For some writers, impending deadlines are an omnipresent force of frustration and distraction. You can certainly add George R.R. Martin to that list. The author of the highly successful A Song of Ice and Fire novels — which spawned the HBO series Game of Thrones — has missed the last two deadlines for his sixth book in the seven-part series, The Winds of Winter.
Martin explained in a Jan. 2 post on his LiveJournal blog that the writing process has simply slowed down, and it's not from the constant activity and traveling related to the HBO show. Rather, he's human, and is prone to writer's block.
"You can blame my travels or my blog posts or the distractions of other projects and the Cocteau and whatever, but maybe all that had an impact," he wrote. "You can blame my age, and maybe that had an impact too ... but if truth be told, sometimes the writing goes well and sometimes it doesn't, and that was true for me even when I was in my 20s."
Now, Martin doesn't have a set deadline for The Winds of Winter, and maybe that's for the best. Without a due date looming over his head, he can focus on the narrative of his books, which have some distinct differences from the show. It is, however, part of a larger problem with the novels: If he plans on wrapping up A Song of Ice and Fire in seven books, he needs to move the plot at a faster pace.
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Particularly with the last two published books — A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons — Martin caught himself up in world-building and 15 additional point-of-view characters. New characters are not a negative in their own right, particularly with the series' frequent deaths, but they come at the expense of advancing important plot points. Case in point: A Feast for Crows was so large it became unpublishable, and had to be split into two books focusing on different parts of the realm, which spawned A Dance With Dragons.
Still, it took Martin another five years to finish the fifth installment, even with some of the pieces already in place. "The books are very complicated and complex and I spend a lot of time trying to get that right," Martin said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. "In my view, it's more important to get that right than to get it out on time."
That said, Martin does seem to be a bit surprised at the speed of the TV adaptation. "Look, I never thought the series could possibly catch up with the books, but it has," Martin wrote in his January blog post. "The show moved faster than I anticipated and I moved more slowly."
Like nearly every TV show, Thrones produces one season per year, and the only book that had to be split into two seasons was the third: A Storm of Swords. Conversely, season five combined books four and five — which again demonstrates a problem with the overarching narrative. As the novel's narrative scale has risen, the amount of story and character development Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss deem necessary continues to shrink. As such, it's no longer a case of if, or when, the show is going to surpass the books: It will do so in season six.
"Given where we are, inevitably, there will be certain plot twists and reveals in season six of Game of Thrones that have not yet happened in the books," Martin wrote. "For years my readers have been ahead of the viewers. This year, for some things, the reverse will be true. How you want to handle that ... hey, that's up to you."
However, there is a way for Martin to speed up the book writing process. As Chris Taylor wrote for Mashable, Martin could hire a co-author to help with the burden, which wouldn't be entirely out of character for him. He has used the help of a "superfan" for keeping track of the series' plethora of characters, houses and plot lines at Westeros.org, and has crowdsourced chapters of his books to gauge their reception.
"If there's anything we learned from watching and reading about Westeros, it's that trying to rule a fantasy kingdom all on your lonesome is a recipe for disaster," Taylor wrote. "Robb Stark never would have needed to walk into the Red Wedding if he'd listened to wise counsel. King Joffrey tried to exercise an iron grip on the course of events without the influence of his grandfather, and look how he turned out. If the Baratheon brothers had worked together, they would have brought peace to a continent."
In the meantime, fans should be patient with Martin. Moreover, they should be grateful these books and the world of Westeros even exists — it's a near-Tolkien level scale of fantasy brilliance. Yes, some elements of the TV show will spill into the books' lingering questions, but if Martin is able to wrap up the multitude of story threads in seven books, that's a success in and of itself.