Description and Dialogue

5 minute read

I don't have an easy time describing myself and my work.

I remember a few years ago, when I first came up with a sci-fi setting I wanted to write a book in. This was hardly some massive worldbuilding project, just a confined world to set the book in, a network of underground, airless tunnels. Hence the title, Airless. People lived in pressure-sealed cities of air, and a byproduct of a person's social status determined how pure the air they breathed was. I had the characters figured out, the plot, none of them particularly complex but hey, first novel and first setting. There were a lot of ideas floating around my head at the time, but it all made some sort of sense in my mind.

Until I had to explain it to someone. A former friend, to be exact.

Then everything fell apart.

I imagine a lot of writers have this problem. You form this big network of interconnected ideas in your head, intricate patterns of information. Characters and their lives, their personalities, how they relate to the larger world. Places on a mental map, places to set a story. God forbid if you're a fantasy writer, because then you take an entire world onto yourself, unless you're one of those new-age urban fantasy types who just sets it in downtown Brooklyn or something.

(But then again you have to remember how all of Brooklyn comes together and how it forms its own little world in microcosm...)

It's daunting! But you figure it out. You build up this mind map that you can navigate near-effortlessly, helped by plenty of notes you've written down. You've got a general idea of what you've figured out for this world, this story, and it all makes its own kind of sense.

But the problem comes in telling it to someone else, doesn't it? You want to tell someone about the idea you're developing, that you've been developing for months, and when the time comes, the proverbial blank word processor page...


In that scenario, a few years ago, I believe I talked for somewhere near two hours. I spewed literally everything I'd come up with about Airless, this barely-organized mess, like some kind of shoddy garden hose. Just fact after idea after musing, about the four main characters of the story, their relationships with each other, their place in their home city. What that city was, how people survived, what the cities around them were like. I hadn't come up with these big, sprawling descriptions of what these cities were like, just general things. But still, it's a lot to take in. The entire time, I kept yelling at myself to get to the point, to keep it relevant, by god.

Needless to say, he didn't walk away very interested.

I've had a few other friends whom I've explained my settings to much more gradually, usually as ideas come up. This is over the course of months, and I find that it works out much better. I don't worry so much about giving the proper context to every little thing, they usually just figure out the context on their own end. Whether it's something I've told them, or whatever they've worked out themselves.

On the converse, it's a format much more suited to critiquing as it comes up, rather than having to sit through this two hour long presentation and then being so drained at the end that all they can say is 'yeah, it's good, dude.' Doing it over a longer time, as you're still coming up with the setting, also helps focus you around what ideas are actually pretty good, what other people seem to like, but not in a way that totally compromises your vision. It's much easier to talk about ways to make magic more interesting when you have a few scattered ideas, not a huge monolith of magical theory that requires a whole separate novelette to explain.

I'm probably going to talk later on being creative in a bubble, and why you should never do it. Especially something I really used to struggle with, not taking other people's suggestions and ideas because you should have come up with it yourself. Hoo boy, that's a crock.

About a year ago, I talked to that same guy from earlier, the one I told about my Airless setting. I launched into a, what I thought was better, more concise, explanation of my current dark fantasy setting, the Succession of Salazarre. I thought I did a pretty decent job, but at the same time, I still noticed the flaws. It's just not a good way, in my opinion, to talk about creativity. It's too one-sided, too narcissistic almost, with limited room for other people to comment.

Really, that commenting is really the lifeblood of this, it's what makes all this fun. Having discussions and dialogues is creativity at its best, it's how you're able to make something more than just you. It's how you can make something take a life of its own. Which is the point of all this, anyway.

And the guy still walked away uninterested, so I apparently can't win. That's on him, though.

I'm thinking a post a week is gonna be the schedule on this thing. I've got a few posts I can queue up, and I imagine those alone can last until 2016. Hopefully I'll be writing more during that.

I should also start thinking about adding header images to these posts, as that seems to be what you do. I don't have much of a mind for it, but I'll figure something out. They'll probably just be nature pictures I take with my phone camera, since I've got a lot of those on my Dropbox. It's a bit of a hobby of mine, though I don't at all intend to actually do more with it. Don't have the money for a real camera! Or time to learn photography, for that matter.

So yeah. This is happening!