Let’s learn from a case study

Hi, Gang. Craig with you again today. On occasion, I like to do a case study because authors can learn some things. You should all know by now that I prefer film to draw my conclusions because more people will be familiar with the source material.

The small screen is full of things in my wheelhouse right now, and I’m probably watching all of them. The topic for today is House of the Dragon (HOD). This is the prequel to Game of Thrones (GOT) and if you aren’t watching it I’m pretty sure you’re aware of it.

I recently posted about some of the risks involved in prequels, but HOD seemed to avoid most of those by setting the story hundreds of years before GOT. No crossover characters, at least yet. (I think Queen Alicent is going to become Red Witch Melisandre.) We’re going to do a little comparison between the two presentations.


GOT poured out over a huge map. We had interesting things like the Wall in the North, The Night Watch, the Maesters’ Citidel, and more. There was forest, tundra, desert, and everything you can imagine in-between.

HOD seems to take place in a cluster of castles. Not a lot of world building, and they could be trying to rely upon what we already know, but it’s not dazzling in any way. They went on a stag hunt, but I didn’t get any sense that the imagery would influence the story in any way.


GOT was pretty good at teasing things then withholding them from us until they were ready. It’s a way of building interest. If memory serves, we didn’t even see a dragon until the third season. White Walkers were treated much the same way. Why build such a huge wall in the North?

HOD hasn’t really teased much of anything.

Adult Themes:

GOT was full of violence, nudity, and all that. What they did was virtually pioneer the unexpected and shocking deaths of key players. This all happened while The Walking Dead was doing something similar, so I can’t give them all the credit. They built someone up, made us like them, then poof! Gone. Made us tune in next week, though. Think of this as “one more chapter” for your readers.

HOD is on nearly an equal footing with the obligatory stuff. It just doesn’t seem to fulfil any purpose. There’s no shocker like the death of Ned Stark, or the Red Wedding behind any of it.

Characters: (This is the big one)

GOT painted with a broad brush. We got royals, common soldiers, peasants, second sons, the underworld, and a bit of everyone. There were memorable characters like Littlefinger, Jamie Lannister, Geoffrey, even Hodor. That was just the memorable. We also had excellent characters like Tyrion Lannister, The Hound, and Cersei Lannister.

HOD has Matt Smith. Loved his run on Dr. Who. None of these characters are grabbing me and making me hate them or cheer for them. They even all look alike, and I’m not talking about race here. I get that we’re doing the inclusivity thing and it doesn’t bother me. They all have platinum blond hair, dress alike, and virtually act alike. It’s all starting to remind me of one of those reality shows where they force people to live together in one house, then record what happens. We have a guy with an eyepatch now, so I can recognize him. There’s nobody I can get behind and cheer for to overcome their obstacles. Go ahead and kill them for all I care.

Sub Plots:

GOT had us going North of the Wall. We chased the Three Eyed Raven. Sam wanted to become a Maester. Oh yeah, and Khaleesi/Daenerys had her whole journey to go on. Ser Jorah had a disease that tried to turn him into a rock or some such. There was the whole Walder Frey and the Red Wedding story. Not to mention how his kids wound up.

HOD actually had an antagonist called the Crab Feeder. That was kind of cool, but they closed the door on it pretty quickly. Why???

I could go on and on here making comparisons. I won’t because we have enough to work with. There are some things that are more film related, but as authors we’re dealing with the written word.

Setting is something I always struggle with. I’ve only written one globe-spanning series, but really tried to make each location unique. We can have a limited space, like a castle, but it should be memorable. Draw attention to the changes over time. Play with light and dark verbally. Include smells and tactile things. Quick quiz time: Which setting sticks with you? Kings Landing or Hogwarts?

Suspense always helps. Don’t be too quick to answer a question or two. Even better if someone is obviously lying about the answer. “Why can’t we go in the basement, Grandma?” Let your readers stew upon that for a few chapters. It can make your readers hang in there.

Since I mentioned adult themes, let’s go with it. You obviously need to know your audience here, but sometimes a bit of brutality is warranted. Don’t make it gratuitous. Make it serve your story. Don’t kill John Wick’s puppy. How does this motivate your hero? Does it make him/her reckless? What rules are they willing to break for a little payback? Nudity that makes a character uncomfortable, or lose concentration, can serve to reveal things about that character. The nude girl made him screw up his spell. A male character either streaked for home while using hands to cover up, or brazenly strutted his way across the street.

Characters need to show up almost immediately. Make sure your readers know who to cheer for, even if they screw up. They can screw up a lot, but if readers feel for them they will follow the journey. If you’re dealing with an antagonist, make us hate him/her. You have a lot of power here. When Tyrion Lannister killed his own father we cheered for patricide. What’s wrong with us? It’s because the characters all compelled us. (Tywin Lannister deserved it.)

