I’m a big fan of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (commonly known by the name of its TV adaptation, Game of Thrones). It boasts a cast of richly complex characters, its setting is one of the most fascinating I’ve encountered, and it’s easily one of the most compelling stories I’ve read.
I’m currently on my second read-through of the books, and I thought I’d share some of the many storytelling lessons I’ve learned from the series. Let’s get to it!
George RR Martin has made no secret of how much he’s pulled from history: While the Game of Thrones is being battled by Lannisters and Starks, the War of the Roses was fought by Lancasters and Yorks. Battles from our history and mythology play out in Westoros and Essos—but often with a dash of alchemy, dragons, or dark powers. Even weaponry and technology, like Valyrian steel, is based on mysteries from history, like Damascus steel.
It would be an exhausting process to list all the historical inspirations of the Song of Ice and Fire, but whatever specific instances we make note of, the lesson is clear: History makes for great source material, even in fantasy settings. After all, history was the result of complex conflicts between complex people—and that makes for a pretty compelling narrative.
Poetry was originally a verbal art, with epic poems like The Odyssey being presented and presented down through a purely oral tradition. Now, we’re seeing a return to the oral tradition through the performance poetry scene (commonly known as “slam poetry”). But what’s the value of memorization?
Many people don’t consider a poem a poem unless it uses imagery. But what is imagery?
Imagery is the name given to the elements in a poem that spark off the senses. Any of the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell) can be used. The more concrete the details, the more imagistic it is. So while “She is beautiful” isn’t imagery, “Her hair was the color of polished bronze and her eyes gleamed like amber” would be.
A poet builds concepts metaphor by metaphor. Each metaphor is a bridge leading the reader to more full understanding of whatever the writer is describing. Despite how frequently we use metaphors, however, many writers are confused about the word’s meaning.
(or: why you probably hate looking at poetic rhythm)
Students are typically taught rhythm through “scansion,” which is the process of marking the emphasis of each syllable of a poem. Typically, students are taught two levels of emphasis: unaccented ( x ) and accented ( / ). Scansion is used to identify rhythmic units (known as “feet”), especially in traditional poetic forms like sonnets and blank verse, where the repetition of “iambs” (syllable groupings, such as x /) are an important part of the poetic form.
While there are many aspects of lyricism, alliteration and assonance are two of the most important.
Alliteration is when you have a series of words with the same first consonant sound close together, e.g., Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Alliterative words can be right next to each other or a few words apart.
Assonance, like alliteration, has to do with words having similar sounds. With assonance you are looking for similar vowel sounds within the words, e.g., Molly donned a shawl for the fall ball.