Wednesday, 1 July 2015

A Song of Facts and Figures: A Feast for Crows

The original cover art for A Feast for Crows, by Stephen Youll. A few copies of the novel were actually printed with this artwork in place, and can command steep prices.

A Feast for Crows
Writing Period: Summer 2001-May 2005
Originally Published: 17 October 2005 (UK), 8 November 2005 (USA)

Word Count: 300,000
Manuscript Page Count: 1,063
Hardcover Page Count: 755
Paperback Page Count: 864 (US), 852 (current UK)

Chapters: 46
POV Characters: 12 + Prologue

When George R.R. Martin sat down to start writing A Dance with Dragons, then planned to be the fourth volume of A Song of Ice and Fire, he imagined it was going to be fairly straightforward. It had taken him nine years to write the first three books in the series, but having just penned the massive A Storm of Swords in record time and seen it have a rapturous critical reception, he was highly motivated to finish the series off at a fast pace. When fans asked him when he thought the book would be on the shelves, he confidently said "Late 2002".

This didn't happen.

A Dance with Dragons was supposed to start five years after the events of A Storm of Swords. The young children characters would all be older, some of the chaotic events from the previous novels would have had time to have died away and some of the more (arguably) humdrum aspects of the story - characters travelling and learning - would happen off-page. It was a nice idea and worked well for some characters (Jon, Daenerys, Arya, Bran) but for others (Cersei, Brienne, Jaime) it didn't work at all. Martin found himself having to refer to events that had happened in the interim, sometimes filling out entire chapters with flashbacks to that interim period. For over a year he struggled with making this structure work and eventually gave up.

At Worldcon in August 2001, Martin announced that he had effectively scrapped 500 pages of manuscript he had written for A Dance with Dragons. Instead, he had started writing a new fourth book that would instead start immediately after the events of Swords. This book was entitled A Feast for Crows. In the event it would take a further three and a half years to finish the book (sort of) and more than four to bring it to the shelves.

The primary problem with Crows was that Martin was now "filling in the blanks" of the previous five-year gap for some characters, but other characters were now ready to move into the next phase of the storyline. In some cases it appears new material was created for them, in others it appears Martin simply got them going to where they'd have been after the abandoned gap. He also widened the cast, bringing in new characters in Dorne and expanding the POV roster to include previously-seen characters in the Iron Islands, but now raised to much greater prominence. At one point he planned an enormous (Robert Jordan-style) mega-prologue divided between all the Dornish and ironborn characters, but then changed his mind and split this up into more traditional chapters.

The original and unused UK cover art for Crows, by Jim Burns. Note that this was prepared a long time before the split, hence the presence of Jon Snow.

Martin wrote and wrote during this period, occasionally publishing sample chapters on his website or reading them at conventions. Three Daenerys Targaryen chapters were combined into a chapbook and given away at a fantasy convention. He also started using the web more, particularly the "Update" section on his website, to talk about progress on the book. Updates were given, the book was getting larger and larger, but still with no end in site. For some fans, the fact that they'd gotten three large books within four years of one another but had now had to wait for four and more for one was incomprehensible.

In early 2005, Martin reassessed his status. The book was huge, having topped 1,600 manuscript pages and heading northwards at a rate of knots. Some characters in the book had pretty much complete story arcs, such as Jaime, Cersei and Brienne. Others were incomplete, such as Arya. Others still (including the important central trio of Daenerys, Jon and Tyrion) only had a few chapters written for them. Martin and his publishers began discussing splitting the book into two volumes, with the second volume to follow on a year or so from the first. At first they debated doing this chronologically, but Martin found this unsatisfying as there were few good places where he could end the first half of the narrative.

Martin's friend and sometimes-collaborator Daniel Abraham (more recently famous for his role as one half of James S.A. Corey, the writing machine behind The Expanse SF series, as well as his own, excellent fantasy series The Long Price Quartet and The Dagger and the Coin) suggested an alternative scheme: splitting the book by geography, as the completed characters were mostly located in the south of Westeros and the incomplete ones were either in the distant North or on the eastern continent. Martin preferred this plan, noting he'd done something similar in his Wild Cards books (where one oversized volume had been split in two, between characters in New York City and others outside the city). In May 2005 he announced that the book was done, if somewhat faster and more abruptly than expected.

George R.R. Martin also made an announcement he later ruefully regretted: he had 500 manuscript pages now complete for the fifth volume (still to be called A Dance with Dragons) and this book would follow "a year later".

 The final US cover art for A Feast for Crows.

Cover Art
The explosive burst of sales between A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows - despite the gap, George R.R. Martin had overtaken Robin Hobb to become HarperCollins Voyager's most popular living author by the end of 2005 - had made both the UK and US publishers decide to rejacket the entire book series. This meant that early covers prepared for Crows in the same style as the first three books were now abandoned and new covers were prepared. These were more minimalist, with icons rather than characters. Long-term fans preferred the earlier style of cover, but the new covers did seem to attract more buyers during the long drought between Crows and Dragons, even before news of the TV series broke.

Randyll Tarly, Wielder of Heartsbane, Defeater of Robert Baratheon, Driver of the Van of Victory.