Sub plots can really enhance your story. If overdone they can take away from it. These things are going to play a role in your word count, so keep that in mind. Ask yourself why each one is important to the overall story. If your characters need to grow and improve to be worthy of the endgame it’s probably a good thing. If it’s just because you want to show something fun, it probably shouldn’t make the final cut. Save this one in your snippet file and it will find a home someday.

This was written weeks ago, so I’ll have a few more episodes under my belt. Still, it offers another good lesson. If I weren’t drawn to fantasy, it would be easy to bail on HOD. As a book comparison, we don’t want our readers bailing out early. Pages read on Amazon are great, but as creative types we want folks to read the whole thing.

This one is about twice as long as most blog posts. What do you think? Is there something here that could influence your writing? Feel free to disagree with me. I’m going to keep watching House of the Dragon, but I hope they’re going somewhere with it.

34 thoughts on “Let’s learn from a case study

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  2. I’m one of the few who haven’t seen GOT or HOD, but my kids loved GOT, they could take or leave HOD. So to your point, you need the characters and the settings to make us want to continue. Yes, you can read pages, but it’s more important to read the entire title.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love fantasy and appreciate the setting and visuals of HoD, but I agree with you, Craig, that the characters aren’t well differentiated, and it took me a long time to care about any of them. It wasn’t until the last episode of the season when the stakes suddenly rose and got an “oooh” out of me. That wasn’t the case with GoT where the characters were fascinating throughout. I’d say my preference for strong distinct characters translates to books too. 🙂

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  4. I’ve never watched GOT. but I can relate this to LOTR and it’s prequel. I watched the first episode but, like Harmony, just couldn’t connect with any of the characters. I think part of the problem with the LOTR prequel is that the characters are younger versions of ones I’ve already formed opinions about. When those opinions didn’t match up, I couldn’t commit.

    I think it’s far easier to read a prequel rather than watch one, but even that comes with a set of expectations from the reader.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think there are many nuggets to take away here, prequel or not. We only have about a chapter to give our readers something. Might be a character or event, could be setting under the right circumstances, but something. Better if we can do all of those.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. An interesting comparison, Craig. I loved GOT and watched every episode. On the other hand, I’ve had trouble getting into HOD. It hasn’t grabbed me. Perhaps because it’s missing elements like the immediate and horrible death of Ned Stark. 🙂 Great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  6. Excellent post with great pointers, Craig. I can relate to all of this. I stopped watching the LOTR prequel after a painful fifteen minutes. It had nothing that caught my interest, the characters were too generic and sameish, and the pacing was glacial. Whether it be film or book, any series tie-in needs its own reason for existence.

    Thanks for sharing 💕🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Old What’s Her Face liked it. It was too… Peter Panish in many cases. That and a lot of changes to classic characters from the books. I think it’s fine to recycle your world for fresh stories. I tried to make the world of Lanternfish extensive and there could be room to return. There should be a story involved, though.

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  7. I really enjoyed this. In GOT, I only watched it when the boys were here, but I got hooked because I never knew if the characters would survive from one episode to the next. Lots of tension. I haven’t tried HOD. Sometimes, I watch shows because they cheer me up. And sometimes I watch because they’re nail biters. And sometimes, like with Poirot, I watch because they give me a puzzle to solve. There are lots of ways to hook me:)

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  8. I am a fan of many Fantasy TV series, GOT, HOD, LOTR and the WOT to acronym just a few and have enjoyed them all to varying degrees. In all cases I had read the books before watching them, lol in some cases forty-five years before, In others like HOD just a year or two earlier. I feel that the first series of HOD is simply a prequel, a stage setting if you like and that the second series will hit like a tidal wave. Oh, and like you I think that Daemon will become “The Night King” not sure about Alicent and Melisandre though.

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  9. Not a fan of GOT, so HOD won’t be on the schedule. I think your best points can be summarized with the word gratuitous. This came to be with your statement. “Don’t kill John Wick’s puppy.” I think anytime an author takes any action with a character that is out of context, that action is in danger of being labeled gratuitous. Too many of those, and the reader is bound to be turned off. Excellent lesson, Craig.

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  10. I’m not familiar with HOD or GOT, but your points apply to other genres as well. Characters and plot make or break a story, and your suggestions are right-on. Thank you, Criag.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Excellent points about characters, Craig. My takeaway parallels why I watch or don’t watch a series, and this goes for reading novels, too. Unless I quickly find interesting and relatable characters I care about, my enthusiasm to continue the series soon wains. It boils down to a simple triad of characters, plot, and theme, with the priority placed on developing interesting and relatable people over events and messaging.

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