Plotting, Pantsing, and Game of Thrones

When it comes to writing I am a pantser. That is, I don’t plan my stories out in advance, I don’t outline. I start with an idea and some vague sense of how I think things will end, and work toward that, discovering things along the way. It is the only method that works for me. Whenever I’ve tried to plan things out, say by outlining, I find I quickly lose interest in the story. Once it is mapped out, I know it and it is no longer exciting for me.

I don’t even like to talk about the stories I am working on. I used to do this, but found that talking about them had the same damping effect as outlining. If I described the plot of a story in progress to someone, I found it hard to go back and finish the story. Having told it once, I wasn’t interested in telling it again. The novelty of the story was gone. These days, if someone asks what I am working on, I simply say, “a story.” If they pursue and ask, “What’s the story about?” I say, “I don’t know, I haven’t figured it out yet.”

I was thinking about plotting versus pantsing after watching the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, “The Long Night.” It got me wondering if, perhaps, George R. R. Martin might never finish the book series, and instead, call the HBO series the canonical end of the saga. I don’t know if Martin is a plotter or a pantser, but if he is the latter, I could see how the HBO series sort of spoils the writing of the rest of the series. Why write it now that he knows how it ends?

For that matter, why read it once the HBO series has concluded. Certainly there are divergences from the books and the series, but in those cases, the books were the originally published source and can be considered canonical. This isn’t the case with the final seasons of Game of Thrones. Now, the HBO series, which is appearing before the last two books, has to be considered the canonical source.

If the final two books are ever written, they will appear long after the HBO series has completed. The HBO series has been a cultural phenomenon and its images, actors, music have seeped into our psyche in such a way that I think it would be difficult for books to replace events in the series. It is possible that the books will diverge from events in the series but since the last seasons of the series came first, I think they will be treated as the source of truth, and divergence will only cause confusion. And yet, if the books follow the series, there is no longer any surprise, and so why bother?

It would not surprise me if we see Martin and his publisher announce that, after due consideration, the final two books of the series will not be written and the HBO series will represent the canonical conclusion to the books. It will be a novelty: a mixed-media series that began in book form and ended as one the most popular television series of all time. It is a way for the series to go out on top. This would also free Martin of the stress of having to complete the series, and move onto other projects he is eager to do.

I don’t know any of this for certain. I am speculating, but it makes sense to me. I would certainly accept the series as the canonical end and were books to be published, I doubt that I would continue to read them at this point–not because I didn’t like the first five but because I already have a satisfactory conclusion in my mind and don’t need to muddy the waters with multiple endings.

As a pantser, I couldn’t imagine having to write the books after working with the showrunners to produce the rest of the series and knowing in detail what happens. The job, for me, would be more like writing a movie tie-in than a work of original creation.

Published by Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin writes fiction and nonfiction for a variety of publications including Analog, Clarkesworld, The Daily Beast, 99U, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies. He was featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series. He has been blogging since 2005. By day, he manages software projects and occasionally writes code. He lives in Falls Church, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

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