Don’t limit your imagination
When I went back to prose, there were suddenly no limits: I could write something huge with all the characters I wanted, with battles, dragons and immense settings. Of course, I thought this will be unfilmable and that I’d never have to worry about Hollywood again. But that’s David Benioff’s and Dan Weiss’ problem now.
Choose your point-of-view characters to broaden the narrative’s scope
It’s like if you were trying to do World War 2 as a novel: do you just take one average GI? Well that would only cover the European theatre, not the Pacific. Do you make Hitler a point-of-view character to show the other side? What about the Japanese or Italy? Roosevelt, Mussolini, Eisenhower — all these characters have a unique viewpoint that presents something huge in Word War 2.
So you either need an omnificent viewpoint structure where you’re telling it from the point of view of God, which is a pretty outdated literary technique, or you have a mosaic of people who are seeing one small part of the story and through that you get the entire picture. That’s the path I chose to take.
It’s okay to “borrow” from history
On believable POVs
Some of it can be resolved by talking to real people. I had a correspondence with a fan when I was writing the first and second book who was a paraplegic. He gave me a lot of valuable insight on how to write Bran and what it would be like to be in that situation.
But ultimately, I think the humanity all my characters share is more important than whether they’re men or women, or princesses or peasants, tall or small. While these things certainly make a difference, all human beings in all cultures throughout history have wanted success and love and a certain prosperity and to eat and not be killed. These are pretty basic things that motivate all people and I try to keep that in mind when writing any character.
Grief is a powerful tool — but don’t overdo it
We wanted to spend a whole episode where the character is buried and everyone spends 60 minutes weeping and grieving and sharing their memories of her. But the network didn’t want us to show any of that. They said “the character’s dead, you need to move on and introduce the new beauty. Let’s never mention the name of her character again.” The entire writer’s room was horrified by this. It was supposed to be a love story for the ages; he wasn’t going to just forget about her and move on to another beauty.
We kind of won the battle but we lost the war. We presented the episode and it was very powerful. I think our hardcore viewership watched it, wept copious tears and then never watched the show again! Grief doesn’t necessary translate to entertainment value. That said, it does make for more powerful storytelling. Presenting not just death, but grief is important. At some point, we all experience the loss of our parents, or sibling or close friend and it’s a very powerful emotion.
Violence should have consequences — so spare nothing!
Funnily enough, the show has been killing a number of minor characters who are still alive in the books, such as Daenerys’ two handmaidens. When I approached [the producers] about this, they explained to me that unlike my book characters, the actors expect to be paid money! Therefore, in order to introduce a new character at the start of each season, they’ve got to kill some of the old characters off.
Avoid fantasy clichés
In simplistic fantasy, the wars are always fully justified — you have the forces of light fighting a dark horde who want to spread evil over the earth. But real history is more complex. There’s a great scene in William Shakespeare’s Henry V where he goes walking among his men in disguise on the eve of the battle of Agincourt and some of them are questioning whether the king’s cause is just or not and lamenting all the people who are going to die to support his claim. That’s a valid question. Then you have the Hundred Year War, which was basically a family quarrel that caused entire generations to be slaughtered. So I try to show that in my writing.
On creating “grey” characters
We’re all grey and I think we all have the capacity in us to do heroic things and very selfish things. I think understanding that is how you create characters that really have some depth to them. Even when I’m writing someone like Theon Greyjoy, who many people hate, I have to try and see the world through his eyes and make sense of what he does.