Saturday, September 15, 2007

Top Down Versus Bottom Up

Bernita suggested something that might explain why some authors, like myself, enjoy creating whole fantasy worlds for their characters to play in while other authors prefer to use the existing world of earth as a backdrop upon which to paint their tales. She suggested that it was possibly to do with a kind of inductive/deductive difference in the authors.

Playing off this, I think, perhaps, that some writers like to start with the unreal and work their way down to the real. They begin with an alien planet, say, and then begin to try and build reality into it by creating rivers, and cities, and deserts, and people, all of whom must have strong elements of realism if they are to work.

Other writers start with the real and work their way up to the unreal. They begin with rivers and cities and so on that already exist, then began to alter these toward the fictional, and they create characters who move within these worlds who have never existed.

I still don't know what it is in writers that make them prefer one approach to the other. Probably I never will. Although the difference is endlessly fascinating to me.

13 comments:

Sphinx Ink said...

Interesting theory, Charles (and Bernita). I'm of the latter type (deductive?)--I start with the real and expand it into the imaginary. Perhaps that's why in reading fantasy fiction, I most enjoy those set in the everyday world, but skewed into alternative reality--e.g., Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series, Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampires series, or Rachel Caine's Weather Wardens series.

Erik Donald France said...

Good musings. It's a mystery, these impulses and strategies. I like both forms, though I tend to take on the "real" world and go from there. But not always.

Travis said...

That is interesting. When I was younger, I recall creating a world because I wanted something to be possible that I couldn't fit into real world rationality or physical laws. So in one sense, a writer's immaturity could be a reason.

I guess it can come down to what the writer needs his characters to do. Or perhaps whether the environment is a strong character in the narrative.

Steve Malley said...

Hmmm....

Good discussion. I'd chip in my two cents, but on this one I lack any cents at all!

the walking man said...

I Think it comes from the objective of the story teller, if there is a concrete conclusion in mind then one can start with the basic and build that world to fit the ending but if there is no conclusion then the world has to be built already in which the characters live which the reader can relate to and then story can be told until it develops an ending.

Peace

mark

Bernita said...

And the funny thing is, Charles,I suspect that to make the fantasy world real, the writer, off-screen, has to begin construction by analyzing and recognizing the social factors/patterns of the existing world, and understand the habits of vengeance and greed, violence and conquest, affection and loyalty and love.

etain_lavena said...

I like working from the real world to the unreal characters, maybe its because I want the unreal to move into my reality.....don't know...I had allot of imaginary friends growing up they where in my reality even if they where not real....it might have something to do with that...who knows humans have so many dimension:)

Michelle's Spell said...

I do think this is a fascinating issue. I'm a realist but I think the world I live in is so unreal most of the time that I don't feel the need for fantasy whereas if I had a more structured life (please God, someday!), I might branch into something more fun and exciting. But I like both types of writing and think that you can get loads of insight from both. I know there's sometimes a bias against fantasy in creative writing classes, but I encourage my students to go for whatever they read -- because ultimately that's what they'll write most effectively.

Christina said...

Interesting. It makes me think on which way I go about it. I'm getting to the point where I'm trying to switch gears just to see how well I do with it.

Danny Tagalog said...

That really is interesting Charles. I think the real has plenty of strangeness so I expect that it's good to move outwards so to speak.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sphinx, I think I'm just the opposite, I don't generally find those series all that appealing. I haven't read any of them and would probably like them if I did. It's just that the basic premise doesn't interest me, possibly because it "is" set in this world.

Erik, sometimes I like to build up from the real world too, as with Cold in the Light.

Travis, the environment as character is important, I think.

Steve, you need more coffee.

Mark, that's a really good point. Perhaps folks like me have to generally build a world and then let characters come to life in it before we have a story.


Bernita, yes, ultimately there has to be the connection to the real or no one can buy it.


Etain, my imaginary friends lived on Jupiter.


Michelle, yes, good advice. Maybe that't the true meaning of "write what you know." Write what you love.

Christina, I like to challenge myself to do things differntly too over time. Plenty of my stuff starts real and works it's way to the unreal.

Danny, yes, reality, as they say, is stranger than we can imagine.

Lisa said...

I have no "cents" to add either, but I did want to stop by to say I'm enjoying the discussion.

steve said...

Fascinating topic. I'm pretty much grounded in the real world. The fantasy novel I'm working on, though, goes from a dystopian theocratic present-day America to the dystopian real world of the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention. I'm in awe of people like Tolkien who can create not only a world, but a whole language.