This morning’s writing session did not begin with writing. It began with cartography.
And as I was researching the size and physical organization of NYC and the Mammoth Caves, drawing maps and calculating distances, it occurred to me how much of writing a novel is not writing at all.
This novel-writing journey has, if nothing else, taught me to dearly respect the work of novelists. To do it well, there is so much you must do and be or become good at, even beyond the usual skills you might think of. Behind every well-written scene are hundreds of nuggets of information and understanding and skills that are never explicitly mentioned in the scene.
Case in point, the novel I’m working on has so far required, among other things, a working understanding of the following:
Geography, politics, war, weaponry, anthropology, evolution, map-making, photo manipulation, geology, energy generation, plant biology, acute radiation poisoning, weapon-making, animal experimentation, history of animal rights activism, factory farming, animal husbandry, linguistics, chemistry, fruit fermentation, methane production, and military defense tactics.
Thank goodness I like to read.
You go into a story, or at least I went into this story, carrying much of what you need inside you already. But as I’ve proceeded, I’ve had to accumulate more. More knowledge, more understanding. Even though my story takes place in an imagined world of the far distant future, it still has to be grounded in an understanding of the underlying principles of this world.
Or, perhaps, *I* want to be grounded here. Perhaps if I were more “imaginative,” I could create an underground city out of my head without the need for maps of Mammoth Caves and New York City to hang the hooks of my city upon. Do other writers do this, take real things and study them and take them apart, and construct their imagined worlds from the pieces? I think probably.
So, yes. Be impressed. Be very impressed. I have mastered many arts in order to progress in becoming a novelist. Just look at my masterful cartography. This impressive map was created by printing out a cut-away of Mammoth Caves, converting it to a negative (so I could write inside the caves), and superimposing my outstanding penmanship and meticulous map-making skills over the print-out. Behold:
P.S. I also wrote about a thousand words, which equates in this case to one more-or-less complete scene. It is not the scene I expected to write today. It arose organically from the the situation in which I left two main characters at last writing, and was not consciously influenced by my hand-wringing post of yesterday. Are you ready for this? It’s a scene in which… a major female character meets another major female character and has a conversation. In two different languages. About something other than boys. Bechdel Test, eat it.