Friday, 15 February 2008

Two ways of writing a book

Some news first. I am away in the Midlands at the moment at the end of half-term and so am somewhat technologically isolated. Let's hope then that this blog makes it out into cyberspace. Secondly, next week, there is a concerted series of reviews on Shadow and Night by various reviewers associated with the Christian Science Fiction and fantasy group. So all sorts of people will be visiting my blog and hopefully saying nice things. So regulars, please be on your best behaviour!

Anyway I am busy with an editing project at the moment which, in addition to my normal job (the one that pays the salary) is keeping me pretty busy. I'm also finding myself preaching fairly regularly and am standing in for someone this Sunday; your prayers would be welcome. Nevertheless in my spare moments my thoughts are turning to the next sequence of books: provisionally entitled the Seventh Ship trilogy. At this stage, all I'm doing is putting thoughts and ideas together. Yet as I do this I have noticed that I am proceeding along a double track and think it worth sharing this.

One of the things I'm doing is factual. I am creating a world. What is the geography? What is the climate? What is the economic system? Who speaks what language? What is the level of technology? I am writing all those things that would be included if the CIA factbook or Wikipedia had articles on my imagined world (and know I don't have a name for it yet). This sort of thing is very intellectual, very logical and in one sense a long way removed from writing narrative. It is also frankly very dull; if you don't know how dull such things can be you have never read Tolkien’s Silmarillion. Much, perhaps most, of the information will never make it into print but will hopefully lurk in the background giving some sense of depth and reality.

Yet the second thing I'm doing is much more disorganised. It is, as it were, seeing pictures. I am imagining, or perhaps being, given images – snapshots – clips, if you like, of people, places and events. So for instance the other day I came up with a long line of steep-sided volcanoes rising up out of the sea and the fading away into the cloudy distance. I have pictures of a dispute in a dusty library, of a warm and sweaty night in reedbeds with something nameless lurking in the rippling waters nearby, I have seen people looking up to a distant range of mountains with fear in their eyes. These images are all largely disconnected. I had no idea how they fit together, if they do fit. Frankly, I do not really know whether I will use them all.

What is interesting is how contrasted these two strands are. The first is clearly much more cerebral and surely factual; it comes from the head. The second is much more intuitive and it emotional, sometimes it defies rationality. It clearly come from the heart or whatever organ it is that is genuinely creative. Both however are essential. I presume that readers want lively events in a living world and it is hard to see how one could write a long series of novels without doing both the creating the background situation and the dreaming up of the tale. Even in fantasy worlds, facts must be matched with experiences.

Normally I try and end my blog with some sort of meaningful theological observation. I'm not sure I have one here. But it does seem to me to demonstrate the intricacy both of writing and what we are as human beings. There's a complexity to us, my friends, which speaks to me more of us being made in the Master’s image than being the product of blind chance over however many million years you want.