What Would Randyll Tarly Do?
During the writing of the Wild Cards shard-world anthology series, a very minor character showed up at a party, said "Where is the cheese?" and then died. Years later, George R.R. Martin would get still get fans asking about the character. He called this the "Boba Fett Effect", where a small, minor character with barely any lines shows up and somehow ends up being considered a cool badass. Early volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire featured this to some extent: Bronze Yohn Royce had (bewilderingly) a few fans from the second he was mentioned, as his name sounded cool. Almost disposable characters like Bronn turned out to be far more popular than first envisaged.

For A Feast for Crows, Martin felt confident he had repeated the trick by introducing a new, lethal and enigmatically cool character who was bad, mad and dangerous to know. He may even had been right, if the character hadn't been Darkstar ("For I Am of the Night"). Darkstar turned out to be an underwhelming damp squib, represented in fan art as an edgy wannabe teenager trying to hang out with the cool crowd and not cutting it.

Instead, being contrary bastards at the best of times, Martin's fans in the Brotherhood Without Banners decided that the true hero of A Song of Ice and Fire was Randyll Tarly, "The Best Father in Westeros." It was argued that by forcing his son Samwell to go to the Wall, he had made him man up and eventually get into a position to save Westeros entirely from the Others. He was "Tough, but fair". He was described as the best general in Westeros and, commanding the "Tyrell van" had defeated Robert Baratheon at the Battle of Ashford. Cue fan art showing a Ford transit van trundling onto the battlefield and Randyll Tarly defeating Robert's entire army single-handedly. And so forth.

The Randyll Tarly meme eventually died down (to the bemused relief of George) but with news that he may appear in Season 6 of Game of Thrones spurring increasingly badass casting suggestions (James Purefoy and Ray Stevenson leading the charge), it may yet return.


Anonymous said...

How different were those 3 Dany chapters to what was eventually published in Dance.

alabrava said...

James Purefoy should just be in more stuff. His Antony is one of my all time favorite portrayals of any character ever on TV.

Unknown said...

I have a couple of concerns with the elimination of April 2000 – Summer 2001 from the Writing Period fact section.

1. “Scrapping 500 pages”
In a post last year GRRM details how he is using a chapter from those 500 pages.

“I mentioned that this chapter had quite a history. It's true. The first draft was written more than a decade ago. Originally, it was intended to be the opening Arya chapter after the infamous "five year gap," her first appearance in A DANCE WITH DRAGONS as initially conceived. Then it was supposed to be a part of A FEAST FOR CROWS, after I abandoned the five year gap and split the books. Then it was going to be the concluding Arya chapter in A DANCE WITH DRAGONS. But it seemed more like an opening chapter than a closing one, so shortly before ADWD was published my editor and I agreed to remove it from DANCE and shift it over into WINDS. Of course, it has been revised, tightened, polished, and tweaked at every step of the way, so the version on my website has some significant differences from the "five year gap" version.”

We have proof from the man himself he saved work from that time so I don’t think it is fair to just not count that against his writing time. Especially since we don’t know now how much other work he saved.

2. Flashbacks
A significant amount of the work he had done and what he identified as a big problem was relating events as flashbacks.

“the main reason he struggled with the gap was that important events could not be related via flashback”

This implies that he tried to convey some of the story from Feast in flashback form and had issues doing so. In my opinion that is a draft and counts a progress in writing.

3. Failure
Thomas Edison has a famous quote about inventing the light bulb that states “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways it won’t work.” and I think that directly applies here. GRRM did not fail during that time, he found a way that did not work and learned from it.

In short, he worked on material during that year so count it.

Adam Whitehead said...

The 3 Dany chapters from the AFFC period were similar, although there was a lot of movement between the events of what ended up as the first three ADWD Dany chapters and four. Some elements moved back and forth between those chapters. The gist of it (agonising over the fighting pits and Drogon eating kids) was the same though.

The bulk of the material written in 2000-01 was nuked in its entirety. There are several exceptions we know of: the Arya Mercy chapter and several of the Dany chapters in ADWD. Certainly the later ones, including I believe the confrontation in the pit, were sketched out in some form before the gap was lost.

As a result, ADWD will get the full span of time alloted, because the "Five Year Gap" material that survived seems to have wound up in there rather than AFFC.

TWoW is going to be massive headache because apparently there were 1-2 Sansa chapters written for the pre-split AFFC which aren't showing up until TWoW.

Anonymous said...

GRRM actually managed to achieve a fairly convincing 5 year gap - he just did it in real time. Looks like he may yet achieve another....

Lana said...

This is a great series of posts about ASOIAF!

When I first read that Darkstar was supposed to be cool I was quite surprised. When I was reading AFFC I thought that Darkstar was kinda lame. So I was surprised that GRRM failed with him. I was wondering did he do this with some other character too? That he expected that a character will be accepted differently than it was?

The other thing that surprised me was that he is apparently changing some characters into villains. When i started reading AGOT I thought that it was safe to cheer for Tyrion but then he went to the ‘dark side’. I found a interview from 1999 where GRRM said that Tyrion is his favourite character even though he is a villain in a story. And I still don’t understand why Tyrion is a villain.

I tried to find what he thinks about Dany in this regard, but I couldn't find anything. Did he ever mention what he thinks about Dany? Are we supposed to cheer for her and like her? I was wondering the same about House Targaryen. I am a huge fan, but I am not sure if I we are supposed to like them.

Do you know why he wrote so much about house Targaryen? They are the most flashed out house and we know the most about them. Yes, they were the royal family but House Stark is GRRM favourite and they are also the ‘main’ family in the ASOIAF.