How, some of you may wonder (I hope you wonder) do writers keep their various story-verses separate while writing, and especially while switching from one to another? Are we all incredibly organized, with minds like a giant university library’s special collections, each in a climate-sealed room with those movable shelves you can “walk” by turning a big wheel? Is everything catalogued, re-catalogued, and so on? Or is there one big giant mess, into which the writer walks like one of those decorators/designers who comes in and starts throwing things around “This! With this over here…no not that, throw that out, it doesn’t belong–”
In my case, it’s more like like the separate rooms, but not climate-sealed…it’s more like fantasy (I know, I know, this is the SF blog. Bear with me.) “Through magic casements” (or doors, or closets, or wardrobes) there are different worlds/universes in which the stories exist. The frames for these are time and space (it is on this planet, near-space, this solar system, another solar system, in the now, near future, far future) and degree of “reality” (is there a clear connection to this world, or a big whopping jump to something else.) Everything has a connection to this world, of course, through my brain. The stories are written here, by someone who lives in the here of 21st century and the now of August 2017. (Yikes…100 years ago my mother was four years old and had already survived polio! That may be the year she was rescued from a hurricane storm surge in Corpus Christi, carried through the waves by a stranger, embarrassed that a strange man was seeing her, holding her in her nightgown. The blowing spray stung her face, she remembered. They moved south when she was five, to Donna. ANYway…) Anyway, there is always a connection to reality, because of the writer–in this case me. But sometimes there’s also a very conscious disconnect: I know the stories are fiction, and I know the settings and decorations are different levels of fiction.
There are similarities because they’re written by me, and differences because I intend them to do different things, to play with different motifs, like a painter moving from oils to watercolors, from pastels to pen and ink. But my experience is as if when painting in oils I’m in a completely different landscape than when I’m drawing in pen & ink. Different subjects, different settings, different details. Keeping the Vatta universe separate from the Familias Regnant is not hard at all. And the bleed-over from Paksworld is just about nil.
Except the people. Because to me, people are people whether they’re in robes or jeans…sure, the trappings make a difference, and the culture makes a difference, but in all cultures the biological determinants are the same. A horse is a horse, a dog is a dog, an elephant is an elephant, and a human is a human….it’s just that humans have a lot more flexibility available to them than most (we think) other species. So there’s always politics, whether it’s a monarchy, an oligarchy, a republic, a democracy, a theocracy. There’s always family of some kind–or a substitute for it that serves the same purposes. There’s always tension between hierarchy and a sense of justice (which appears to be inborn in some apes as well as us–and even horses have a form of justice within the herd.) Humans have religion, and music & dance, and quarrels, and secrets (so do blue jays and apes and dogs), and all sorts of complications that fascinate me. They are geodes, even the most boring of them…break them open and there are surprises inside, often beautiful. Toxic crystals can be as beautiful as harmless or even helpful ones.
So just as I find books by other writers having conversations with my writer-brain, so that I enjoy reading some books close to each other, I find characters in my own books popping up to comment on a character in one I’m writing. The universe of aunts, grandmothers, and great-aunts, for instance….those characters readily tell me what their comparatives in other other story verses should do (“I know she’s not me, but anyone her age should know–” Whereupon the object of discussion walks out of the story frame and tells the commenter a few home truths.) The universe of soldiers, esp. the NCOs, who don’t care if the scarred table they’re sitting around is wood or plastic or hull metal, as long as they can discuss their troops, their commanders, and the damn-fool politicians and drink their favorite drinks. Oblo, in the RSS, gets along with MSgt MacRobert in the Vatta books (he’s tried it on a few times and Mac has given him *that look*) and with Sergeant Stammel. Stammel is not of course intimidated by the post-modern and future weaponry, and he’s demonstrated a few times that the weapons he knows are still worth knowing about for the SF group. They all have stories to share that the others can understand. Being dead is just as fictional as existing, so…no problems.
Meanwhile the spaceships of the Familias look one way and those of Vatta-verse look another, and those of the outlier books and stories all have differences that I can see and feel even though they have (being human-designed, built, and crewed) necessary similarities. The planets aren’t all alike either, or the cultures that live on them. I know, when I start writing, where I am, even though a lot of the world-building happens as I go along. (Cherryh said or wrote one time “Never draw the map first.”) I knew that the Vatta-verse did not have that peculiar constitutional monarchy or the development of the same kind of longevity treatments, from the first few paragraphs. I’d walked through a door…or made the door in one side of my mind…and the Vatta-verse generated itself as I worked. Heris Serrano, from a family that’s been largely military in the same service for generations, feels different from Esmay Suiza, from a family that’s been landowning and military for a long time but planet-bound (they arrived as part of a servant class to the owners) and even more different from Ky Vatta, who’s an outlier in her non-military family, a family of late-comers, immigrants to Slotter Key after it was founded, with a very deep history of being “in trade”–all the way back to the Silk Road of this planet. Growing up mercantile is very different from growing up military–or for that matter as a landowner who might be called on to be Landbride. All three women are competent as military officers…but their backgrounds enforce a difference in style, tone, even how they think about the foundational similarities of military organizations: duty, honor, obedience, etc.
So…my mind does have the separate rooms, but within them it’s more chaotic than any library special collection. Each of those fictional universes continues to live and grow and change (while I’m not in it, even, the writer back-brain being especially good at sneaking back in to toss some new seeds or spider-eggs into the dark corners), enlarging enough that on the next visit there’s something that *could* be the start of another story. Each has its own flavor and color, its own smells, sounds, traditions, sports, foods, etc. Except I’m so fond of the name “Lassaferan snailfish” and I can see one so clearly in my mind, that I keep wanting to stick it in everywhere.
2 thoughts on “Inside the Writer’s Mind”
Your description of everyone in different rooms reminds me of the “architectural mnemonic” from the art of memory (ars memoriae, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_of_memory ) developed in ancient times to help with both memorization and composition. Neat!
I’ve wondered if the process is at all similar…except that the memorization part doesn’t seem to be functioning all that well. I know I do “feel” that stories inhabit a space that allows readers and writers to move through a designed experience, but the metaphor that works best for me (at last since seeing one) is the kind of grand garden that has multiple outdoor rooms…you go through a gate here and enter a more intimate space, or you go down a path to the “reveal” of a grand view. Surprise, relaxation, tension…the elements of story are in both architecture and landscaping. Probably a function of human minds and what they find satisfying. Not too much sameness, not too much of any one thing.