Good storytelling involves withholding information AND evoking emotion through conflict.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered both at a birthday party in Seattle, Washington.
The birthday girl is two.
It's a cliche that good writing feeds on strong conflict. I brought along the first book of "Game of Thrones," to read on the plane. Here's a nice short scene that has both conflict AND emotion: the bastard son of Eddard Stark, Jon Snow, is leaving Winterfell to join the Nightwatch, but he wants to say his goodbyes and so he shows up at the room where his brother Bran is in a coma and his mother has been at his bedside for a fortnight. Jon is nervous about going in and when he does, the mother rebukes him. The tension between the two is at a two on a scale of one to ten. When he insists on staying, she says, "I told you to leave. We don't want you here." Each comment and exchange escalates the tension. When Jon pleads for sympathy, "He's my brother," the mother says, "Shall I call the guards?"
"Call them, Jon said, defiant. "You can't stop me from seeing him." Now we're at a seven, or eight on the conflict scale.
The mother, in her grief, confesses she prayed for the boy in the coma to stay behind with her. In an attempt at compassion, Jon says, "It wasn't your fault." Then we get this:
"Her eyes found him. They were full of poison. 'I need none of your absolution, bastard.'"
Jon retreats to the door but she has one more vicious comment: "It should have been you."
In other words, it should have been the bastard son who fell out of the broken tower and is in a deep coma. She collapses in sobs, weeping. George ends the short scene with "It was a long walk down to to the yard."
Boy howdy. That is a short, masterful confrontation pegging at ten and staying there. At the same time we don't feel anger towards either character, the mother guarding her injured son, or, the injured son being rejected by his step-mother. Just a tragic situation with well earned emotion on both sides. How does Martin do this? Well, a friend of mine knows him and has this to say:
"George is one of those 'overnight successes' who toiled for decades to get there. He was a moderately successful horror writer for a long time. A writer's writer, who's always been good and was read by everybody else in the field, received awards, etc., but could walk into almost any bookstore in the country without being recognized.