Writing a story is a partial thing. Every book is only a small window onto a world, a window which occludes more than it can ever show.
Writing about a family means to consider what work the parents do, where the kids go to school. Even if you never show the characters at work or school, their flow in the home needs to account for these rhythms. They must be absent at certain times, tired at others, they must worry about bills, or delight on wages day, sweat over homework or delight in the holidays.
If this is not done the reader will become aware of a certain failure of reality, even if they cannot name it.
So the writer holds a world in their head, because it takes an entire world to sustain and enable the small slice of life they wish to portray.
For science fiction this can become even more complicated. Each invention has to be thought through – how wide would the impact be of brain implants that connected to the internet? How would it change daily life if there were robots? Space travel?
I am fascinated by this idea – by the rest of the world which never gets to the page.
It is as if a writer had hundreds of strands escaping their heads, worlds orbiting them, a dozen sprouting branches for every leaf of their writing. Ideas floating about them in some other dimension, only the smallest glimpse of which we get from their books.
Each book also ‘throws out’ millions of invisible tentacles, reaching and grasping for the rest of their world, their context, which holds them together, makes them possible.
This is what, for me, makes writing special in the world of art. A writer must convey, often without ever explicitly mentioning it, that there is a whole, realistic, coherent world outside of their book influencing inwards.
This need to create worlds does not seem to exist in other art forms. A painter need only paint their dragon, they don’t need to create a world for the dragon to be in. If they paint a landscape in some fantasy land, this doesn’t need to account for how that land might work, how the people might live, governments fall, societies collide. Sculptors, photographers, painters and musicians make discrete pieces – things which stand alone.
Only the writer generates quite such a vast swathe of ‘waste imagination’ in order to create their piece.
Is this true? It seems so to me, but perhaps other artists, other writers think differently? I’d love to know what you think.