Let’s get the obligatory Game of Thrones article opening out of the way: Spoilers are coming.
Many have named Game of Thrones one of the most– if not the most – popular shows of this generation. Since the first episode aired in 2011, the show has been picking up fans in droves and HBO has announced spin-off shows will follow the eighth and last season.
What is it about Game of Thrones that has people obsessed about who will sit on the Iron Throne in the end (if there still is one)? Dragons aren’t enough to keep people interested in watching a show for seven years. It’s the storytelling (and dragons) that keeps people coming back for each season premier.
The show employs many storytelling techniques in competent ways. And who employs these storytelling techniques? Expert writers, who use the tools of their trade to entertain the viewers and launch Game of Thrones into popular, mainstream culture.
Let’s look at some of the tricks these writers have mastered that you could employ to take your own work to the next level:
The Three-Eyed Raven, formerly known as Bran Stark, is a walking (too soon?) flashback machine. Aside from being able to look across miles in current time, his entire existence is based on flashbacks. One of the major plot points of the season seven finale was Bran’s revealing of Jon Snow’s parents and the fact that this made him the true heir to the Iron Throne.
This is a prime example of the use of flashbacks as a way to alter storylines. Bran’s revealing of Jon Snow’s true heritage may not have changed the course of the story (yet), but it increased the magnitude of Jon Snow’s situation in the story and changed the meaning of his actions.
Flashbacks are a great way to hold back information and reveal it at a devastating moment.
Any true fan of Game of Thrones has an episode that blew them away. The first instance of a major plot twist could arguably be the death of Ned Stark at the end of season one, which set the pace for the show’s many deaths that drastically changed the direction of the storyline.
One could make the case that one of the reasons for Game of Thrones’ popularity is its use of plot twists. This plot technique is often utilized to keep viewers or readers on the edge of their seats – to punish them for getting too ahead of themselves in predicting what is going to happen next.
Ticking Clock Scenario
Throughout much of the show, there is one consistent threat that gets steadily closer to the characters as time goes by. The White Walkers, led by the Night King, begin their descent toward The Wall early on in the show and by the end of the seventh season, have finally breached that wall.
This is an excellent example of another plot advancement technique – the Ticking Clock Scenario. This is something – a force, a person, a situation – that puts a time limit on a story. As the final moment of reckoning gets closer, the speed of the story and excitement of both the readers and characters increases.
Game of Thrones employs use of misdirection in its storytelling as well. Misdirection is the quieter cousin of the plot twist, and can be found at various points in the story. In the last season, Cersei Lannister, queen of Westeros, has a vis-à-vis meeting with Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow. After a short meeting with them and an impromptu one with her brother, Tyrion, she announces she will ride north with her enemies to ward of the advancing army of White Walkers. She shortly thereafter reveals this is a lie, surprising her brother Jamie and viewers alike.
Misdirection can be a powerful tool in a narrative, and a malicious one to boot. What this technique does is trick readers and viewers into believing something that is not true and then yanking the rug out from under that belief, sometimes through the use of a plot twist.
The Rising Protagonist or Hero
This may be a sore topic for Game of Thrones fans, who have experienced the rise (and fall) of many protagonists over the years. As the show moves into its final season, fans have been left with two main heroes – Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen.
The great power of this technique is that the reader or viewer gets to grow with the rising hero and, if the character is well-written, will feel an affinity toward that hero. For seven seasons, fans have watched as Jon Snow traveled from his boyhood home as a bastard destined to a life protecting an icy wall to transform into King of the North. Fans have watched him every step of the way as he rises to his destiny as a hero.
This progression has created a character loved by many and has made the Game of Thrones storyline that much more important. If the reader can’t live, grow and fight alongside a character, then they care when that character dies or, say, becomes King of Westeros? Please, save your emails.
So, what do you think? Can you add some of these five writing techniques into your own work? Are there others that the writers of Game of Thrones use to cause the wildfire spread of the show’s popularity?