I arrived Friday night, and after registering, went straight to George's panel on Writing the Fantasy Trilogy. GRRM, together with Wen Spencer and Juliet McKenna, all agreed that the best advice they could give is "don't do it." GRRM thinks it's a terrible idea for new writers to start out with novels in the first place. They should start with short stories. This allows them to learn their craft and build their names. Also, there are artistic and commercial reasons to write short stories first. If you write a bad novel, everyone will have a bad opinion of your work and you will have wasted a year working on something not worthwhile. On the other hand, if you write a bad short story, you don't feel so guilty tossing it out. He suggests spending 4 or 5 years writing a series of stories. Then, people will be excited about your novel.
GRRM also thinks the trilogy is somewhat false as a form of fantasy. No one actually writes a trilogy -- they just write a very long story that happens to be divided up. He pointed out that Tolkien, the genesis of the fantasy trilogy, did not set out to write one. Tolkien instead divided his work into 6 books. GRRM writes a series because one volume would be "obscene" and take up an entire shelf in the bookstore. Apparently, publishers don't like to have their books take up too much shelf space. GRRM also observed that fantasy stories tend to be longer because the author has to explain the world to the reader. Mainstream stories can work off people's existing knowledge.
GRRM also stated that he does not do any worldbuilding before he starts writing. He has an idea of the plot in "broad strokes" and tends to build the world as the story progresses. He wrote a few chapters and figured, "Hmm. I had better draw a map." The downside of this is that the author has to stick to what he wrote before despite some good ideas he may have later. GRRM envies Tolkien because he took so long to write his story, he could go back and change things. At some point, according to GRRM, the author has to stop going back and changing his earlier work -- unless it's Stephen King.
Wen Spencer brought up the way GRRM likes to kill off characters. GRRM said it's much easier to kill off characters when you have so many. He's always believed in killing characters because it makes the story more exciting. He wants the reader to be afraid to turn the page - to feel as the characters feel - that sense of danger. He does it intentionally. As for those readers who don't like that, GRRM says he doesn't write comfort fiction. You have to write what you want to read.
According to GRRM, in writing fantasy, you have to go back to Tolkien and the bittersweet ending of the scouring of the shire. Although when he was younger, he thought that part was extra, the bitterness stayed with him and he realized that it was the point of the story.
With regard to the length of ASoIF, GRRM had 150 pages plus the outline before he even sold the books. As he began writing, the story just grew and grew from 3 to 4 to 6 books.
Responding to the question: "Can you kill of the main character from the prior 5 books in book 6?" GRRM said yes, you can do anything you want if you make it work. They killed off the main character in "Psycho" and it worked.
Responding to a question, GRRM said he does not have a "first reader." He sometimes has other writers read sections, but ultimately you have to trust yourself. Ultimately it's your book.
Phew! Well, after that we took the long route to the Korean buffet, and later George and Parris met us in the Sheraton's bar. They chatted with us until 4:00 a.m.!
Parris decided we should have a party, and I volunteered my room. We somehow planned in in 15 minutes and within the hour, we had a party ready to go. Unfortunately, I didn't have a party room, so we got busted by the hotel at 10:00 p.m. Parris jumped in and saved the party for us by renting out a room on the party floor. I couldn't believe that it took only 5 minutes to get 50 people and ALL the party stuff out of my room. Everyone was great. The Drabel brothers were there. Such handsome young men! And so successful! They gave us all the new edition of the Hedge Knight. Ernst came mighty close to stealing Stegos book of short stories to make into another comic book.
As usual, our party was the hit of Boskone.