Guest Post by Sonney Stelling
In response to the post Bad Side Of Fantasy #1: Fantasy Writing Is Not Porn, I have decided to champion a fantasy series that uses length brilliantly. Firstly I feel I should say that I agree completely with Rewan (check’s in the post – The Hyperteller). A lot of fantasy novels seem to fill up the pages with needless exposition to mask the fact that the overall plot is paper thin. Even the great Tolkien is guilty of this with Lord of the Rings. LOTR seems to have been held up as the great icon of fantasy writing and of course this has led to every budding writer out there believing that this is the best way fantasy should be done.
Another Path To Take
Well I disagree and believe that there is another writer out there that young writers should try to emulate; George R R Martin. To those unaware of his work, Martin has published many novels and novellas, the most famous of which being the A Song of Ice and Fire series. A Song of Ice and Fire is an on-going series of books (seven are planned, five released) that tells a story of absolutely epic proportions. The smallest book in the series is over 800 pages long so it is most definitely not light reading.
Not An Elf In Sight
Now with the amount of pages in these books it would be easy for them to have large sections where nothing happens. The first book is only really a set-up for what follows and by comparison to the rest, it could be suggested that not a lot of plot happens, however during my reading of it, it certainly did not feel that way. It was well paced, interesting and most important, it felt fresh.
There were no clichéd elves or dwarves or evil dark overlords, there was no one character embarking on a long arduous journey to save the entire realm. What there was, was a set of characters all seeking different things for a variety of reasons. Some wanted power, greed and fame, others wanted to protect their families from their perceived enemies, while others simply wanted to find their rightful place in the world. Each character has a depth to their personality that makes them far more interesting than Aragorn, Frodo et al.
And as the characters deceive, outwit and murder each other you begin that realize that is no good or evil among them, just shades of grey. The characters you started hating you soon grow to endure and eventually love, and vice versa. No chapter is wasted, every single conversation is there for a reason, even if it’s a reason you don’t discover for three books (or 3000 odd pages).
The plot itself is more complicated than anything else I can remember. I believe Martin takes his inspiration not from other fantasy works but more from actual medieval history. The story he tells is comparable to the War of the Roses far more than it is LOTR.
Move Aside Tolkien
Perhaps Martin has shown us the right way to do things, start with the plot, the story itself. Then go back and add the fantastical elements later. A Song of Ice and Fire may not have elves but it does contain dragons, the undead and other creatures I won’t reveal. It is too easy to say ‘dragons are awesome, I want to write a story about dragons.’ Surely it would be better to say ‘I have a great plot, how much more awesome would it be if I add dragons in it too?’
Perhaps it’s time to except that the age of Tolkien is over, time for the crown to pass to Martin. The King is dead. Long live the King.