Allow me to share a little-known fact about myself when it comes to writing. I hate describing Urban areas. Be it cities, large towns, a metropolis, or mega-cities, I am wracked with some of the most severe headaches by just having to deal with these settings in my fantasy writing. The pain and difficulty that comes with visualizing anything is epitomized in the act of your characters reaching a place inhabited by other humans.
It’s one thing to be pondering on how that little forest trail that your characters are strolling through looks like. It might take a while to think of how the flora would be perceived by your characters, what kind of animals would be within the forest, or maybe plopping down a stream here or there. Yet when all is said and done, the amount of descriptors you’ll need for a wilderness area would be rather limited.
This is not the case with cities.
If you’re anything like me and you had the gall to start writing a medieval fantasy novel, you’re probably aware of how crowded cities were in the Middle Ages. And once you become aware of this, a whole world of tiny details needs to spawn from your mind just for you to describe the experience of entering through the city’s main gate. You have to think of merchants with their carts coming in and out of town, the city guard peering at your MC through slit eyes, peddlers screaming out their goods, decorations hung around the city, events going around in town, the clothes that people wear, and etc.
As you can see, adding humans to anything makes it at least five times more complicated. If not more than that.
Not only do you have to describe these features that are exclusive to cities, but you also have to describe all the other details your characters would notice in any other part of the world. But in all scenarios you end up suffering Description Overload and this is not pretty. When the human mind is bombarded with so many items to keep track off, it just short-circuits and leaves your imagination with a masterful visualization of a brick wall.
(Meaning you can’t visualize anything at all.)
And this is the great barrier that prevents many people from wishing to continue with their WIPS. They see such an enormous world of detail that they might need to make up on the fly just to continue their plot, and this discourages them. And who can blame them?
Creating an entire city forged solely through your imagination is a rather herculean feat. You probably have to wrestle with your mind while you attempt to squeeze out those few creative sentences that actually manage to get their way in there. It can feel daunting to know that you’ll have to take on all of this alone, and I too, have given up on many a writing session because I didn’t know how to describe anything. But then a certain realization dawned upon me.
I wasn’t alone when it came to visualizing entirely new environments. In fact, it was quite the opposite. We like to tell ourselves that all the visualization in our work is up to us, but this is far from the truth. This is the 21st century!
There’s a whole slew of entertaining mediums created with the sole purpose of providing a visual experience! You have movies, videos, games, and photos that have probably visualized environments that have been bubbling up in your mind, but have never come to fruition. This is why it is pertinent that the writer should not only find enjoyment in reading and writing books, but he should also try to find other mediums that could work to help him in his writing process.
Part of the reason that we suffer from the Creative Schism comes from the fact that
writing down words is immensely hard to make engaging. Our realities are divorced from these symbols that we expect to represent something when written on a page! While the power of pure imagination is a force to be reckoned with, we must also understand the limits of imagination. It takes more mental exercises to get you describing your settings in the way that you want from just your mind.
But visual mediums are different.
These are designed in such a way that they can engage anyone just based on the fact that they are visual representations. We have an easier time identifying with the reality we see in a film, than the reality that we read in a book. Sure, you might be able to argue that a book’s reality will ultimately provide a deeper portrait into the events of the story, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are harder to immerse yourself in. And watching things like movies or playing video games has served to help me with novel-writing.
For example, some time ago I was working on the sequel to my first drafted novel (A sneak peek), and I had to start off in one of the major cities in the world. Problem is that I wasn’t used to writing about the large cities in my world of Altarum as often as I was used to working in the woods or forests of the land. So when it first came to describing that massive city, I reached the dark chasm of the Creative Schism the moment I tried typing down the first words.
For a time, I took a break and would occasionally return to the book, only to find that I was in an even deeper conundrum than I was originally. Day after day, I would return to my laptop only to write a thousand or so words that had been arranged into crude and vague sentences. So one day I woke up and decided to spend a few minutes playing a video game. The Witcher 3 to be precise, which I recommend all of you to buy.
When I first slid the disk into my console, I was just expecting a bit of relief after all the stress of working on the book, but this game provided for me in ways that I was not expecting at all.
Being a medieval fantasy game, I was able to see how the developers had modeled the cities in their gameworld. I was able to see the arched corridors that loomed over cobblestone streets, the banners that flapped on the walls of gabled and brick houses, and how all the inhabitants mingled amongst one another in town. I would spend ungodly amounts of time in the game just gawking at everything that had been created and when I saw those cities, they reminded me of the kind of image I wanted to have of the cities in my world.
And this isn’t something limited to video games either. It can be film, other games, photos, paintings, and even the covers of other books. How often do we allow the beauty presented in these visual mediums to be overshadowed by the usual brevity of their pace? These are people who can craft exact pictures of what writers have been thinking of, and it would only take a few seconds of observation to gain inspiration from it.
In one way or another, all creative mediums are connected. And we should never dismiss our visual brethren, rather, we should see potential for our own work in all the things that they create. We’re all in this together, after all.
As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep Mending the Schism, my friends.