Okay, we'll launch this puppy with the standard "If your story is late getting back to you from our slush pile it's likely me." My bad.
Now onto George RR Martin. I've read a lot of his stuff, but of course GAME OF THRONES is all the rage right now with the HBO show coming up (and it looks to be brilliant!)
But I'm hardly the expert. Dave is. Dave LOVES him some GRRM! But maybe I'm more qualified to talk about him cuz I've actually met the man and shared some party conversation with him. I texted Dave, if I recall, from Worldcon that night after he ditched out early: I'm sitting on George RR Martin's lap.
No, I didn't sit on his lap. And I think Dave met him at a signing, too. So my specialness didn't last long. But I'll segue back to that in a moment.
GRRM has sizeable real estate on my bookshelves because his books are so fat, and I loves them, I loves them all. But the thing is, plot-wise, they (and I'm speaking of THRONES and the other three) all make a horrible lot of sense, too. All I can tell you is what I think he does so well, what I learned from Mr Martin, the stuff young Jedi should look to.
First up, Characters.
He draws memorable characters. For such big books, he doesn't waste a ton of time actually describing them. Each one might get a line or two, and then hang on for the ride. Each of his characters is their own personal trainwreck. Neuroses, violence, Flowers in the Attic action, weirdo dragon ladies...they are all nuts six ways from Sunday. And you can remember who they are because they each have their own personal neurosis.This is not to say you have to make all your characters neurotic. But make them unique, memorable. We read speculative fiction because we like our people different. So give us wonderful, awful, different people to meet in your stories.
He gives each character some grand quality...and then proceeds to batter them about their psyches with it. The greatest swordsman in the land gets crippled in a no-more-tourneys-for-you sort of way, the most beautiful woman in the world gets married off to a horrible, hard-hearted ugly dude. Oh, and don't get too attached cuz the minute you do: Off with their heads! This is pretty basic: Don't forget to torture your characters, and your readers along with them.
His characters change. The ugly ones' hearts grow three sizes (okay, maybe half a size, but the series isn't finished yet). The naive learn. The good ones get forced into doing bad things. The wimps grow a pair. Seriously, and this is a biggie, make your characters change.
He works with a cast of thousands. His world feels rich and huge because it is. This epic fantasy and Mr. Martin wisely does not skimp on peopling it. This isn't what I advise for short fiction, but it works in epic fantasy, of course. And you never once question whether a character has to be there. So write the correct number of characters for your genre and give each a distinct role to play.
He also picks a cultural reference and sticks with it. We get what Ser means cuz we get the whole Knight gig. We get the tribes living in the tents; we've all seen National Geographic stories on Bedouins with their horses. It gives us a foundation, a shelf to stand on as he draws his new world tight around us. So help your readers out and build your world on a framework of familiarity.
On writing and style:
Mr Martin doesn't cheat on his own voice. He writes the number of words required to tell the story the way he needs to tell it. More words than I would, but still, each word serves the story. He has a distinctive voice, all his own. So whether you write short stories or door-stoppers, make each word count, and make them all yours.
On Being a Famous Writer:
You can learn well from The Man, Himself, too. As I said before, I met him at a fan party. He was making unhurried rounds of the party floor, people kept him stocked with libations, and he had no problem stopping to talk to me, a nobody. We leaned in the hallway and sucked our drinks and chatted for several minutes. Of course, I have no idea how the conversation went because as I recall I had this constant voice in my head shouting things like: YOU'RE TALKING TO GEORGE RR MARTIN. DON'T SAY ANYTHING STUPID. OH NO YOU JUST SAID SOMETHING STUPID, DIDN'T YOU? and TEXT DAVE, RIGHT NOW!!
My point is, he was there at the fan parties, chatting up fans. He wasn't hiding in the SFWA suite, he wasn't in some dark corner of a hotel bar where no one but his agent and editor could get at him. So when you get readers and fans, go and greet them. Heck, go and greet them before they belong to you. After all, they will someday! These are the folks who buy our books.
Oh, and he's nice. Like, just extraordinarily nice. So be nice.
He is hands-down the best reader I've ever heard. His voice was made for his own stuff. Well, it stands to reason, right? So is yours. So learn to read your own words as if you love them, (c'mon, don't pretend you don't!) read like you hear it in your head, read with inflection, chin up, from the diaphragm, and all that.
Yeah. I'm sure Dave could add a lot, so I'll hand it off to him...