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Talking About the Dance

Kong is dead. That is to say, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS is complete, and moving inexorably towards its July 12 publication date.

Yes, I know. Old news. I've announced that before. And since finally completing A DANCE WITH DRAGONS some weeks ago, and announcing it here, I have been working on... drum roll, please... A DANCE WITH DRAGONS!

That's the way it goes with books. You finish, and breathe a sigh of relief... and then you get back to work. There's always more to be done. Your editor reads it and gives you notes. You make revisions, corrections. A copyeditor goes over the text, finds errors, points out contradictions and inconsistencies, raises queries. You fix some, stet others. Friends and fans gulp down the book, and find mistakes your editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders all missed. You fix those too, as time allows. Then there's the appendix to prepare. And then the appendix needs to be edited, proofread, corrected... and on and on it goes...

But now even that is behind me. Copyediting, appendix, proofs, corrections, all that stuff. The book tour has been planned (a few details yet to be worked out), the marketing plans are in place... and I can finally say that Kong is not just merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.

Now that the dust is settling at last, I thought I'd take a deep breath and look back at what a long strange trip this has been. If the process interests you, read on. But beware -- past this point, there may be some SPOILERS lurking amidst my discussion. Read on at your own peril.

First, some numbers. The final draft of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS came in at 1510 manuscript pages (which count does not include acknowledgments, dedication, or appendix). I write with WordStar on a DOS machine, so that number is my own page count. When my editors at Bantam translated my WordStar files to Word, the page count expanded to 1540 pages, but I prefer to use my own counts, for the sake of consistency. At 1510 pages, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS come in just slightly shorter than A STORM OF SWORDS, which was 1521 pages in manuscript, with the same software, settings, and margins.

At one point late in the process DANCE was considerably longer. The page count had gone beyond 1600 and was creeping up toward 1700, to my alarm. (At 1700 pages the book could not have been published in a single volume). Several things happened to bring it back down.

First, my editors and I made some decisions as to where to end this book which involved shifting a few chapters back into the next volume, THE WINDS OF WINTER. With a series like A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, there are always judgment calls to make as to where to end one book and begin the next, since you're really dealing with one long story. Does this scene work best at the end of one book or the beginning of the next? Should this character go out with a cliffhanger or with some sort of resolution (be it permanent or temporary)? And so on. ANd so forth.

Second, I did my sweat. That's a technique I learned in Hollywood, where my scripts were always too long. "This is too long," the studio would say. "Trim it by eight pages." But I hated to lose any good stuff -- scenes, dialogue exchanges, bits of action -- so instead I would go through the script trimming and tightening line by line and word by word, cutting out the fat and leaving the muscle. I found the process so valuable that I've done the same with all my books since leaving LA. It's the last stage of the process. Finish the book, then go through it, cutting, cutting, cutting. It produces a tighter, stronger text, I feel. In the case of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, my sweat -- most of it performed after we announced the book's publication date but before I delivered the final chapters -- brought the page count down almost eighty pages all by itself.

So what's left? Plenty. A huge book, just a hair shorter than A STORM OF SWORDS, as I said. The final count shows that we've got 73 chapters, told through the eyes of (gulp) sixteen different viewpoint characters. I could tell you who they are, but then I'd have to kill you.

Actually, though, it might be easier to tell you who they aren't. Sansa, Sam, Aeron Damphair, Arianne, and Brienne have no chapters in A DANCE WITH DRAGONS. Several of those characters had chapters written, completed, and polished that have been moved into THE WINDS OF WINTER. Part of that editorial process I mentioned up above.

Back when I split A FEAST FOR CROWS into two books, I said in my infamous afterword, "Meanwhile, Back at the Wall..." that Tyrion, Dany, and Jon Snow would be back in the next book, and so they are. Those three characters dominate A DANCE WITH DRAGONS. Out of 73 chapters, 35 concern their exploits; sixteen viewpoints, aye, but just three of them make up almost half of the book. The next largest chunk o' chapters belongs to an old POV character who has been missing for a couple of books, but now returns to us... rather the worse for wear.

Yes, some of the characters who were featured as POVs in A FEAST FOR CROWS will reappear, since the timeframe covered by DANCE extends well beyond that of FEAST. Tyrion is not the only Lannister with a viewpoint. Cersei and Jaime will have chapters as well, though... be warned... not a lot of them. Arya is also on hand. And we'll check in with Bran and his companions as well, on their long cold trek beyond the Wall. There are two Dornish POVs (one old, one new), and three ironborn(all previous POVs).

