A few weeks ago there was a leaked letter from George R.R. Martin to his publisher detailing his original outline for A Song of Ice and Fire. As Martin still has two enormous novels to go in his series and the HBO adaptation Game of Thrones has become quite alarming in the insane plot department, there’s a lot of speculation regarding Martin’s most famous fictional universe, and aspiring novelists who want to craft their own fantasy worlds are paying close attention—or should be, because this is basically real-life writing craft spooling out right before your eyes.
The main lesson from the leaked letter is that whether you consider yourself a Plotter, Pantser, or Plantser, you should be ready for the swerve, because the best laid plans of mice and men and all that.
Put simply, it doesn’t matter how meticulously you plot your books, or how in control you feel or how in tune with your instincts. George R.R. Martin is a pro, and his outline for ASoIaF demonstrates his sharp, professional approach to planning a series of fantasy novels. At the time he imagined the series as a trilogy. This was in 1993 or so, you know, twenty-four years ago. How innocent it all seems now.
The point is, Martin got into his story, and it swerved on him. The Swerve happens, and it happens when you least expect it. Simple stories get complex, stories you initially think will require sixteen dense volumes peter out after 30,000 words. The Swerve is something any novelist has to be ready for, because you’re never as in control of your story as you think you are. There’s a Shadow Writer inside all of us, living in our subconscious, and the Shadow Writer is always busy churning things in unexpected ways.
Putting in a ton of work and then watching your novel swerve out of your grasp is just the cost of doing business. Sometimes the Swerve works for you, sometimes it works against you. All you can do as a writer is accept the fact that it’s coming, and try to be ready.
Me, I’ve always been good with the Swerve because a similar thing happens every time I walk into a bar thinking I’ve to have three beers and no more.