Writing an Experience

2 Mar

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Sorry I’m posting this one so late.  My internet has been all wonked out for half the day, making me run around like a headless chicken, but it’s all good now.  We’re back in business.  (Though, technically, I did still post this on Wednesday. ;))

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You know, I just kind of realized a couple of days ago that the folks over at Night Bazaar are actually posting on the very topic I planned on covering this week: Setting & Worldbuilding.  (They even announced it like a week or two in advance on their sidebar.)

I totally forgot about this.  I was gonna put up a picture of the local mountain here and everything, telling you about how it inspired me and whatnot.  But it looks like Courtney Schafer beat me to the chase.

Ha!

All right, well I don’t wanna look like a copy cat (and an amateur one at that), so I’ll wait ’til next week to do it.  I don’t think it really matters, though.  Still, I find it amusing.

Why I Love Worldbuilding (or creating make-believe places to escape to)

Okay, so ever since I was a little kid I was creating things from scratch: paper dolls and magical creatures coordinated to accompany board games I made up; piano and Noteworthy compositions; elaborate Barbie fashion shows complete with pre-show news broadcasts, galloping horses and half-time entertainment… No, I’m serious.  (I’ve got a video of it, but haven’t figured out how to convert it from the cassette to a computer format yet, dangit.  Maybe I’ll post it when I figure it out, heh.)

I mean, this was THE event girls in my neighborhood looked forward to each year.  (I only did it twice, but trust me, everyone was excited about it–including my parents.)  Everyone got involved.  It wasn’t just a show; it was an experience.

I guess you could say I was a kid that really, really loved to exercise her creativity.  I still do; I’m majoring in interior design, for one, and am writing a novel.  Both of those things take major creativity to pull off.

If I had all the brains, money and time in the world I would equally pursue music composition, interior design and novel-writing.  But life currently demands I stick to interior design and finish the one novel for the time being, so I digress.

Okay, so…what do interior design, music and Barbie, for heaven’s sake, have to do with writing a novel?

A lot, actually, if you’d care for me to explain.

With interior design, the goal is to present a client with a solution to whatever issues they are having with an existing space, or to present solutions for a yet-to-be-constructed interior.  The “solution” must serve the client’s functional, health, safety and aesthetic needs.

That is no small feat.  (People generally think that interior design just means making things look pretty, but trained, certified designers actually have to know how to implement building codes, among others, into their projects as well as how to present their ideas clearly via floor, electrical, reflected ceiling etc. plans using either hand or computer-aided drafting (CAD); hand drawings/sketches; materials boards; and/or computer software for presenting documents and 3D imagery.  The methods used are dependent upon the project and client types.

One of my instructors–an architect, actually–would go so far as to say that the interior designer has to become a psychologist of sorts; not only do many people not know what they want, but they can sometimes bring some…unwanted emotional baggage to the table that the designer would much rather not deal with.  The designer, then, must diplomatically sort through all the vagueness and extra stuff, figure out what people really want, and then exceed their wildest expectations.

Oy.  I think I’ll try a martini for the first time now.)

/unnecessary digression.

Ultimately, the interior designer is the visionary that coordinates an interior space that will shape the user’s overall experience while using that space.

The same can be said for a music composer; they create soundscapes that immerse the listener into an audible experience.  (Starting to see a pattern here?)

Even Barbie can be used to create a memorable experience.  (You’ll have to trust me on this one. ;))

They Say You Should Write What You Know

I see this advice out there a lot, but frankly, I feel like I don’t know that much.

I’m 22.  Do you know how many published fantasy and authors are younger than 28, or were when they published their first novel?  Probably only a handful.  (I can only think of Christopher Paolini, author of Eragon, and Sam Sykes, author of Tome of the Undergates, off the top of my head.)  All my favorite authors are in their 30s and beyond, so these guys are going to have a few life’s experiences under their belt.

As a young writer, I find this kind of intimidating.  Compared to these guys, what do I know?  I mean really.  I’m not a professional and I can’t really say I’m an expert at anything other than, well, how to be me.  So what gives me the right to write anything worth reading?