And there are some new viewpoint characters. Some of them are new CHARACTERS, introduced for the first time in this book. Others are established characters, but new VIEWPOINTS; they have been around, but you've never gone inside their heads before. Once, a few years back, I said that I only meant to introduce one new viewpoint character in the book. Which just goes to show why I should never sound off about these things before the book is done. In the end, I wound up with.... hmmm, let me count 'em... one, two, three... ah... FOUR new viewpoint characters. And that doesn't even include the Prologue and Epilogue. So...

What I can say? At least part of the infamous Meereenese knot was a viewpoint problem. (Not all of it, no, a lot had to do with chronology and causation, but some of it was a POV question). Introducing a new POV helped me resolve those problems, and made for a better book. And in the end, making a better book trumps all other concerns.

Despite the various looney theories out there that claimed (1) I had finished the book years ago and have been sitting on a completed manuscript waiting for the opportune time to release it in order to make more money, or (2) I had given up writing the novel, or hit some terrible writer's block, and made no progress since 2005, the truth is just as I have releated in this blog... I have been working on DANCE all along, if rather more slowly that I would have liked. I had good bursts where I got a lot done. I had rough patches, where I struggled, and even a few periods where I was doing more rewriting than writing.

Over the years I've sent various partial manuscripts to my editors, to show them where I was at that particular point in time. Now that the race is finally run, I went back and took another look at some of those old files. The page counts given in what follows refer only to COMPLETE CHAPTERS in final draft form... or what I thought was "complete" and "final" at that time. In each case, I had many pages of additional chapters roughed out or partially written, but those pages were not included in my count.

The earliest partial in my files dates from January 2006. At that point I had 542 finished pages. Now, recall, it was June 2005 when I divided A FEAST FOR CROWS into two parallel books, and wrote my infamous (and, in retrospect, ill-considered) afterword "Meanwhile, Back at the Wall..." A FEAST FOR CROWS, as delivered, was 1063 pages in manuscript. At the time of the split, looking at all the Tyrion and Daenerys material that I'd removed, I figured I only had another 400 odd pages to go to have another book of equal length, which was likely what prompted me to say the next book would be along in a year. Famous last words, those. Never again.

Obviously, it took a lot longer than that. After I wrote that, I ended up spending much of the rest of 2005 doing promotion for FEAST. An American book tour. A Canadian book tour. A British book tour. A visit to Italy for the Lucca Games Show. All great, but all exhausting. I did get back home in between, and got some writing done, but probably not much. That page count of 542 finished pages in January 2006 could not have been much different from what I'd had in June 2005, when I split the books.

And the year or so that followed proved the folly of my prediction. The next partial I sent to Bantam is dated October 2007, and it is 472 pages long. Yes, in the year and a half between the two partials, I had managed to UNwrite some seventy pages. I was doing a lot more revision and rewriting -- and restructuring -- during this period than I was making forward progress.

But then I hit a good spell. In March 2008 I delivered another partial, and this one was 596 pages long. In May 2008, another: 684 pages this time. In December 2008, 774 pages, After that progress remained slow, but fairly steady. I won't say I wasn't still tearing things out, rewriting, restructuring, changing my mind... I was... but I was forging ahead as well, as the partials I sent to my editors testify. In September 2009, I sent them 998 pages. In January 2010 I passed the 1000 pages mark, and delivered 1038 pages. Now I was picking up some steam again. June of 2010, a partial of 1028 pages. August of 2010, 1332 pages, December of 2010, 1412 pages. By March of 2011, Kong was screeching and the biplanes were in the air, and I sent in the final partial, which weighed in at 1571 pages... but I still had some incomplete chapters, some that remained very rough, some that I didn't know whether to include or not. It was those that pushed the final count over 1600 and up near 1700 before the editorial changes and final sweat that I've detailed up above.

Kong, you were one mother of a monkey, but I'm glad you're off my back.

Some day, maybe, some student of fantasy literature may want to peruse all of these partial manuscripts, and document how A DANCE WITH DRAGONS changed over the years. Every time I printed out a copy to send to my editors, I made a second and sent it to the Special Collections at Texas A&M University, where my papers are kept. Maybe someone will get a master's thesis out of my struggles with this book. And who knows, maybe in the end he or she will conclude that I was making the book worse and worse all along.

