Gardeners and Architects - 5/3/15
Thereís a George R.R. Martin quote thatís making the rounds in the corners of the internet that I inhabit lately. More often than not, itís presented as a glorification of a certain approach to writing. Iím going to share it here for context, although I have no proof he actually said it.

ďI think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they're going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there's going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don't know how many branches it's going to have, they find out as it grows. And I'm much more a gardener than an architect.Ē

― George R.R. Martin


I have to say, Song of Ice and Fire certainly bears that idea out. Although, as someone who is unapologetically an architect, that is my chief complaint with the work. I love authors who will kill off beloved characters so I can never get complacent as a reader and just know so and so will be OK. But there are times Martin kills someone off and I realize the entire branch that was their story isnít actually essential to the story of anyone else who is still alive. Or possibly, there was a moment where they were key, a long time ago and then it ended and their bit kept going. I hate that. Especially in a work so large, I donít want to follow minor characters on some pointless tangent. Iím bothered by bloat. Itís the architect in me.

Iím in the middle of a novel now and it looks like itís going to be Martin big. I write in concentric circles, each time I loop through is more fleshed out than the last. Nothing gets me more excited then when I find a spot to drop in a thing that wonít pay off for another 30 chapters, but oh my god, when it does, itís going to be awesome! Likewise, I really enjoy finding branches that arenít strengthening the overall vision and cutting them. It may have been a cool character or a cool moment, but if it doesnít drive the story forward, it isnít needed. If I do my job right, the book may be big, but each chapter will be razor sharp and essential. Cut even one and the whole story falls apart.

To be clear, Iím not saying my way is better than Martinís and letís be honest, I havenít finished the first third of the first draft of my book whereas heís published a thing or two in his day. Many of my favorite writers are gardeners. Thatís the great thing about art, there is no single path there. We all wish there was, because if someone else already did the hard work of clearing the brush and crossing the rivers and such, we could all follow at our own pace and time. But any art worth its salt is a journey into the unknown, which by definition requires the artist to blaze a new path.

© 1997-2015 Mike Townsend