There is a hazard to knowing too much about the process of writing that goes into releasing a popular book. The rapid, and insatiable, information flow doesn’t allow an author to hide away and finish their book. The more popular the author the worse this is. It is something which is never mentioned enough when discussing J.K. Rowling. Writing the most popular book series in the entire world she managed to finish all seven books in ten years. Especially after the third one was released, for the last four books, through the incessant nattering and theorizing Ms. Rowling found the ability to stay on schedule providing readers with a complete story.
George R.R. Martin
The more typical timeline is what we see with author George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series which is the inspiration for HBO’s “Game of Thrones”. He released the first book of a planned seven in 1996 and we’re still waiting for book six 22 years later. This is also an atypical situation because his story has gotten beyond the books in the television series. Which means the visual version is going to tell us how it all ends before Mr. Martin has the opportunity to do so.
Because of the popularity of these books he also is facing the issue of people who will not allow him to live his life on his own terms. Whenever he posts on his official blog there are always a few responses along the line of; “would you get back to work on the book”. I was going to add the word “please” but these requests are rarely that polite.
There is an even more worrisome level of commentary on the speed of Mr. Martin’s writing that includes the concept that he won’t live long enough to finish as he will turn 70 this September. There is some precedence for this worry because author Robert Jordan did not live long enough to finish his “Wheel of Time” series. I didn’t care because he told a young author, Brandon Sanderson, everything that was going to happen, bringing the series to a satisfying conclusion.
I don’t worry about Mr. Martin’s health. But I think some of getting the ending right might be part of his delay in writing. About a year from now the final season of “Game of Thrones” will have aired. At that point we will know who wins, and loses, the Game of Thrones. It will be the same ending as in the books because Mr. Martin shared it with the producers. I think that has to be monumentally difficult for Mr. Martin. Some of the biggest twists in the story have been shown visually before hitting the printed page. I imagine how much different it is to write out a delightful twist knowing you are the only one who knows it and can’t wait to see how the readers will enjoy it. In the current book he is writing we’ve probably already seen every major twist on the TV screen. He has become a kind of appendix to his own series as the book fills in background and provides texture, but the plot has passed it by. Doesn’t mean I won’t devour it when it comes out, but I will know what’s going to happen; at least the big things.
Which leads me to a short open letter to the author.
Put down the book and leave it alone. Come back to it later; or never. Your story is going to be finished on the screen. Thrill me with something new. Something which excites you to write. Not something which I believe has become an onerous chore. You have one of the most amazing imaginations in fantasy literature. Having it chained to filling in backstory for the next few years is a waste.
I will get your ending on the screen in a year. Make me a new beginning. Just don’t sell the film option until you are done.
There are often some great lessons about how you can’t please people so you might as well please yourself. Latest example is the recently completed season seven of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones is one of the last remaining big appointment television shows left running. After the completion of the sixth season last summer they announced they would be finishing the story with two final seasons; a 7-episode seventh season followed by a six-episode final season.
Game of Thrones is in a completely unique place to any other adaptation ever put on film as it has gone past the written page. George RR Martin the author behind the story being depicted in Game of Thrones has been unable to stay ahead of the producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. They only took on the project because Mr. Martin gave them much of the tentpoles of the end of the saga including the eventual ending. What is incredible is the television show is going to reveal the ending before the author does. I am sure Mr. Martin’s path to the same place has some more twists and turns but both the visual and the printed versions will end up in the same place.
With only thirteen episodes left the producers and the cast mentioned that the narrative pace was going to pick up speed now headed towards the end. I have no problem with that because I have spent sixty previous episodes with these characters I am now ready to get to the resolution of their individual paths. Here is where my first sentence comes into play. The first episode of this season was all about reminding us where each group of characters was while placing them within the overarching plotlines. After that first episode, the internet was ablaze with “what happened to speeding things up?”. I was thrilled with it; the final eight minutes showed the return of one character, who had been exiled the entire series back, to where she was born. The actress conveyed all her emotions on her face and in her eyes before speaking the final line of the episode. That was what I wanted; payoff for having followed this journey for six seasons. The next two episodes would move our characters rapidly towards their inevitable intersections. Time and again paying off the foundation built in many seasons prior. At the end of episode three with a single line from a dying woman a verbal dagger was plunged in to two hearts. Again, complaints were rife about how fast characters moved around and unrealistic timelines while also wondering where the action was.
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Two of the next three episodes were some of the greatest spectacle ever done in television. Full on war with dragons and a terrifying battle of a few men against an army of the dead. This was broad action as has never been attempted on a television screen. During both moments, I kept thinking “Thank heavens for wide screen hd tv.” For all of that it was a quiet moment at the end of the episode in between which showed how smart these writers are with these characters.
One of the fun things is finally getting to see characters who have not always been together meet on screen for the first time or as part of a group for the first time. it is the latter that takes place at the end of episode five. In an example of narrative economy eight characters ping-pong, via a line or two, the reason they don’t trust one of the others in about two minutes. Each character is true to what we’ve seen before, each character reveals something new, and each character knows they are going to do something with this group that likely will kill them.
This all culminates in a last episode that slingshots the audience to the final season with anticipation. Except for those sad souls who can’t stop complaining. I am completely satisfied with this penultimate season as it felt like almost every important character development had been earned from what had come previously. Maybe the complainers just can’t bear the thought of it all ending. I can’t wait for the final six episodes.
In every other visual adaptation of a science-fiction or fantasy written series the books have been completed prior to their conversion to the screen. When it was announced that HBO was going to start Game of Thrones before the books were completed I had a selfish thought, “Good it will prod Mr. Martin into writing a bit faster.” I thought that he would do anything to make sure he got to the finish before the television series did. The fifth book “A Dance with Dragons” was released a few months after the end of season 1 in 2011. Since then the next book “The Winds of Winter” has remained unfinished while “Game of Thrones” consumed all of the plot Mr. Martin had written. I thought Mr. Martin would move heaven and earth to get “The Winds of Winter” out before season 6 began showing. That was clearly Mr. Martin’s goal as he posted in his blog on January 2, 2016 when he admitted he would not succeed in achieving it. Which leaves the fans of this series in a fascinating place. The television series is going to finish the story before the author.
Mr. Martin, in the same blog post, answered the question will the show spoil the books. “Yes and no” was what he said. He has also said the final destination of both is the same but the path will be different enough.
It has made watching this current season very different for me. In the past I knew what was going to happen and it was fun to know when the big twists were coming. Now we are all learning without foreknowledge together, book reader and viewer. After four of this season’s ten episodes have aired there is a definite feel to the pace being accelerated towards the endgame. In the books there have been assumptions about certain characters coming together but those are not quite there. So far in season 6 those changes are happening at a fairly rapid clip. The chessboard that is Game of Thrones has seemingly swept the board clear of pawns leaving the major pieces in play. Fan theories have been confirmed and dashed as the story moves along.
There are a number of readers of the books who have sworn off watching the series until the books are finished. They feel Mr. Martin should be the one who finishes the story for them. I admire their patience but I am willing to let the showrunners of Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, tell me the ending. I am looking forward to going back to this fork in the road and taking Mr. Martin’s route when it is published.