Author George R. R. Martin is famous for killing off beloved characters in his popular Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire book series. I’ve often wondered however, how he feels about the writer saying, “kill all your darlings.”
I think writer Lisa Cron best describes what happens to a reader when a writer does not abide by the old adage “kill your darlings”. In the chapter Cause and Effect in her book Wired For Story, Cron outlines why digressions are deadly. Explaining the chemistry behind the human need to sense if not see casual connection in everything that is presented to the reader.
Okay, now imagine the story is a car and it’s zooming ahead at sixty miles an hour. You’ve completely surrendered to its momentum; you’re one with the story. Then a real nice field of flowers off to the left catches the writer’s eye. So he slams on the brakes, and you slam your head against the windshield as he hops out and frolics in the meadow. Just for a lovely, lyrical second. Then he’s ready to get back on the road. But will the story still be going sixty? No, because he just brought it to a dead stop, which means-provided he can coax you back into it-the story is now going zero.
Cron’s analogy is exactly what happened to me reading Game of Thrones. I was acclimated to the pacing and characters Martin used through the first three books of the series. Then I read A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire #4), and Martin slammed on the breaks and my head hit the windshield. The fans who have only encountered the show are fortunate they did not experience the pain of reading an eight hundred page tomb with none of the characters loved and admired from the first three books in the series. They are privileged to experience the story as it was intended, with books four and five combined into one narrative. They are also lucky that the show’s writers, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, are killing off the many darlings Martin presents in books four and five. My best examples of the darlings killed so far are:
- Omitting what happened to Berric Dondarrion
- Omitting the reincarnated Catlyn Stark
- Never presenting the character Cold Hands
- What’s happened to Breanne and Pod
These four changes can account for several chapter’s worth of material. I think it’s significant Martin endorsed these deviations from his story on screen. It’s a concession to his readers, admitting what he presented in those chapters was irrelevant to his overall story. If the material is not crucial to the cause and effect of the story then it’s a digression. Those chapters were some of Martin’s digressions, his darlings; scenes he enjoyed and assumed we the reader would as well despite their lack of connection to the progressing story.
I am fascinated by the fact that Martin spent years writing for television, but the choice to remove darlings and condense repetitive material in the last two books was made by his television writers. As a Game of Thrones fan, I hope Benioff and Weiss push Martin’s focus back to presenting readers with only those chapters relevant to the cause and effect of the story. I would appreciate it if the pacing of Martin’s next installment, Winds of Winter (A Song of Ice and Fire #6), is nothing like A Dance With Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire #5). Where the reader covers a thousand pages while the plot moves forward by a millimeter.
Martin would be doing his readers a service if he were to run his current draft of book six by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. They’ve succeeded in killing Martin’s darling’s, and could point out those needing to be destroyed before his next book goes to print. As Renni Brown & David King present in their book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, “It’s far better to rewrite your story in a way that makes use of the good stuff than to simply use your story as an excuse for writing the good stuff.”