Okay, I’ll admit it, this post may have just been an excuse to talk about Game of Thrones. I love this show (and the 2.5 books that I’ve read) and am so pumped to watch the final season.
And I’m not the only one. More than 16 million people tuned in to watch the season premier of season 7 back in 2017.
But what makes Game of Thrones so popular? Why are people so invested in these characters battle for the throne? Well, it’s a combination of many things, including:
Complex, diverse and multidimensional characters. Dragons. Flawed heroes and redeeming villains. Undead armies. Epic sword fights. Direwolves. Exciting battles. Vicious schemes. Strong female characters. Dragons and direwolves.
And don’t get me started on the world building. Westeros and the land to the East are vast and intricate.
In fact, when examined with a close eye, Game of Thrones could be considered a masterclass on creating a rich and fantastical fantasy world that your readers will be dying to get lost in.
There’s so much we as writers can learn from this beloved series. So, today we are going to talk about 4 writing lessons we can learn from Game of Thrones.
Warning: Major Game of Thrones Spoilers ahead (seasons 1-7)
Lesson One: Plant the Seed Early
Readers love the suspences that comes from being drip-fed information. It’s your job as the writer to plant those important seeds early so they don’t feel forced when big events finally bloom.
The very first scene of Game of Thrones takes place north of the wall, where the true threat to the 7 kingdoms waits patiently.
After that scene, the focus is shifted to the battle for the iron throne (e.g war of the five kings and all that come after). While this battle is still raging on, the viewers have grown to understand that the fight for survival against the Night King and his army of the dead is at the heart of this series.
They have grown to understand this in the small moments.
- Rangers are killed by a white walker and undead wildlings (open scene of Season 1)
- A dead man tries to kill Lord Commander Mormont at Castle Black
- Jon sees a white walker take Craster’s baby son
- Samwell Tarly sees the army of the dead
- Jon Snow fights the white walkers at Hardhome.
- He loses the battle and watches the Night King raise the dead
The progression feels natural. Its been built up over time.
A smaller seed: A young Ned Stark hears Bran Stark call his name when climbing the steps of the Tower of Joy. When we revisit the Tower of Joy, we see young Ned Stark turn again. Bran has changed the past. Could this later play a role? I’m willing to bet it does.
And when it does it will feel plausible.
Give your readers a subtle hint of what’s to come in the first act. Tease this hint again in the second act. When the time comes to reveal your plot twist or big event, your readers will be ready.
Lesson Two: There Should Always Be Consequences
Some of the best obstacles and complications are the ones that our characters create for themselves. It’s a materialisation of their flaws. An opportunity to learn from their mistakes and grow into a better person.
Rob Stark, Theon Greyjoy, Margaery Tyrell, Sansa Stark even Jon Snow himself have suffered as a result of their own choices (whether their choices were right or wrong).
I realise some of these characters are no longer with us — I am mentioning them because they died as a result of their choices and actions.
It’s one of the biggest reasons why people love Game of Thrones. No character is safe. There are consequences for every decision. Every choice. Every mistake.
For every action, there is a reaction.
It’s the way of life.
You can’t fight it.
Make this formula a part of your story to make it feel more authentic.
Lesson Three: There is No Good or Evil
No one person is good or evil. When faced with a choice, we think we are making the right decision.
It might not be a decision for the greater good. It could be to save the one person we love.
That does not matter. Morality is a grey area.
Cersei Lannister went to extreme lengths to save her children. She threated, she killed, she turned the Great Sept of Baelor and all trapped inside to dust. Why?
To save her children from the clutches of her enemies. And while we do not agree with her methods, we understand her motives
— and to some degree sympathise with her.
Meanwhile, the Hound has transformed from the villain who mercilessly cut down the butcher’s boy in season 1 to a character we can cheer on when faced with danger.
Make your character’s grey. Give them many flaws. Make sure the events that take place in your story shape their decisions, whether they be for the better or worse.
Lesson Four: A Humorous Break
When all the bloodshed is over, give your readers a break. Make them laugh or smile.
While action scenes are essential for any good and entertaining story, once it’s over you need to give your readers (and characters) time to digest everything that’s happened.
My favourite example of this is the scene in which Tyrion and Bronn question Poddric about his afternoon at the brothel. It’s funny and it’s a welcome and satisfying reprieve from the high stakes schemes and battles.
Are you excited for the final seasons of Game of Thrones?