Writer as cartographer

In which the author compares himself to a cartographer, a small hairy mammal, and talks about towels.

My long fiction is largely centred around Tom, and the universes he creates for himself. This opens up lots of useful metaphors, and occasionally, expectations in the reader. Although as the criticism I most frequently receive is ‘what the fuck?’ (except my readers are usually a smidgeon more polite) I guess these are very dark universes. Ridden with black holes of plot. And humour.

Whatever, they need more light to show the way. A chart perhaps. Some light orienteering is permissible, but guided tours are preferable.

And speaking of Guides, I guess, at some very low wattage somewhere in the basement of my mind is the idea that I’m trying to write the anti-Hitchhiker. No benevolent omniscient narrator. No philosophy. Just confused, selfish narcissism. Less ‘where is my towel’ and more ‘who’s responsible for manufacturing towels around here anyway?’.

Oh dear. That sounds dreadful. I must have swallowed an undergraduate piece of toast this morning. I’d probably have written an essay with that title once (the towel manufacture bit, not the undergraduate toast…). I seem to remember handing in a prose poem as an essay once. Serves ’em right say I, for killing all the elephants of certainty. Give me a blunderbuss and we proles will fire holes in your ivory towers.

Or some such nonsense. I’d have a stern word with my younger self now.

Anyway. Today’s idle musing was brought to you (a) by tiredness – I wrote a lot yesterday, and I am much more nervous about the result than usual. I kept finding editorial continuity errors. Or imagining things or phrases that the reader might find odd if omitted. I even had one of those dreadful sequences when you find you are about to type out the exchange between two people saying goodnight to each other.

The problem I find, is that I imagine my scene as a film – and yet I only have the one voice to tell the story. As the action is told only from one point of view I have to manoeuvre other players around the ‘stage’ in what feels like quite a clumsy fashion.  I guess that’s why it’s called a craft. Practise the practice.

So I’ve been thinking about the amount of hand-holding I do in the book.

And lo… (b) a train of thoughts instigated by an interesting tweet from @jscarroll (Jonathan Carroll)- the God of interesting things on twitter. Seriously. He’s my (and countless others’) personal curator of the curious. Or ticket-inspector of oddness, I suppose, if this is really a train. Ahem. The quote:

Writing allows you to draw a map of your world for others to follow if they are interested.

Which is so true.  And it chimes with something Neil Gaiman says a lot (on his journal, I have yet to meet the bird’s nest in question) about why he writes.

I write to find out what happens next.

Of course the logical problem with combining the two sentences is that you end up with someone who doesn’t know where they’re going leading a bunch of people in blindfolds and hoping the lot of them don’t fall off a cliff.  Or wander around in ever decreasing circles looking for a checkpoint that doesn’t exist (one for the orienteers there).

So having started this post with grandiose ideas of author as swashbuckling pioneer, one foot firmly on the stern of the good ship adventure, I find that I am really a hopeless creature, frantically running from one checkpoint to another and hoping that I can see the next one from where I am. Like a really bad episode of Scooby Doo. Without the dog biscuits.

Or to put it another way, your hapless author is in fact, a mole, simply pushing dirt out of the way in the hope of finding either wormvana, the mythical land of vermicelli feasts and celestial mole virgins, or the sky. And hoping that neither is poisoned, or about to be clouded by a farmer/gardener’s shovel.

And all the while, being worried about being sued for the wrongful manufacture, use or distribution of towels, or items fashioned to be towels but in fact simply pages from a still-to-be-completed novel.

Fear and paranoia are not good map-makers.

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