On characters

22 Feb

This post is the first in a (hopefully long) series that I will call the Masterclass – basically, lessons provided by the best authors while doing what they love most: write.

This one goes to George R.R. Martin and his characters, as “A Game of Thrones” is one of the richest books I’ve read in characters that you grow to love or bitterly hate.

So, the question is … how does he pull it off?

Here’s what think:

  • FATE – Martin’s characters go through a lot – and when I say a lot, I don’t mean just thrilling adventure, I mean trouble, pain and including death of some the major characters. They suffer, they are frustrated and they lose a lot along the way, in terms of fortune, happiness and loved ones. Martin really torments them – and they grow human, frail. Even more so, the prospect of a scene (which in most other novels would be just a thrilling moment with happy end) turning into outright disaster, makes the reader worry and bond even more with the trials and tribulations of all protagonists.
  • PERSPECTIVE – each new chapter brings a change of perspective, as the POV is shifted between characters. In fact, this change is so powerful and sudden, that it is really fitting that the chapters have characters’ names as titles, instead of suggestive generalities. Challenges, people, places and situations are the same, yet they FEEL different since looking at them through the eyes of another character will not only provide a new perspective, but a new experience and different emotions. This is where I believe that Martin really shines, in making you feel the DIFFERENCE between his protagonists. While all of them can fit in some classic fantasy stereotypes, they way he handles their hidden thoughts and drives, as well as their personalities individualizes them and forces the reader to take a stand and choose a side, to some extent.
  • NETWORK – as if PERSPECTIVE was not enough, all of these different and diverging characters interact with each other in powerful ways. Their connections, either as adversaries or as allies, as enemies or friends, project the feelings that you may have for one character on the others. When Eddard Stark watches his faithful men being slaughtered, you feel for them not because of how well-rounded they were, or because of cute little quirks sprinkled all over the novel, but because you can feel how much anguish Eddard is going through. And if you don’t get pulled at least a bit into Eddard and his overgrown sense of loyalty and righteousness, you must be one cold sonuvabitch

I believe these are the things that contribute the most to the novel’s rich characters.

What do you think?


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