By Steve Marzolf
At Comic-Con, 'Game of Thrones' author George R.R. Martin appeared on a panel with a handful of his fellow fantasy writers to discuss the meaning of a word that gets tossed around a lot in the genre: EPIC.
"I think that in its modern usage, 'epic fantasy' is a marketing category that publishers and booksellers use to distinguish that stuff that those of us here write: stuff with castles and swords and sometimes elves and dwarves – or in my case just one dwarf. A lot of it is epic, and a lot of it involves the fate of the world, where huge armies are on the march. I've done some of that stuff myself, and there are many great examples of epic fantasy that's gigantic in scale. But I would just as soon NOT make that a requirement of our fantasy genre. I'm thrilled when I encounter a book where the fate of the world does not seem to be involved."
Martin's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' stories, of course, are massive in scale and very much involve the fate of the world. But the spark of inspiration that eventually spawned the Starks, the Lannisters and their Seven Kingdoms was much more compact.
"I started with a vision of a scene where some wolf pups are discovered being born with a dead mother in the snow. It just came to me very vividly, and I wrote it. I didn't know what story it was part of or what world it was part of. I didn't know anything. But by the time I finished writing that chapter, I knew the second chapter. And once I was 50-60 pages into it, I decided I had a novel – or maybe more than a novel – so I thought I'd better draw a map and think about who these people were …"
One fan asked the author how – after painstakingly building a world and creating characters to live in it – a writer can know when their book is ready for publication. And although he's famous for his delayed deliveries, Martin warned against endlessly fiddling with a story. "You can write forever and not know if it's ready," he advised. "The key is to write, finish what you write and put it on the market. There are editors who will let you know if it's ready … by sending you a check."