It's official: Game of Thrones is the most successful HBO series, ever. That's short-hand for the most successful TV series, ever. Season 4 brought in an average audience per episode of over 18 million viewers. And this is before we factor in viewing records of other kinds - like the fact that the season three finale was the most pirated TV episode worldwide in 2013.
So, what can we learn from the success of Game of Thrones? Follow me, as I unveil some writing tips to slaughter your enemies and conquer the kingdom.
'Exposition' is the delivery of background information to the reader. A little exposition is unavoidable - without it, the plot wouldn't make sense - but it's also dangerous, because it makes the story feel like an essay: boring. So if you must use exposition, do it in an entertaining way. Like during dialogue. Or a sex scene.
Game of Thrones is credited with inventing 'sexposition', that is, characters having deep conversations about their past and future plans while bonking each other.
Is it a cheap gimmick? Yes. Does it stretch believability? Yes. Did you switch channel during the boring expository bits? No.
Write insane female characters
Game of Thrones is often commended for its 'strong' female characters. You know, as opposed to 'normal' female characters, who are, hum, weak.
Now, if by 'strong' you mean 'well written', then I'm with you.
If you mean 'deranged', then you've fallen for that cliché that says women need to overcompensate for their obvious inherent weakness by killing everything that moves before you can say 'reverse-stereotype'. As noted by Sophia McDougall, when it comes to female characters, we're not interested in the subtle nuances of the human condition. We don't want humour, cowardice, redemption, self-doubt. Male characters are for that. If you want the 'strong female character' badge, you need to draw blood. Start sharpening that sword, sister.
Write insane characters - full stop
Having said this, I'll concede that in Game of Thrones, male characters are just as insane. In fact, every now and then - mostly when the plot requires it - even the most level headed character reaches unimaginable levels of whathefuckery. And fair enough, I say. It would be an incredibly boring story if all the characters always ate their greens and brushed their teeth twice a day. What you need then, is something to distract the audience, so that they don't spend too much time thinking, for example, why exactly Theon Greyjoy betrayed Robb Stark to join his estranged father - even though said father doesn't love him and everybody in Pyke thinks he's an idiot. Or why Catelyn Stark freed Jaime Lannister to get her daughters back - even though her daughters were obviously safer for as long as she held him hostage. You need something clever, unexpected, and utterly original. Or failing that, flash some boobs.
Stall your characters
The Game of Thrones plot is complex - but is also simple. Once you remove the political scheming and warmongering, it boils down to this: five houses slowly converging on King's Landing to battle for the Iron Throne.
And when I say slowly, I mean slowly.
Daenerys can only liberate so many slave cities before things start to feel stale, so the story needs to be stretched into several directions. In fact, the plot has been meandering for so long, George R. R. Martin himself forgot what it was all about and changed it mid-way. *SPOILER ALERT* The slaughter of Robb and Caitleen Stark at the end season 3, not only eliminated two of the most prominent characters - it cut the throat of the main storyline we had been following for 29 episodes. This is fundamentally a cop out, and normally would bother me no end, but I'll make an exception here for two reasons:
1. The scene is just perfect.
2. Michelle Fairley is an amazing actress. That final scream left me rocking back and forth in a corner while hugging a teddy bear for hours.
Be an HBO production
Remember that HBO show that was bashed by the critics, achieved terrible ratings and failed to propel the source material to super-stardom?
Be a good writer
As much as we like to poke fun at Game of Thrones 'quirks', the reality is, this is one of the most engrossing series out there: the characters are compelling, the world-building exceptional and the production lavish. But when all is said and done, a writer has one thing to do: make you turn that page. Or tune into the next episode.
We all grew up on Hollywood movies, and therefore have come to expect stories to move according to a certain orbit. So when a stray asteroid cuts through it, wreaking havoc with our navigation instruments, we all snap to attention. That's where Game of Thrones really excels: it delivers more shocks than a faulty socket. The knowledge that everything is possible is what makes Game of Thrones so gripping.
Now, bring on season 5.
This article was originally published on Live for Films on the 10th of April 2015