Monday, June 02, 2008

Head Full of World

I was chatting with my friend Jody and Neil Gaiman a while back and Jody made a comment about finding it hard to imagine what it was like to walk around with the whole world of a book in your head. Neil's response was very smart, as they generally are, and immediate and had to do with the ebb and flow of a book over the course of writing it. Since the conversation had moved on by the time a good response occurred to me, I didn't get to bring it out see what happened, so I'm going to do it here.

I find it difficult to imagine what it's like not walking around with the whole world of a book in my head. From my earliest days I've built elaborate worlds in my imagination. Generally, I've had at least several floating around in there of my own design plus a bunch that belong to other people. They may not all be at the forefront at any given time, but it only takes a moment for me to put myself in Middle Earth or on Pern or in Lankhmar.

Now, there is some qualitative difference in my understanding of the inner world of Aragorn and the inner world of Ravirn since I've got a lot more experience placing Ravirn in unfamiliar situations, but in many ways the experience of being a novelist and being a fan have a lot in common experientially, or at least they do for me. Stepping out of this world and into one of fiction, mine or someone else's is pretty much second nature for me.

What do you folks think? If you're a writer, do you find there's a big difference between having someone else's world in your head and having one of your own? Does one seem to fill your brain more? Is there a cognitive difference in terms of creative brain space vs. consuming brain space? If you're not a writer, how do you experience a fictional world? Is it a place you wholly contain in mind, or is it very much a place that you access through the gateway of a book? Any and all thoughts on the matter are welcome. I find the topic fascinating, especially since I'm a world-driven writer.


Eleanor said...

I was misthinking about writing questions, which is why I deleted my last post. There are ones that are interesting. They are the "how do you do it" questions vs. "how is it done" questions.

I usually have 2 or 3 or 4 projects going at once, all going very slowly. I can keep all those worlds in my head, though I may have to review if I've been away from a project for a long time.

Years ago I heard someone on a panel say writers kept copious notes when they wrote novels. Some kinds of notes I do need to keep -- length of the planet's day, number of moons. But it's difficult to cross-connect information when it's in notebooks or your computer rather than your mind.

I keep notes for the little stuff that I know will be hard to find in the manuscript. But the big stuff stays in my mind.

What I can 't keep in my head is phone numbers and addresses.

Anonymous said...

I keep a wide assortment of world in my head. Occasionally, their orbits go out of spin and they collide, which is interesting and often very energizing.

I don't tend to have trouble keeping them in there, but it's not as if I'm perpetually 'in' that other world, either. I think "ebb & flow" is a good description.

Eleanor: Numbers stick to my brain like chewing gum. Phones, random counts, social security numbers, checking account balance. I can't get rid of them, most of the time.

Anonymous said...

Like others, I tend to have several whole worlds going on in my brain at once. Worlds or at least story lines. All of mine take place in a reality much like the one I happen to live in -- no fantasy or sci fi in my case. In fact, it was only recently that I realized one of my mental worlds was actually a novel in waiting. I had lived in it for so long I never considered it as anything other than existing as it did. Now I'm working on notes in order to get ready to write it as a novel.

I'm convinced that my experience of another writer's work is different from the writer's experience. As an example, I almost never pay any attention to the clothing the writer dresses character in or even how they look. I envision and dress the characters to suit me, and I generally find a detailed description of their clothes or complexion or such to be intrusive. (Clothing and physical description -- at least in great detail -- only rarely contributes to the story in any worthwhile way. Reading is a collaborative experience. The writer brings what he or she will, and I bring my portion.

Kelly Swails said...

Worlds. Hmmm. I have a lot of my own worlds in my head, but I'd have to say that worlds I have read are more cemented in my mind than worlds I have written. The Wheel of Time, the Potterverse, the Dragaeran Empire--I can answer questions about these worlds fairly easily, whereas my own I have to look stuff up in my notes. This is probably because when I read a book I let myself get immersed in the story; when I write it, I'm too worried about plot mechanics/character motivations/dialogue to enjoy the world. That, and I'm more of a character builder than a world builder.

Anonymous said...

I keep both the True Harlan and the Mari-created Harlan in my head. However, I created a "harlan bible" with various Mari-created Harlan notes and information that I have to come back to time and again. And I have a small metric ton of pictures of the Harlan County area - most of which I'm trying to get up on Picaso, but that's slow going.

Some kinds of notes I do need to keep

I had a ton of notes I had when I wrote Midnight that I tossed once I 'finished' the first draft. HA HA HA Big mistake. I'd give my eyeteeth to have those notes. LOL

But it's difficult to cross-connect information when it's in notebooks or your computer rather than your mind.

Yes. Shame the two can't be routed together. :D

Numbers stick to my brain like chewing gum.

I'm numerically dyslexic. I so don't have that problem! LOL

Douglas Hulick said...

I tend to have a fairly strong separation between other people's worlds and my own created ones. While I may ponder another writer's world, or even think it would be neat to play there, for the most part I tend to accept it as is. It's their toy, and I tend not to play with it for whatever reason.

As for my own worlds, well, that's different. I am constantly fiddling and defining and examining them, usually in relation to the characters and the story. I do mental reality lifting to see how things work (or don't), what possibilities I may have missed, and where things can be tweaked or twist or shredded, as the case may be, all with an eye to improving the story.

But even more than that, I walk around with lots of people in my head. Being a character writer, I think more in terms of people than I do of world. This extends to other writer's work, too -- characters stick with me more than worlds, or even plots. So while there may be a vista in my noggin, there is usually a crowd milling around on it. And while they can get in the way of the view, they're usually doing something at the time, so I don't mind all that much. :)

Kelly McCullough said...

Thanks for the comments folks. Interesting stuff in there, much to mull over. Sorry I've been remiss in responding to comments of late, I'm just a little off still from a long spring.