Saturday, March 10, 2012

What Watching Game of Thrones Taught Me About Beginnings

This blog was originally a guest-post I did at Brianna's Soloski's
blog: It went up while I was on
vacation last month.

A few months back, when Game of Thrones first appeared on television,
I heard a lot of good things - about the show and about the books.
Although I knew nothing of the actual plot, I was excited to get a
glimpse into this apparently extraordinary world. So I sat down
eagerly to watch the first episode with the understanding I was about
to embark on a tale of medieval-esque fantasy and political intrigue.

Imagine my surprise then, when the show opened with a gory
dismembering of a dozen bodies, the murder of two men, and apparently
undead people.

I scoffed "Huh, zombies. Been there," and turned the show off because
it wasn't anything like what I'd expected. I was irritated and
disappointed, surprised so many people raved about it. Wasn't this
technically "horror"?

Then a few weeks later a close writer friend began watching the show
online at the same time another close writer friend started reading
the books. At one point they both raved to me for a solid hour about
how much I would love this story.

"But," I said, "I tried to watch it. It was just a gory, freakish
bunch of zombie-types tearing men apart."

They both screamed "NO!" and jumped into simultaneous and heated
explanations about how I'd gotten the wrong impression. They worked on
me for weeks until I finally agreed to persevere with a single
episode. And of course, they were right. I loved it.

But the thing they didn't know was that, to me, the opening sequence
had completely misrepresented the story.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I now understand the importance of those
scenes. But taken in isolation they give a very different impression
of the story than, say, the next scene - which introduces a very
unique (in my opinion) family and set of "fantasy" circumstances.

While there's no doubt the opening scenes gave a foretaste of
something we're headed toward, to this uninitiated mind they were
confusing - and seemed to tell a totally different story.

I'm disappointed that if my friends hadn't known me so well, I never
would have discovered this world that I adore. (I plan to buy all the
books. ALL THE BOOKS).

But this isn't a blog post about my taste in fantasy. Or whether The
White Walkers were appropriately introduced.

This situation got me thinking about something I think we writers are
often prone towards:
Writing to "grab", rather than working to serve the story.

The problem with this approach is that if it doesn't appeal to your
primary audience, you'll grab the wrong people - and they'll drop your
story halfway through when they realize the opening was a dupe.

There's no doubt the beginning of a story needs to draw the reader in.
But this experience brought home to me how important it is to be true
to your whole story, not just the most shocking part. That initial
taste of your book builds an expectation in your reader of what's to

So, give me a true taste, friends. Don't open with dessert at the
beginning of a steak meal. Mold my expectations of what's to come with
depth and trust your writing and your story to draw me in. Don't take
the shock and awe approach unless it's starting as you mean to
go on. Then no-one will have to combat the wrong impressions on your behalf.

(Though, in the event they do, pray you've got readers as loyal as my
friends to fight for you!)

Your Turn: Have you ever started a story, only to find it wasn't
anything like you expected? Was that experience good or bad.


  1. This is a concept I am definitely going to keep in mind!

  2. This was a great post. Got me thinking. And while I adore Game of Thrones, you're right. The beginning had a really different tone than the rest of the story. It felt like a prologue to me. Which isn't a bad thing, of course. But prologues are so hard to execute, aren't they?

    1. Good point! I go back and forth on prologues. Like anything else, when they're done well, I love them. They can have this kind of effect, though. I can recall two YA prologues that had a very different tone to the book...

  3. This was me before watching 300. I thought I would hate it because I didn't like action films or violence, but this movie was epic, beautiful, like a ballet of defiance and myth. I can't recommend it enough to people.

    1. Funny you should say that. I haven't watched that movie for precisely that reason.

  4. Yes--I totally agree. That first chapter should be a great representation of the rest of the story, both in actions and in voice.

  5. That first scene had me intrigued, but definitely not prepared for the rest of the story. I agree that it's completely different from what comes next, and may lose some people.

  6. I haven't watched 300 for those same reasons either.

    I can't think of a book that gave me the wrong expectations off the top of my head, but I completely agree with your argument. Let the beginning be a true sample of what the reader can expect throughout the rest of the story. :-)

  7. Interesting. I've been dying to watch them... waiting to get them all on DVD, but glad to know it's worth getting thru the gore! I agree with setting the tone in the beginning or else you feel b***ch slapped when you get part way thru. lol

  8. "Don't take the shock and awe approach unless it's starting as you mean to go on."

    Excellent advice. Great post. Now you make me want to start reading this series.