Hey, everyone! Sage here! What you’re about to watch is the first in a series of videos about storytelling. Basically, I want to demystify the writing process and show you the tools that are at a writer’s disposal and how they use them to create stories that stick with you. I’m calling this series It’d be an understatement to say that people get attached to the characters in Game of Thrones Stop killing my people. We’re not just attached to these characters. We are obsessively in love with them, but how on Earth did George R. R.Martin do this. I think the answer is because he understands the most important emotion you need in any story: empathy. Making your audience empathize with your characters is absolutely crucial, but it’s a step that is often forgotten. I mean, how many TV shows or movies have you seen where you’ve thought to yourself I don’t care about any of these characters. That’s because the writers forgot about empathy and that is a lethal mistake for a story. So let’s take a look at the techniques George R.R. Martin uses to get you to care about his characters. Things I do for love. Almost every major character in Game of Thrones has a disability and I don’t just mean physical disabilities, but literally anything that puts that character at a seemingly permanent disadvantage in the world. Jon Snow is a bastard. Tyrion is a dwarf. Most women in the series face a ton of obstacles because of their gender. Their problems are a product of their own identities. Things that cannot be changed and because of that we root for them. We want to see how they can overcome the insurmountable. Even Ned Stark who doesn’t have a physical disability is deliberately put into situations where he is at a disadvantage. He’s an honorable soldier who has to navigate the politics of King’s Landing. All of his strengths on the battlefield are character flaws in this arena and that’s why we root for him to succeed and weep when he fails. Westeros is filled with loads of reprehensible horrible people, but every once in a while George R.R. Martin manages to turn one of them into a character that we care passionately about How? Well it ties into the first point. Midway through the story Martin will thrust a disability onto these characters that takes away whatever they held most dear before that moment. Jaime prided himself on his abilities as a swordsman. So of course he loses his fighting hand. Less fortunate?
You lost your hand. My sword hand. I was that hand.
And in that stroke, he’s he’s crippled, he’s damaged and we discover that there are reasons for some of the things he did. And we discover his doubts and his failings and his temptations and his justifications and all of that helps to, helps to humanize him.
Theon wants cheap sex and to be seen as a strong man. When he is castrated by Ramsay he has to let go of his ego, his obsession with masculinity and must act selflessly in service of others. But what happens if you do the same thing to a character that we already like and empathize with?
Well, in a word they die. When Ned is arrested He is forced to give up what he values most: his honor and admit that he is a traitor. That is a form of character suicide. He dies the moment he says these words. When King Joffrey has him executed, it’s really just a formality. Speaking of King Joffrey, We don’t judge characters objectively. We judge them by comparing them to other characters in the story. How do I know this? Well… Darla!
This is Darla from Finding Nemo.
She wouldn’t stop shaking the bag! Chances are even just showing you a picture of her made you cringe. Twinkle, twinkle little star… Find a happy place! Find a happy place! Find a happy place! You hate her with the passion of a thousand suns, and why? Because she killed a few fish? But come on, she didn’t know any better. She’s just a kid after all. No, we hate her not because she’s the worst person in the world but because she’s the worst character in Finding Nemo. Objectively speaking Jaime Lannister is a far more terrible person than Darla is, but we can come to like Jaime because we’re not comparing him to Darla or any normal person. We’re comparing him to: Prince Joffrey; Walder Frey; Ramsay Bolton; people who have no redeeming qualities. Martin uses these characters to make the protagonists look good. There are a thousand ways to get people to empathize with a fictional character but a few good steps are to give them a disability or disadvantage, take away whatever they value most, or play them off of people who are objectively worse. George R. R. Martin does this perfectly which is why I don’t understand it when people say, “The series is successful because it’s gritty or dark” Martin doesn’t just throw death and destruction around for shock value. Each act of violence is utilized with extreme care. Violence is a tool to help develop the characters and manipulate the audience’s emotions. George R. R. Martin is one of the most successful writers around right now – not because he is the master of killing characters – but because he is the master of empathy. Thanks for watching everyone. If you found this interesting, please make sure to subscribe. New videos will be posted every other Tuesday And I’ve got tons more to say. My name is Sage and I’ll see you soon!