But I don't think so. DANCE took a lot longer than I wanted it to, but I think it's a better tale for all the time and blood and sweat that went into it.

In the end, though, it will be you guys who are the judge of that.

Enjoy the read. Me, I've got another book to write. Yes, climb right on my back... and what a cute little monkey you are...


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May. 20th, 2011 05:21 am (UTC)
I'm so excited! Man, it is going to be a long 53 days between now and when A Dance with Dragons is sitting in my hands.

It's a big book, but it also is coming during the "slow" period at my workplace. I'm tempted to take a day off, and read the entire thing through cover to cover.

Interesting that a Certain Character Not Seen In The Past Two Books is the fourth largest POV in terms of chapters. That guy/girl is definitely a survivor, largely in spite of his/her actions.
May. 20th, 2011 05:23 am (UTC)
Congrats! Very interesting post. I think a lot of people think that you have a goal (say 5 pages a day) and if you just did that, you could have 1000 pages in 6 months....what's the hold up? Especially true if they've never written before...but obviously it's a lot more complicated and not at all linear like that.

Hope you enjoy the next few months of touring and relaxing - maybe I'll catch you at one of the events!
May. 20th, 2011 05:24 am (UTC)
Congratulations! Wow, talk about a journey! I look forward, however, to reading the destination.
May. 20th, 2011 05:26 am (UTC)
Great read and thank you!
I found this all terribly interesting! I'm glad you took us into your head a little bit about how things went down.

I only discovered these books a few years back, so I haven't had to endure the 5 year wait, but I definitely never felt entitled to seeing them out before you felt they were ready.

Although, I almost wonder if shorter (~400 page) novels could have been released to cut down on the wait. That'd probably kill the flow or something, though. That's why I'm not charge :P I'm just a fan and will continue reading this series until there is nothing left to read!

Thank you for hours of entertainment.
May. 20th, 2011 05:27 am (UTC)
Sorry, I wanted to add one more thing
Enjoy the read. Me, I've got another book to write. Yes, climb right on my back... and what a cute little monkey you are...

I've heard that "middle" books in long-running series tend to be the hardest, simply because so many key events have to happen that then set up the second half of the series.

I read J.K. Rowling had some trouble with certain chapters in Goblet of Fire, for example.
May. 20th, 2011 05:33 am (UTC)
Look on the bright side: it sounds like you already have a huge head start on the next one!
Thanks George. Really looking forward to it. Do I have time to become an English major at A&M so I can get a head start on the book (or some version of it anyway)? I'm kidding (sort of).

I'm glad your process will be so well documented. I've always found all of the backstory behind Tolkein's writing of LotR so fascinating, I'm sure many people will find your process to be similarly engaging.

The show is extremely good and very engaging, however my first and foremost passion will be to the books, and the day that the last one is finished will be a very happy and also a very sad day for me. I don't mind waiting for a while yet, personally.

I am curious though as to what the show will do when it gets to this point on HBO. Obviously some things are going to be very different, such as the age of the characters. It's one thing during season one for Bran to be 9 instead of 7... sure there are a few differences, but the gist is still the same. Characters like Jon had to have a few small differences, but the spirit is the same. Assuming 2 seasons for Storm of Swords and two seasons for A Feast for Crows and Dance (more likely 3 I would guess) the actor that plays Bran will be 16... at which point his character will be about twice the age as in the source material.

I suppose they could implement some tweaks such as feedback from you on some of the ideas you had for the 5 year gap scenario. Also, the shear number of characters! 16 more or less main characters on a show at once is a huge undertaking, even if it does center on just three of them. I suppose depending on your endgame for certain characters (Edmure Tully and the Blackfish come to mind) some characters could become composites, but still... it sounds like HBO will have a Kong of their own in a few years. Here's to hoping they pull it off as well as season 1 has been going.
May. 20th, 2011 05:34 am (UTC)
George, you are the number one, thank you so much!! From Spain
May. 20th, 2011 05:35 am (UTC)
People don't seem to comprehend the incredible amount of work that goes into producing such rich and complex literature - hopefully, this post will be a bit of an education for them. Thanks for sharing it with us, and congratulations again on taming that particular beast.
May. 20th, 2011 05:45 am (UTC)
This is fascinating to read. No wonder I had this feeling since last year, that you were nearly finished with it (I've told this to my friends many times, based on the posts you made here).

