Style: George R. R. Martin versus Stephen King

I recently read "Fevre Dream" by George R. R. Martin and "The Dark Tower 1: The Gunslinger" by Stephen King. I alternated back and forth between the two to get a feel for the difference between their styles. It was an interesting experiment and I learned a few things from it, but I think there is one that is the most important: they could not switch. If Martin wrote "The Gunslinger" and King wrote "Fevre Dream" they would be completely different experiences. I have heard it before, but now I believe it to be true: your style is natural. Of course there are some caveats to that, but I don't want to go into those. What I do want to do is compare the styles of Martin and King in these two books.


I am going to, basically, pick a random page from these books. Let's call this page . . . page 57. That seems like a good number. The "Dark Tower" movie is just coming out, so let's look at that one first.

"Yes. That's all. It's very late."

"Um." He was rolling another cigarette.

"Don't go getting your tobacco dandruff in my bed," she told him, more sharply than she had intended.

"No."

Silence again. The tip of his cigarette winked off and on.

"You'll be leaving in the morning," she said dully.

"I should. I think he's left a trap for me here. Just like he left one for you."

"Do you really think that number would--"

"If you like your sanity, you don't ever want to say that word to Nort," the gunslinger said. "Put it out of your head. If you can, teach yourself that the number after eighteen is twenty. That half of thirty-eight is seventeen. The man who signed himself Walter o' Dim is a lot of things, but a liar isn't one of them."

"But--"

"When the urge comes and it's strong, come up here and hide under your quilts and say it over and over again--scream it, if you have to--until the urge passes."

"A time will come when it won't pass."

The gunslinger made no reply, for he knew this was true. The trap had a ghastly perfection. If someone told you you'd go

That is good stuff, I like it, I want to read the next part even though I know what happens already. Let's read the piece from "Fevre Dream." Then I will see what similarities, differences, patterns, etc. that I can find.

Marsh leaned on the railing of the boiler deck, shaded and content, watching them scramble and tote the bales while Whitey got the steam up. He chanced to notice something else; a line of horse-drawn hotel omnibuses waiting on the road just off the steamboat landing. Marsh stared at them curiously for a moment, pulling at his whiskers, then went on up to the pilot house.

The pilot was having a slice of pie and a cup of coffee. "Mister Kitch," Marsh told him, "don't take her out until I tell you so."

"Why's that, Cap'n? She's almost loaded, and the steam's up."

"Look out there," Marsh said, lifting his stick. "Them omnibuses are bringing passengers to the landing, or waiting for 'em to arrive. Not our passengers, neither, and they don't meet every little stern-wheeler that puts in. I got myself a hunch."

A few moments later, his hunch was rewarded. Spewing steam and smoke and sparkling down the Ohio fast as the devil, a long classy side-wheeler came into sight. Marsh recognized her almost at once, even before he could read her name; the Southerner, of the Cincinnati & Louisville Packet Company. "I knew it!" he said. "She must have left Louisville a half-day after we did. She made better time, though." He moved to the side window, brushed aside the fancy curtains that were shutting out the hot afternoon sun, and watched the other steamer pull in, tie up, and begin to discharge passengers. "She won't take long," Marsh said to this pilot. "No freight to load or unload, just passengers. You let her pull out first, you understand? Let her get down the river a bit, then you back out and go after her."

The pilot finished his last forkful of pie and wiped a bit of meringue from the corner of his mouth with his napkin. "You want me to let the Southerner get ahead of

I like it, I want to see what happens next, even though I already know what happens next. That is the first thing these two pieces have in common. There are some easy to find facts that we might as well know. King's page has 198 words in 13 paragraphs. Martin's page has 316 words in 6 paragraphs. Those seem like big differences. Obviously this can fluctuate a lot depending on the situation that the book is in, so a small comparison like this could be misleading because of the limited context, but a large comparison is a logistical nightmare (and I also think that this will not be misleading, mostly). King uses significantly fewer words in significantly more paragraphs.

King's characters exchange dialogue in one-liners back and forth. Martin has, mostly, either longer dialogue sections and/or has them embedded in a descriptive paragraph. This may be part of why I like the style of Martin more, I'm not sure. Many of our likes and dislikes, probably most, are done for us, we don't have to think about them at all. We like this, we don't like that, and we aren't really sure why. Why do I like Martin's style more? That is what I am trying to figure out here. I think King's style is good, I just like Martin's more for some reason.

Maybe embedding dialogue into paragraphs that are also more descriptive is part of it. I also think Martin's dialogue is more realistic. The context of the books is completely different. King's book is about a distant future dystopian world in the sword and sorcery genre where a gunslinger is chasing down a sorcerer. Martin's book is about vampires on steamboats in the United States in the mid 1800's. It seems to me that Martin's dialogue hits the nail on the head in the balance between writing dialogue that is readable and dialogue that is true to what you would expect. King's dialogue seems a little too proper for the setting to me.

As far as style goes, those are the two things that really stick out to me; longer and/or embedded dialogue and a more contextually realistic pronunciation. Other than that there are other major considerations, such as subject, plot, and characterization; all of which I would put in Martin's favor. Those are huge topics that I may cover more in the future. I think George R. R. Martin does the best job at characterization of any author I have ever read. In "A Song of Ice and Fire" I can empathize and understand the actions and motivations of, maybe, every character in the entire series; it's incredible.

"Fevre Dream" is going on my short list of books to study further. I think it will be a good way to dig into how Martin does his characterization.

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