Restrictions Breed Creativity: Lessons from Game of Thrones

Well, this season of Game of Thrones has been controversial to say the last. Some people still love the show. Others are starting to be…less than happy with the direction things have taken. I’m in the latter camp.

Wait, wait, don’t go for that back button. This is not the 2,000,000,000th article analyzing this season of Game of Thrones, nor is it even going to talk about any plot details. No spoilers, even. I don’t even use any character’s names!

So one thing about this season that is bothering a lot of people, myself included, is the story has moved away from the politics and intrigues that have defined the show for so long and more and more focused on the big battle setpieces that used to be background information or brief at best. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m a fan of big battles. My favorite movie so far this year has been Endgame, and that movie is the definition of CGI spectacle.

This is how you bring home a major pop culture franchise. Unlike other ones I could Game of Thrones. I mean mention.

But for Game of Thrones, it feels wrong.

A lot of people have argued the show is falling apart like a napkin in a hurricane because the show has left the books, but I don’t think that’s it. There’s been good episodes and even good seasons since then. I think the blame lies more on those big action setpieces.

See, this season, the showrunners were basically given a blank check and said: “go nuts.” HBO knew this was the last season, knew things were ending, and they wanted to go out with a bang. When it comes to the going nuts, this season is absolutely delivering…but at the cost of coherent storytelling.

Compared to how the show focused before on characters, intrigue, and dialogue, it’s dissonant, to say the least.

You wanted a different example of bad writing? Well, I wanted an ending that isn’t needlessly rushed, so guess we’ll both have to be disappointed. Okay. Last dig. I promise.

It reminds me of the old adage, and the point I’m getting to in the most roundabout way possible: restrictions breed creativity.

Normally, this doesn’t refer to writing. Of all the various creative activities, writing is the one you can do for the absolute cheapest – you just need a pen and paper as a bare minimum, a computer and keyboard as the absolute pinnacle. Usually, this refers to the restriction of technology for video games, budget for movies, and the time constraints for TV shows.

There aren’t any real restrictions on what you can do with the written word. You can do big elaborate battle scenes and still take thousands of words for character interactions, you can spend eight pages on the dress styles available in a particular region (although please don’t), you can create fantastic vistas that would fry the processor of any 3D engine trying to render them with any kind of fidelity to the source material.

And it can be paralyzing. When you can do anything you want, it’s hard to focus on what specific thing you actually do like.

I’ve talked before about how writer’s block is mostly overblown. What I’ve had to deal with before – my biggest struggle with writing – is what I like to call writer’s clog. When there are too many ideas, and you get stuck trying to fit them all into the same story or become paralyzed because you want to do them all and can’t figure out which one to focus on.

It was because I lacked restriction, and my writing was suffering for it.

I wanted a different picture for this post. I searched for stock photos of “chained” and “bound.” On the internet. And expected that to get me a photo I could use for this post. This is not that kind of blog.

So as a way to help myself unclog, I wrote a couple of pieces under restrictions. I wrote a scene for my second, still unpublished series from the point of view of a minor character. I wrote a scene for a later book in Small Worlds where two characters had to interact without any dialogue or internal monologue. Finally, I wrote a scene that doesn’t really belong to any of my current works in progress and instead was just a slice of a perfectly ordinary, non-genre life.

And it helped so much.

None of the scenes are usable in their current form. The minor character point of view would be jarring without set up, the no dialogue scene would be awkward, and I have no desire to write something long that isn’t genre fiction because I’m a huge damn nerd.



I wanted to find a super nerdy photo to make a self-deprecating joke. Instead, I found generically handsome dudes with glasses. So…enjoy your generically handsome dude, and pretend my joke was hilarious.

In a similar vein, I had a rogue idea during my writing slump, for a bit of superhero fiction. An idea that blossomed in my head into something bigger, an epic saga about a superhero team that falls apart in the wake of a tragedy and then what comes afterward. As I always do with rogue ideas, I sat down to write out some notes and then let it sit on the back burner because I have way too much on my plate to pick up a new project.


I call it “Wrangling the Rogue” because I like giving my neuroses cute nicknames. See huge damn nerd, above.

That was going to be the payoff for the nerd joke. Dramatic Stock Photo Girl feels the pain of its loss. A moment of silence for a hilarious gag, gone too soon.

Halfway through writing down the idea, I was exhausted by the thought. That…usually doesn’t happen to me. Typically by the time I’m done wrangling the rogue, I have to all but physically restrain myself so I don’t start into it right away. The mere thought of trying to write it at some point in the future was physically exhausting.

So I stepped away from the computer for a day, and today came back and looked at it again. Then I sat down and wrote out a list of restrictions for this story. I wouldn’t focus on big battle scenes, instead focusing on characters and the realistic outcomes of their strengths and flaws clashing. I wouldn’t have a big threat to the entire world, at least not in the first book. I established restrictions on what I could and couldn’t do with the powers the heroes would have, and how powerful superheroes could get in this world. I outlined themes I wanted to explore, then looked at the tropes of the genre and decided which ones I wouldn’t indulge in because they broke the themes. By the time I was done, the story was looking very different from its original incarnation, but I was already much happier.

Then I had to all but physically restrain myself so I didn’t start writing it that moment.

My editor when she learns I spent two days taking notes on this idea. Please don’t kill me, I’ll go back in the box!

Restrictions breed creativity, and they also eliminate overload stress. They narrow your focus, allowing you to cut through excess clutter and keeping you on task. It lets you focus on what matters in your story and avoid indulging in needless spectacle, instead drilling down on the most important elements. 

Something that, perhaps, could have benefited the showrunners of Game of Thrones

Earlier when I said no more digs? I lied.

Game of Thrones fans, please don’t send me hate mail. I love you three thousand. 

Want to see me put my money where my mouth is when it comes to writing? Check out Wierd Theology! It’s at least 12% as good as Game of Thrones.


2 thoughts on “Restrictions Breed Creativity: Lessons from Game of Thrones

  1. Pingback: Why You Should be Watching the Arroweverse – The Home of Alex Raizman

  2. Pingback: Game of Thrones is getting a prequel, and I could not be more “Meh” – The Home of Alex Raizman

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