A few weeks ago we were talking about reading. I couldn’t decide who my talent crush was so I picked two books and one sort of type of book.
The first book was E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View. Here is the post where I gush over it.
Wait, I have to go upstairs and grab the second book. I cleaned off my desk a week ago and took the book back upstairs. I don’t think I like living in a house with two floors. Hang on.
Well shit, now I can’t find it.
Okay, I got it. Sheesh. It’s a disaster up there.
Conceiving the Heavens by Melissa Scott is the only book about writing I have ever found both useful and entertaining. It isn’t entertaining to read, even though Scott is a good writer. Rather, it is entertaining to do the exercises she recommends.
Here’s one: (sure, let’s use a colon here, whatever) “If you have World Wide Web access, spend an hour or two surfing-without using your ‘back button’.”
This is enormously fun and you can bookmark sites that you want to go back to later but as Scott says, “right now the point is to explore.”
Here’s my favorite: find a series of interconnected things (names of quilt blocks, tarot cards, any group of 5 or 6 related items “as long as you find them personally evocative”) and write little stories based on them. So quilt blocks. Let me go get a few names of them. Air Castle, All Tangled Up, Bachelor’s Puzzle, Blind Man’s Fancy, Coffin Star just to name a few. And from that list you could write 5 short stories or one story and make those quilt block names chapter titles for a longer story. This is just practice, something to get the brain working in the right direction. Of course, one never knows. I would read stories with any of those titles.
Where Conceiving the Heavens really shines is when Scott talks about world building. In case I haven’t mentioned it, this is a book about how to write science fiction. I have no intention of ever writing science fiction but the section on world building is something I think any writer would benefit from reading.
Scott asks you as a writer to consider many questions. How big is your world? Well, even if you are writing in modern day, how big is your world? How much of the world are you going to use a s setting. A neighborhood, a town, a city? What are the dominant physical features of your world? Mountains? High rise buildings? No building taller than a big box store? When our characters look up from their book/ laptop/ steering wheel what do they see? What is the story’s relation to time? Linear? Lots of flashbacks? Takes place over a week, a year, a millenium? And then she begins to talk about societal considerations. Who holds political power? Basis of the economy and where do your characters fall along it? Are they in the movie business and live in Los Angeles? Because if they make movies and live in Des Moines, that is going to look and feel very different.
I could go on and on but I won’t since I have probably already bored you to tears. Even if you aren’t an author, I highly recommend this book. It taught me to read and watch media in a way I never did before. World building isn’t only for science fiction. A bland, generic modern setting can enhance a story or hurt it, just depends if the creators were paying attention to setting when they were putting the piece together. The setting for the American version of The Office is generic to the point of pain but that blandness allows all the focus to fall on the people who inhabit the world. They stand out, in all their often goofball glory.
I can’t recommend this book enough but you probably have to get it on kindle since it might be out of print. Let me go check.
This is a great book, it will change the way you write and it will add depth to the way you consume media.