Well, here’s how I’ve come to look at it: sure, I have hobbies and things I’ve been involved with.  I’ve got my near bachelor’s education.  And I’ve got my own life experiences, people I’ve met and interacted with… and that’s about it.  That is all I know.  But even in this there is an abundance of emotional experiences I can draw upon for my writing.  I also have a vast imagination.

I think I’ve chosen to write fantasy for these very reasons–because I believe I am capable of creating an emotional experience by taking others to a place they’ve never been to before, by introducing them to a character who experiences something none of us will ever have to, or get to.  Depends on how you look at it.

But maybe that’s all “write what you know” really means, is writing from what you know not necessarily experientially, through certain kinds of actions, but through emotion.  Connecting with readers on an ordinary, human level, even when your story’s world is extraordinarily alien.

I believe that is my goal.  (I just now decided to have one beyond satisfying my imagination, heh.)

So Give Your Readers (and yourself) Something to Experience

If there’s one thing I know I can do, it’s creating an experience.  When I write I do my best to achieve this, and I do this by focusing on my characters and their world.  I approach storytelling from a psychological standpoint–how certain things, ideas and people make my characters feel and react; how they show unspoken sentiments using body language and other social cues, etc.  (I’m fairly interested in this kind of thing.  I think you can infer a lot about a person by just watching and listening–truly listening–to the words they choose and how they choose to use them.)  For me, I’ve discovered that the story will naturally unravel from the players I’ve place on the giant board game that is the novel, though for other writers it’s sometimes the other way around.

You know, that little rant on interior design wasn’t such a digression after all.  There are a few things I can pull out of that which are relevant to writing.  When it comes down to it, I think most [edit: fiction] writers write for themselves first and for others second.  (I don’t know of anyone for which the reverse is true, but it’s a big world and I’m an introvert, after all.)  So then, like a designer must do with their clients, I challenge thee fellow writers with these three tasks:

  1. Sort through the vague stuff until you find your story;
  2. Figure out what you, as a writer and a person, truly want; and then
  3. Aim to exceed your wildest expectations.

This is pretty much what I’m aiming for now as I edit.

Ultimately, I am my own client, for now.  I do what I can on my own to craft a unique, hopefully memorable experience that maybe, just maybe captivates someone else, somewhere.  Somehow.  But maybe it won’t.  Maybe I’m not even writing something that will sell.  I know that only peer editing, reader’s reactions and submission to agents or publishers will tell me how my work is received, so I’ll have to let you know how that goes once I get that far. 🙂

(As tempting as it is to show people my work now, in the past I’ve learned that (1) unfinished, unedited work is subject to change, and (2) a faithful reader can only put up with so many of your “changes” before he gets tired of reading your work oh-so faithfully.  Being the somewhat capricious, slow writer that I am, I won’t ever again put a reader through this, as it is not a pleasant experience.)

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2 Responses to “Writing an Experience”

  1. J. Noel March 7, 2011 at 9:17 PM #

    >World building is probably the most diffiuclt and the most rewarding part of writing fantasy. I've read some very good books by talented writers where it does seem they stop the action, literally put the breaks on the momentum of the plot to do a little world building description.So I do believe fantasy writers do tend to get a little carried away. So a balance has to be found. Show the world through the characters and plot. Make it relevant to the story. Don't spend oodles of paragraphs to description. It's boring. Readers will simply skim over it to get back to the plot. But if you do find the balance, the setting can sometimes actually become a "character" of your story.

    Like

  2. Tiyana, aka "Yoyo" March 8, 2011 at 12:08 AM #

    >For sure! I think the setting can really become something special, so long as it doesn't try to overwhelm a story."Show the world through the characters and plot. Make it relevant to the story."I think this is especially important. I get frustrated when I read a novel that doesn't have a strong connection between the setting, plot and characters, or when the setting is just used like a pretty prop. I'm taking great pains to avoid this in my work, as a result.

    Like

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