A lot of advice for would-be writers focuses on the first chapter and how to hook your potential agent and publisher so they don’t throw your manuscript in the garbage. As a budding writer, I’ve taken in a lot of such advice over the past few years, so I’m of course more than qualified to turn that advice back around as a teacher, much like The Mandarin in Iron Man 3.
I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to look at the first chapter of A Game of Thrones, and see how a world-renowned author such as George R.R. Martin crafts his opening chapter:
The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer.
Wait, what? That’s the opening sentence to the hugely-popular modern fantasy classic? A boring description of the weather? Guess it’s garbage time for you, George “Too Many Middle Initials” Martin! I mean, seriously, this sentence is so boring, I don’t even know where to begin. Oh that’s right, at the prologue of the book, where a bunch of blue-eyed snow zombies gruesomely killed scores of people. I’m not really sure what G.R.R.M. was going for here with this sentence, so I’ve taken the liberty of excising and letting the rest of the paragraph stand:
They set forth at daybreak to see a man beheaded, twenty in all, and Bran rode among them, nervous with excitement. This was the first time he had been deemed old enough to go with his lord father and his brothers to see the king’s justice done. It was the ninth year of summer, and the seventh of Bran’s life.
Much better. We’ve got a seven-year old boy going to his first beheading and it’s apparently the ninth year of summer on whatever crazy planet this story takes place. If there’s something I missed out on as a child, it was going to see a beheading, so I’m glad that Bran’s father is raising him properly.
Moving on …
The man had been taken outside a small holdfast in the hills. Robb thought he was a wildling, his sword sworn to Mance Rayder, the King-beyond-the-Wall. It made Bran’s skin prickle to think of it. He remembered the hearth tales Old Nan told them. The wildlings were cruel men, she said, slavers and slayers and thieves. They consorted with giants and ghouls, stole girl children in the dead of night, and drank blood from polished horns. And their women lay with the Others in the Long Night to sire terrible half-human children.
So those creepy blue-eyed zombies we’ve already seen in the prologue are called the Others, which is just a lazy name (and also maybe racist). Everyone is in for a big surprise when they realize that the Others are in fact real and are apparently pretty ticked off about something. There’s also a guy called Mance Rayder, which is a kick-ass name. I’m guessing that once G.R.R.M. came up with that, he called it quits for the day and filled in the rest of the chapter with placeholder names Mad Libs-style and forgot to change them later.
Lord Eddard Stark dismounted and his ward Theon Greyjoy brought forth the sword. “Ice,” that sword was called. It was as wide across as a man’s hand, and taller even than Robb. The blade was Valyrian steel, spell-forged and dark as smoke. Nothing held an edge like Valyrian steel.
This book should just be about Mance Rayder riding around the countryside solving crimes with his huge greatsword Ice, instead of Ned Stark loudly stalking through King’s Landing and getting himself killed by a petulant teenager.
After the beheading, the rest of the chapter involves finding a pack of baby direwolves, who you know were just thrown in there so HBO could sell direwolf plushies to children 15 years later:
In all seriousness, this chapter actually accomplishes a lot. We learn a bit about the world and its history, meet some of the series’ most important characters, and then everyone gets a puppy to take home in the end. Just like in real life.