Friday, June 25, 2010

On writing

The more I write the more I learn about writing. Some of you who know me and most of you who do not, know that I'm not the kind of person who meticulously plans out my writing. This means that there are rarely any drafts or flow charts or any such things. My style of writing has primarily been to get it all out there and then perhaps do some editing. Having said that, I should probably note that I've not written anything particularly long. Mostly just stand alone papers etc. I've never written a long thesis or similar works that would require careful sectioning and planning.

I'm finding that the more I write creatively, the more planning I must do. When must I introduce such and such characters and how is it that they should meet? Where do they bump into each other? Questions of setting follow similar routes. Without a modicum of planning the events do not flow or, even worse, clash with each other. I'm forced to do some rudimentary planning. Something I've not done for writing since I was in middle school. Furthermore, planning for creative works is fundamentally different from planning a scholarly article. In articles there is a fairly rigid standard already set into place whereby there is an introduction (sometimes including a rationale), methods, results, and conclusion. In writing a novel, unless one has a definite whole story idea floating around in their mind, none of the sections are concrete. I do not have a concrete version floating around in my head. As a matter of fact, it is mostly just random thoughts floating around waiting to be expressed. The more I write the more I am forced to elucidate and give structure to these random thoughts.

I have also found that my experience in writing scientific articles has altered the way in which I do all of my writing. The very first step for me is research. I try to gather as much information as possible on all the subjects that will be covered. Now one can argue that, being a work of fiction, one is not required to be 100% realistic. However, I find that there is no harm in trying to be as accurate as possible. For example, many works of fantasy fiction feature creatures in the form of fire-breathing dragons of various sizes. To me, explanations, even short ones, about how these dragons are what they are are always a good thing. That is unless the explanation happens to be, "It's magic.". These explanations can also be used to evaluate the authors knowledge and creativity. One author I've read explained that the dragons would consume various substances, hold and process them in their stomachs and would, essentially belch a pyrophoric substance (McCaffrey, 1983). In another, the dragons were crystalline in nature (defies belief in areas of sentience and motility) and the flames were concentrated sunlight (Furey, 1994). In a recent movie the dragons breathed fire through the release of a flammable gas that was ignited by a spark (not improbable, pistol shrimp have been known to generate temperatures of ~5000K). Each of these reflects upon the style and care that the authors put into their work. Now back to the main point. Creating a new world for your story to take place is difficult. While certain aspects of the story can be written off as 'magic' or 'science fiction' other should remain accurate. One cannot create a world where the very laws of the universe do not apply. The audience must have something in the setting in which to relate (ex. gravity cannot suddenly push things away from each other). So you do research. I found rather early on that a quick look would not be sufficient. There was so much to learn. When creating a land, a map of the setting one has to take into consideration the geography and the effect it has on the weather. The weather then has an effect on the industries which you can produce. One has to look at human behaviour and how they settle. If one were to create a new organism one must also create the anatomy and physiology that goes along with it. Most of these can be borrowed from organisms here on earth. The size and shape of an organism greatly affect the complexity. So if one were to make a man-sized organism one has to consider things like how an open circulation would be ineffective at nutrient transport. There are many more examples but I won't bore you with them (and perhaps spoil the surprises of the story). Long story short, I've probably done more research on this novel/story/whatever than on any single other project that I've done before spreading across disciplines (geography, climatology, evolution... etc.).

1. Furey, Maggie. 1994. Aurian. Orbit Books. ISBN: 0-09-927071-4
2. McCaffrey, Anne. 1983. Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern. Del Rey / Ballantine. ISBN:0-345-29874-8

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