This quote of George R.R. Martin originates from an interview where he stated what’s his main motivation behind writing. He summarised exactly why I love literature and art in general. If literature or movies aren’t guided by the reflection of the human heart in conflict with itself, then I’m not interested. It is the only thing worth writing about, all the rest is trivial to me. That, of course, doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy other forms of literature (in a wider sense) like poems or even an action-movie but they only give me a temporary, transient feeling that doesn’t last very long and that doesn’t stay with me in my own heart. They also don’t help to bring about changes in my own life because they don’t set in motion an act of self-reflection that also includes questioning and reinventing myself, adjusting and redefining my behaviour.
And George R.R. Martin is right, it doesn’t matter what kind of genre you use as a writer and how you disguise the underlying conflicts in human hearts that characters have to deal with in novels. If this principle is taken as the most decisive factor for what you are interested in regarding judging art in general, then one could never trivialise fantasy literature. Whether a novel is 'good' or 'bad' is mainly determined by the quality of inner conflicts the characters have to fight out and how they relate to my own life and my own conflicts. Or, to put it in even simpler terms, a story is only as good as its characters.
Of course, it’s not the only aspect I care for, I also like cleverly overlapping plots and unexpected, mind-boggling twists, and revelations at the end of a novel, especially if they make me question my whole interpretation I had while reading, making me want to read the novel again with another perspective and new insights.
If I further think about it, I come to the conclusion, that this principle is also important for me regarding my fellow humans. I can find people funny or entertaining, endearing or fascinating. I can have good conversations about things that interest me and my conversation partner and that’s allright. But what I'm really interested in is how much is someone willing to reveal of his or her inner conflicts and how he or she deals with them. That’s what makes us human because these conflicts are essential of the human psyche. Everybody has them, everybody has to face their own inner demons, be it secret desires or failures they are ashamed of. Or a certain moral standpoint that contradicts society or most of other people's, but what makes this person have this standpoint? What’s his or her motivation, experience or understanding of what happened, what’s happening and what's going to happen if they behave in a certain way? I'm interested in what makes us human and to profoundly understand the diversity of human thinking. Finding such people is what I'm looking for in my life.
Coming back to George R.R. Martin and his famous A Song of Ice and Fire series, that’s exactly why I love his novels so much, because no other author I know has internalised this mode of writing as much as George R.R. Martin. And having used the principle as his main drive behind creating a complex fictional world full of realistic events in combination with surreal fantasy elements, he makes up his literary legacy.