The Seven Tenets of Writing as Learned from Game of Thrones


George R. R. Martin is brilliant. His books in the Game of Thrones series have taken us on a journey through the fictional world of kings, queens, their armies, their families, their animals—including fantastical dragons—and of course, their epic struggles to claim the Iron Throne.

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HBO brought it all spectacularly to life, luring us around the television in a way we hadn’t seen since Elvis Presley shook his hips on The Ed Sullivan Show. They made their fans wait…and wait…and wait…so we knew Season 8, the final season, would be out of this world.

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It was. The disappointment has been rampant and fans have lashed out, even signing petitions for HBO to remake it using George R. R. Martin’s not-yet-finished final chapter.

What can be learned from this? I’ve thought of many things, actually, but in reverence to Game of Thrones’ Seven Kingdoms, I’ll stick to that perfect number. (My editor will be so happy to know I’ve paid attention.) I’ll also do my best not to name specific characters or give away action that could be seen as spoiling the show for anyone who hasn’t yet seen the final installment.


  1. Sustain the characteristics and personalities of the main characters unless changes occur within the story line which helps the reader/watcher to understand how they developed. Having a character suddenly act in opposition to their normal tendencies isn’t believable unless some time is involved in a story line which leads us to believe it was inevitable, or some horrific action—unlike any other they’ve ever experienced—causes them to snap.


  1. Don’t rush the action, or the ending. The buildup shouldn’t take 99% of the story, and the ending seem thrown together in a rush of slaughter and devastation as if just to get it over with. This cheapens the entire experience, not just the one chapter.


  1. Emotional scenes with animals are touching, but shouldn’t be the most touching ones unless the story is about them: i.e. Lassie. The reader/watcher shouldn’t walk away thinking the best actor nomination should go to the dragon. I am a human. Give me some human emotion, please.


  1. Tie up loose ends. This doesn’t mean putting a bow on things the way you think it should end, but rather, explaining dropped hints, or else, don’t drop them. Readers/watchers shouldn’t walk away asking what happened to this one, who was that one supposed to kill, what was the point of telling the would-be king he was the rightful heir to the throne, if he had no intention to take it? Don’t leave the reader/watcher scratching his/her head and asking: huh? Foreshadow things that will occur, and then have them happen, allowing the main characters to grow through their skill in dealing with the hurdles and situations.
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  1. Make the reader/watcher care. Violence for the sake of violence rates nothing. We only really feel the effect of the annihilation when someone we care about is trapped.


  1. It has long been a tenet of mystery writing that the villains can’t come out of nowhere. The murderer must be someone to whom we are already introduced. Let the hero earn the death. Let the villain face the hero, not have a ton of bricks dropped on them.


  1. Never, ever betray your fans. When they’ve invested years of their lives reading/watching your series, give them a satisfactory finale. Don’t cheapen them and their time by failing them at the end, especially if you want them to pick up another book or watch another of your movies.


Okay, that sums up my Seven Tenets of Writing. What did you learn from Game of Thrones?

Renee Johnson is the author of Behind The MaskHerald AngelsAcquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray. She is currently working on a romantic-comedy, and a historical trilogy, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign culture. She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and two very spoiled German shepherds named Hansel and Gretel.


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  1. You certainly summed that up well. I have been thinking about it for a couple of days now. I was one who was very disappointed and felt slightly betrayed. Although, my grievances probably weren’t the same as others. That number, seven, applied well here and we spent years learning how important it was to the series and in the end it wasn’t. That’s very odd. I respect your wish to not spoil it for anyone who did not see it so I can’t go any further with this. Thanks, Renee.

    1. Thank you, Michelle.

      I felt betrayed by much in the final season, not just the finale. The big battle with the white walkers was too dark to make out anything. It felt more like an audio experience than a visual one. Their demise came too neatly and much too swiftly. It felt like GOT producers took the cheapest way out in filming that episode.

      Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) is blasting the fans for daring to be outraged. I don’t blame the actors. They are given scripts and aren’t in charge of their characters’ fates. That being said, there is so much we can take away from this as writers.

      When enough time has passed that everyone intending to watch GOT should have done so, we’ll talk.

  2. I really enjoyed your brilliant analysis and suggestions. I am not a fan of the Game of Thrones genre and have not watched a single episode. But of course, I’ve had the series finale thrown in my face by innumerable smarting fans. Perhaps the your editorial clarity could have saved this acclaimed series, if only they’d asked. 😉

    1. Thank you, Linda. My husband became a fan of GOT while recovering from a surgery. I read the first couple of books. We became fans. But the last season seemed like a lazy attempt just to get it over with. Sad.

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