From Sagas to Short Stories

Writing tips and tools from GRR Martin

By Elizabeth Cutright
© 2012 The Daily Creative Writer

Fantasy and Science Fiction are two of my favorite genres to read, but not something I’d ever really attempt to write myself.  All that world building, all those completely new tools, trades, and tricks to create, all those different languages to contemplate.  I’m always in awe of the most successful fantasy/sci-fi authors: JK Rowling managed to create an alternate universe full of magical folks who have their own history, government and slang; I can’t look at a wardrobe without wondering if, at last, I’ve found the secret portal to Narnia; and Octavia Butler convinced me that unless we conquer the our hierarchical nature, humans are just sitting ducks for the first, highly-evolved space-traveling colonists who come along.

And while I was a nerdy-fan from a young age, I’m excited to welcome new recruits to the fantasy/sci-fi club.  Thanks to the popularity of Battlestar Galactica, The Hunger Games, True Blood and – yes- even Twilight, genre fiction is now standing upon a stronger, exponentially increasing, fan base.

And thanks to HBO, GRR Martin’s saga, Song of Ice and Fire, sits comfortably at the top of the New York Times bestseller list while its partner series – Game of Thrones – is showered with Emmys and accolades.  I began reading Game of Thrones in anticipation of the HBO series, and ended up a completely devoted “fangirl.”  Martin’s Westeros feels real, the conflicts and challenges faced by his characters are exaggerated versions of what I encounter on a day-to-day basis.  Nobody may be plotting to cut my head off, but sometimes the petty machinations of the workplace can sure make me feel like I’m trapped beneath the sword of Damocles.

And ultimately, this is what any successful writing accomplishes – it transports us to a new reality while also keeping us firmly linked to the world we live in and the lives we inhabit.

Over the weekend, GRR Martin participated in a 70-minute panel discussion at the World Science Fiction Contention (Chicago) along with Maureen Ryan of the Huffington Post and Peter Segal, host of NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me”.  As Ryan reports (, during the hour-plus discussion, Martin – who has plenty of storytelling experience, both as the creator of the Song of Fire and Ice saga and as a veteran TV-screenwriter – talked at length about the craft of writing and what she calls his “nitty-gritty” approach to fiction.

In the podcast (, Martin addresses a variety of questions centered on his ability to create a believable universe populated with relatable and highly likeable/hate-able characters.  He discusses how he keeps the audience hooked, how he forces his characters to choose from a variety of bad-to-worse options, and how he keeps “sophisticated audiences on their toes.”

Additionally, there’s a discussion of the themes and styles employed by Martin.  He talks about his exploration of power and the perspective of society’s rejects and outsiders.  He talks about the constraints of conventional wisdom, the power of loyalty and the common man’s inability to confront absolute power.  He also talks of how – to a large extent – power can be an illusion – “our societies are built on these structures of sand.”

Referring to a mad king who once ruled Jerusalem and ordered death and maiming, Martin wonders, “Why doesn’t the captain of the guard say to the sergeant, ‘This guy is fucking nuts? We have swords! Why don’t we kill him instead?’”

Martin also discusses his distaste for predictability and his commitment to addresses “unresolvable dilemmas.”

“The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself,” explains Martin.

Ryan’s article – which is a handy summary of the podcast just in case you, like me, don’t have 70 minutes to listen it right away – includes some bullet points covered in the panel, most of which involve a deeper investigation of the themes and characters from the Game of Thrones television series and the Song of Ice and Fire novels.  If you’re a fan of Martin’s work – or aspire to a career in fantasy/sci-fi fiction – then the article is definitely worth checking out.

For those of you who are not fans of Martin’s works, I direct you to this parable from the series regarding the illusion of power:


All Content is the sole Property of Elizabeth Cutright and The Daily Creative Writer, if you are reading this blog on another site; it has been reposted without the author’s permission and is in violation of the DMCA. © 2012 The Daily Creative Writer


4 thoughts on “From Sagas to Short Stories

  1. Hi – I’d like to nominate you for the One Lovely Blog Award.
    Do pop over and check out my Fluffy Moments Page tomorrow and you will find the details.

  2. Thanks for linking to my blog post! Much appreciated!

    I have been an avid fantasy reader since about 7th grade and I’m really excited that it’s become more mainstream. I think fantasy and scifi have been relegated for a long time to being “fluff” genres in spite of the really excellent storytelling and writing that can be found in those genres over the years. One thing I loved about Martin’s saga is that they feel more like historical fiction and those fantasy elements (while important to the story) sometimes take you by surprise. Maybe that’s one reason it has such broad appeal.

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