Game of Thrones: Lessons for Writers

You know I couldn’t not comment on #GameOfThrones now that it’s ended. And, no matter what I think of the ending itself, I have to say that the writing on this show has been phenomenal. Otherwise, people wouldn’t have tuned in in droves and obsessed over what they thought would happen.

Most of that is due to the fantastic material George R. R. Martin provided as the base (and I could write several more posts about what writers could learn from his writing). But it also took visionaries to convert that large pool of material into TV-worthy tightness and to see beyond to where the books haven’t gone.

Today I want to look at what writers can learn from the TV show. Agree? Disagree? Have your own? Weigh in!

Details in the Beginning Matter Throughout

Lay down early hints (What do we say to the God of Death?) and breadcrumbs that you can tie through the full series. Some of those breadcrumbs can be something as simple as a character’s name and the significance of that character or their name isn’t revealed until late in the story (Hodor). Just make sure you don’t leave breadcrumbs that never get answered/addressed.


Genre Mashup

Writers, you don’t have to stay strictly in the bounds of your genre. If you do it right, you can make it what you want. You may think of #GOT as simply fantasy, but at its core, it’s so many genres:

  • fantasy (set in a world with dragons and castles)
  • family saga (Starks, Targeryans, Lanisters)
  • paranormal (witches, dragons, direwolves, and, oh yeah, that pesky Night King)
  • romance (so many)
  • mystery (what is the real truth?)
  • epic (the timeline and # of characters and stakes)

And many more!

Give Everyone a Character to Love and a Character to Hate

This doesn’t just mean one hero or heroine or villain necessarily. Some people hate Cersei the most, but others hate the Night King. Some love Danny, or Jon, or Arya, or Sansa, or…

See, multiple characters for people with different perceptions, different backgrounds, different tastes to fall in love with or despise or maybe see themselves in.

Not Just One Plot Arc

Yes, the main plot arc of the entire series is who is going to take the Iron Throne. That drives everything. But we have so many others of all sizes and various impacts to the direct storyline. The white walkers. Arya’s journey to becoming a badass. Danny becoming the mother of dragons. Jon’s mission with the wildlings. And so forth…

Give More than One GMC for the Overarching Series

Goal. Motivation. Conflict. Every character should have them, and GOT does a great job with that. But an overarching series should have it as well. The first GMC for GOT is the Iron Throne–the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the person sitting on it. But the series has another overarching GMC–the whitewalkers/Night King. Which was more compelling to you? The game of musical rulers? Or the fight for survival against a force that doesn’t die?


Every Character is the Hero of Their Story

People don’t think, “I’ll be evil today.” And most people considered evil did not in any way considered themselves to be so. They thought they were doing the right things for whatever reasons. No matter how much you hate the villains–Cersei, the Night King, the Hound, even Walter Fray–you have to admit the writers have made them real people and not just caricatures of evil. Cersei acts out of terror for her children and a determination to prove herself and help them. The Night King was created with the sole purpose of destroying humanity. Walter Fray acts out of a sense of belittlement and vengeance against the people he felt wronged him. Right or wrong, they have reasons compelling enough to them to drive their actions.

Torture Your Characters (But Have Them Stay in Character)

Torturing your characters–putting them in impossible situations–is what will always make great and compelling writing. The reason most of the deaths in GOT worked is because those deaths drove the story and other characters in a certain direction. Ned Stark had to die for pretty much every other thing that happens to his family to happen.

That said, when writing your characters they need to remain consistent. If they are going to change, you have to give the reader/watcher fair warning and do it in such a way that is believable to what has come before. Which, for me, was the biggest lesson when it comes to the ending of the series. Dany’s change to a murderous queen wasn’t in character and/or it wasn’t given enough time and back up to make it so.


There are a ton of other lessons a writer can take away from Game of Thrones, and even more from George R.R. Martin’s books, but these are the ones that struck me most at this point in my career. Writer or reader or watcher, what lessons did you take/would you have taken from #GOT?


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