May. 20th, 2011 05:48 am (UTC)
Thanks for the insight. I'm a big fan and am in the editing process with my first novel, so it's nice to get a look at how these things are for an established author like yourself.
May. 20th, 2011 05:48 am (UTC)
Congrats George! Thank you for all your hard work. I know I'll enjoy every word Kong has to say. :)
May. 20th, 2011 05:52 am (UTC)
I really appreciate you sharing this, George. I'll have fun pondering the spoilerish bits, but I mainly love hearing about your process. I'm glad to hear you are preserving your papers in a library. They will be instructive for any writer (of any genre). It also warms my heart to hear of your dedication to making this book the best it can be. Not that I'd expect any less of you, it is just nice to hear.

I hope you feel on top of the world. You have earned it.
May. 20th, 2011 05:53 am (UTC)
Well, it took a few years, but hopefully you'll now be able to look back at the book with a great sense of accomplishment. I've enjoyed the previous books and I'm now enjoying the tv series a lot, so I have no doubt that I will enjoy ADWD.

And I hope that this new monkey on your back won't be the Son of Kong ;).
May. 20th, 2011 06:01 am (UTC)
Cheers, Sir.

May. 20th, 2011 06:08 am (UTC)
That was a wonderful post. I love hearing about your process. I'm attempting to write a book, but find myself re-writing the same chapter over and over again, making new choices, and second guessing myself. It's nice to hear that some of the best do this too.
Thank you for sharing with your fans. We really do appreciate it. Looking forward to July 12th. I made my cousin's day today by telling him Dance's release date.
Buck Henry
May. 20th, 2011 06:10 am (UTC)
Is access to the early manuscripts at Cushing Library restricted? I should probably find out before I book my flight.
May. 20th, 2011 06:13 am (UTC)
Thank you.
I know for a fact that many of us appreciate this post more than you will ever know.

It is my sincere hope that someday after Dance is released and all proclamations of spoilers are laid, you will shed some light on the details of the Meereneese knot.

Posts like these are why writers should have blogs.
David Boshko
May. 20th, 2011 06:20 am (UTC)
I'd really like to see all of the various rough manuscripts published one day, sort of like the History of Middle Earth series, I'm sure it would be a fascinating read.
May. 20th, 2011 06:42 am (UTC)
It sounds like this garden was a heck of a tangle - I'm really looking forward to the surprising patterns you've managed to tease out of the story possibilities in ADWD.

Thanks also for this post about process - I enjoy reading about it, especially the bits about how you tune the books so well; they have an economy of phrasing that jumps out at me* periodically, even as I'm on my nth (>10 by now, I think) re-read.

After ADWD comes out, and we've all had a chance to read it, if you could do another spoiler-y post about the 'meereenese knot' and this last 'skull island' problem, I'd love to read about their genesis and resolution. Eg did the POV arcs all have a good beginning and end, but their intersection meant that some of the original ideas just couldn't work? What approaches did you try that didn't work out until you hit on the new-POV solution?

This may not be the best way to ask this kind of question, but what the heck. I'm eagerly awaiting ADWD, and I trust it will kick a**.

* as awesome
May. 20th, 2011 06:42 am (UTC)
In equal parts fascinating and maddeningly tantalising. The only thing that got me through it without my head exploding with excitement is that fact that my book is on pre-order.
May. 20th, 2011 06:42 am (UTC)
May. 20th, 2011 06:54 am (UTC)
What a terrific process post. Thanks for making it! And HOORAY for Kong finally, really, truly being--well, he's hardly dead, is he. More like finally prepared to be released into the wild. A couple months of production rehabilitation and then he's out! Part of the world!

...which is really where Kong always belonged, isn't it.
May. 20th, 2011 07:02 am (UTC)
Thank you, George, for your incredible struggle.
May. 20th, 2011 07:07 am (UTC)
Awesome News!
Thank you so much for posting this detailed description. I don't know why but it makes me feel confident in the quality of the book.

It is nice to see some insight into a writer's mind. You are the only of several authors I follow that is this forthcoming to his fans. I eagerly await the July release!
May. 20th, 2011 07:09 am (UTC)
Right under my nose this whole time!
You mean I've been here in College Station home of Texas A&M University for the last 14 years and I've never known you keep reference material at the Library? Seven Hells! After a quick check you have 155 boxes worth of stuff here! Um wow. Looks like I need to get a library card! Good luck on managing the new monkey on your back. Can't wait to read Kong. BTW, what do you think the chances are of you being able to come to AggieCon 2012 this coming year? Would it even be a possibility?
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George R.R. Martin
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