Nice Moves

The king pulled a paper from his belt and handed it to Ned.

Varys the eunuch was the king’s master of whisperers. He served Robert now as he had once served Aerys Targaryen. Ned unrolled the paper with trepidation, thinking of Lysa and her terrible accusation, but the message did not concern Lady Arryn. “What is the source for this information?”

This is the equivalent of only shooting one side of a phone call in a movie. Martin does the same thing with Jon getting the good news about Bran.

Jon’s finger traced the outline of the direwolf in the white wax of the broken seat. He recognized Robb’s hand, but the letters seemed to blur and run as he tried to read them. He realized he was crying. And then, through the tears, he found the sense in the words, and raised his head. “He woke up,” he said. “The gods gave him back.”

Martin is free to do this because in each case we already know the information contained in the message, and furthermore the characters repeat it. You see Jon do so in the blockquote, and a little after asking about the source of the information, Ned says:

“Daenerys Targaryen has wed some Dothraki horselord. What of it? Shall we send her a wedding gift?”

If we hadn’t seen these scenes already, this might be annoyingly elliptical. But we have, so it’s nicely compressed.

Do we ever see a message? The Pink Letter gets printed in full, I know. It’d be interesting to know if Martin lets us read over the characters’ shoulders more often as the series goes on.

She had begged Ned not to go, not now, not after what had happened; everything had changed now, couldn’t he see that? It was no use. He had no choice, he had told her, and then he left, choosing.

A little free indirect!

Catelyn spied the queen’s ornate barge, tied up beside a fat-bellied whaler from the Port of Ibben, its hull black with tar, while upriver a dozen lean golden warships rested in their cribs, sails furled and cruel iron rams lapping at the water.

“Lapping at the water…” that’s an arresting conflation of the meaning of the siege implement and the bovid. What a neat way to exploit a homonym.

I always notice this sentence structure. I even have a name for it: the moving sentence.

They passed beneath the gatehouse, over the drawbridge, through the outer walls.

Kate Mansfield, “The Garden Party”:

Away she skimmed, over the lawn, up the path, up the steps, across the veranda, and into the porch.

Metaphors are the best:

In that moment Bran saw everything. Summer was savaging Hali, pulling glistening blue snakes from her belly. Her eyes were wide and staring. Bran could not tell whether she was alive or dead.

A little later, the hostage taker catches one in the chest.

The dagger fell away from Bran’s throat. The big man swayed and collapsed, facedown in the stream. The arrow broke beneath him. Bran watched his life go swirling off in the water.

Martin returns to the snake image during the wight attack at Castle Black.

The direwolf wrenched free and came to him as the wight struggled to rise, dark snakes spilling from the great wound in its belly.

And once more in ACOK:

They found Squint floating facedown in the moat, his entrails drifting behind him like a nest of pale snakes.

The day was warm and cloudless, the sky a deep blue. When the wind blew, she could smell the rich scents of grass and earth. As her litter passed beneath the stolen monuments, she went from sunlight to shadow and back again. Dany swayed along, studying the faces of dead heroes and forgotten kings. She wondered if the gods of burned cities could still answer prayers.

This one caught my eye because Martin doesn’t describe light very much. From a painter’s perspective, nothing could be crazier: light is the medium that permits all visual description. To paint you have to really devote yourself to learning about light’s properties and behaviors. But verbal description is a different beast. Ezra Pound once talked about it:

Don’t be descriptive; remember that the painter can describe a landscape much better than you can, and that he has to know a good deal more about it.

When Shakespeare talks of the ‘Dawn in russet mantle clad’ he presents something which the painter does not present. There is in the line nothing which can be called description; he presents.

I don’t think Martin really describes or presents. Just like some film directors, Martin’s not so worried about the image. There’s plenty of visual description, but it is schematic, like when he catalogues a character’s outfit. Rarely will he describe an object in a specific setting and under a specific light.

But here he does. That detail about passing in and out of the shadows sells the grandeur of these monuments through indirect description, and triangulates Dany, the monuments, and the scene at large. This is one piece of advice that applies to writers and painters alike: integrate the subject with their surroundings. I love concept art, so I have nothing against a lone figure on a gray background, but planting the character in space is so much more exciting.

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