford professor) and feel a sense of loss when they are finished? 

2. Your books are too slow. People want action, action, action. Instant gratification …debate in 140 characters or less. Have a car chase or blow up a bridge – well, you get my point.

3. Your books are too detailed. You mean I need to think? Concentrate? Invest? I hear you keep flow charts in your office – can we peek? How about a deal with Cliff Notes or an app that you can enter a character, your book and page number and get an update. Dude – I totally expect a commission on the app idea.

4. Your characters are too flawed (especially the good ones). If I’m not seeing Ryan Gosling or Kristen Stewart then it simply won’t do. If I want real people, I would put my book down and hit the pub.

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5. Your characters are too dead. I actually wrote a blog post about this (I Need A Hero), keeping the book and you anonymous so as not to spoil it. Guess what? Everyone knew who I was talking about.

6. You drop some characters for hundreds of pages – are you tempting me to skip pages, sir? Just so as not to spoil this for any readers on Books 1-4, you know what I mean when I connect this to Book 4//5.

7. You miss out key scenes – battles in particular – and subtly let us know they have happened. I know it is incredibly difficult to write battles and only the best can pull it off, but well sir, you are one of the best.

8. You have too many minor characters. I hope you are keeping track of them because, to be honest, I am developing a habit of scratching my head whenever someone resurfaces 1-2,000 pages later.

9. You care more for the old gods and the new than the critics.

10. Your books are too addictive. I can’t stop…

You broke all the rules, sir. Congratulations! Now where is my copy of Book Five?

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

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16 comments on “A Private Letter to George R.R. Martin

  1. Debbie says:

    Ha-ha, love this post!

    My biggest gripe with Martin is waiting for certain characters to finally meet up, getting to the end of another ginormous book and it STILL HASN’T HAPPENED.

    And yet I can’t stop . . .

  2. Psst…Alon! *(whispers) This isn’t private…!

  3. Elf Writer says:

    You reading my private mail? Ha! Have a great weekend, Michael.
    Elfwriter
    http://www.alonshalev.com/

  4. lisafender says:

    I loved your two books Alon! In fact I can’t wait for the next. The same goes for Martin, and I am a huge fan too! I have read all five books twice and I am dying for the sixth one!!! I am totally addicted and wish it would hurry up and come out already! He is an inspiration for me too, so is J R R Tolkien. Do you think he will read your post and get to it so we can read more? I hope so! I still can’t figure out how he will be able to finish this story in two more books?!

  5. Elf Writer says:

    Thank you, Lisa. My third novel is hopefully out in the summer – it’s now out of my hands.
    I hope George R.R. Martin does read my post and if it spurs him on then I reckon I’ll make a lot of people happy. But i have a feeling he works at his own uncompromising pace, and we receive his uncompromising quality as a result. Can’t have it both ways, I guess.

    Have a great weekend,
    Alon
    http://www.alonshalev.com/

  6. well, nice post, thanks for share

  7. It was apt timing that you shared this post with the Berkeley Writers Group this morning, as I had just finished listening to the prologue of A Song of Ice and Fire before opening my email. I’m a fan of the TV show, but mainly have decide to start in with the books precisely because I want to see how he gets away with breaking all these rules. In particular the issue of length concerns me, as that’s the trouble I have with my own draft. Though I did notice he broke the convention of switching POVs right there in the prologue.

    Also I second Michael’s comment. This should be entitled “A Public Letter”…unless someone posted this letter without your consent!

  8. […] am I writing about this? Last week, I somewhat frivolously criticized George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones series. I learned two things from the […]

  9. […] because my 14-year-old is interested in reading and watching the series. I have no doubt that George R.R. Martin wrote what he understood to be sexual mores of that period and I agree that it probably happened as […]

  10. I really loved this series, but I grew tired of becoming emotionally “invested” in a character only to see Martin kill them off. I totally get the realism factor, but at some point, a writer is killing people off for “shock” factor. By “shock factor” I mean that you can’t think of any other interesting plot twist or surprise, so you just kill someone. (Think of a horror movies where someone has to die to make it interesting.) With Martin, it became almost a hoo-hum point in the book “Oh, he killed [insert a name] off. Wonder who he is going to kill next?” moment. Killing another lead has become Martin’s “rape revenge” plot point. See http://dreamcafe.com/ to read another author’s view of rape as a lazy plot point. Just insert “kill lead character” for rape, and you have Martin.

    Now, I really loved the first two books of this series. Some of the best ever. However, it has become a mirror of Jordan’s Wheel of Time, i.e., lets churn out another book to keep the cash cow giving milk. A fact which makes me sad, because these books could have been beyond question the best ever. Unfortunately – in my humble opinion – they have lost their way a bit.

    • Elf Writer says:

      Thank you, Wendell, for your thoughtful response. I totally get what you are saying and often felt a sense of betrayal as yet another main character is killed off. As you say – I feel I invested so much in the character – and yes, it was becoming predictable – just a question of who.
      Appreciate it.
      Alon
      http://www.alonshalev.com/

  11. […] am I writing about this? Last week, I somewhat frivolously criticized George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones series. I learned two things from the […]

  12. […] have written previously of my admiration of Martin’s ability to make us care for his characters while blatantly exposing […]

  13. […] 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 […]

  14. […] ago I wrote a blog post highlighting my favorite novels from 2015. The list included the venerable George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss. I am currently reading the third Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind. Followers […]

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