by Eve Dobbs
Avid readers can relate to intrepid writers – especially when it comes to immersion. A sublime novel will create a universe which, regardless of how realistic it seems, will be so believable and all-consuming that the act of reading is to live that universe itself. If that universe is infinite and authentic and the characters are as close to the reader’s heart as the twists and turns of the plot itself, then no amount of closure will reconcile the reader once that book is ended and the transformation to the “normal” world initiates. We think, we dwell, we relive that book until we reach the next one in the series, unless there are none left. Just imagine the scale on which this occurs for a writer – someone who not only must live, breathe, and experience their universe, but create it. From their moment of waking until the night hours greet the dawn, a writer will engage themselves in their world not only with a bird’s eye view but on foot, crafting each detail as tangibly as if they were there in person.
Without question, the universe in which a story takes place, particularly in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, is vital. It transcends setting and plot triggers, but influences a character’s particular predisposition and cultural, social values as well as environment and technology. How a character and society coordinate individually and collectively is determined by this universe, and when this construct is disrupted, how the universe responds – be it through political downfall or environmental turmoil, etc. – is also up to the writer to make authentic. From the ground upwards, virtually every aspect of the universe must be forged, inspired by other influences and refined over and over again. To do this, writers not only research, brainstorm, and write, but transfer their psyche into that universe – a ritual which is very much like “getting into the zone”.
Other writers may call the key to get into this zone “negative capability”, the ability which Keats wrote is to “contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems,” and which empowers a writer to adopt a range of characters as well as environments. A convincing universe will inspire a reader to “suspend their disbelief” because the elements which would normally be questioned appear justified without excessive explanation, like in the case of technology and magic. A writer must test out the waters of their own environment and see just how tangible it is, and like a method actor, become emotionally, physically, and intellectually involved their world. This requires considerable imagination as well as practice, and some writers use a variety of techniques to initiate this mode. Writers have fasted, meditated, and shut themselves away for sleepless days, where others have tried the influence of narcotics to break barriers between worlds and conjure up a whole other plane of thought. But it is not only the psychedelic exploration which, if uncontrolled, can be dangerous – a psychological journey which has claimed many writers. Taking on not only a character but an entire universe can not only be taxing, but a difficult process – one which can be far more consuming for the writer than it is for the reader.
Writers must be able to deal with this psychologically – those who may use writing cathartically as well as exploring different aspects of their personality, particularly the darker aspects, can find themselves in problematic places when dwelling or “brooding” in a particular environment for a while. Like other artists, writers must take space from their work. How frequent this is and in what duration will depend on the individual – there is no universal formula. But that space from the creative world (or simply engaging in another creative project) is vital for maintaining clarity, and sometimes that can be crucial – writers must not only become knee-deep in their world, but able to observe it with objective distance. If a writer is so engrossed that they lose perspective, then the story will fail – unless that is the stream of consciousness which the writer wishes to follow.
The worlds we explore are all dangerous, accessing doors in our mind with threaten never to release us. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is the Myst universe – where worlds are literally created through the writing of books. Should the syntax be unstable, that world will literally fall apart into ruins, along with its people – a poignant metaphor for our own world where the writer must be all, do all, and know all.