Head Full of World

Some time ago I was chatting with my friends Jody Wurl and Neil Gaiman. Jody made a comment about finding it hard to imagine what it was like to walk around with the whole world of a book in your head. Neil’s response was very smart, as they generally are, and immediate and had to do with the ebb and flow of a book over the course of writing. Since the conversation had moved on by the time a good response occurred to me, I didn’t bring it up at the time, so I’m going to do it here.
I find it difficult to imagine what it’s like not walking around with the whole world of a book in my head. From my earliest days I’ve built elaborate worlds in my imagination. Generally, I’ve had at least several floating around in there of my own design plus a bunch that belong to other people. They may not all be at the forefront at any given time, but it only takes a moment for me to put myself in Middle Earth or Pern or Lankhmar.

Now, there is some qualitative difference in my understanding of the inner world of Aragorn vs. the inner world of Ravirn, since I’ve got a lot more experience placing Ravirn in unfamiliar situations. But in many ways the experience of being a novelist and being a fan have a lot in common experientially, or at least they do for me. Stepping out of this world and into one of fiction, mine or someone else’s is pretty much second nature for me.

The conversation didn’t move that way, but I think it’s an interesting topic so I’m going to leave you with a few of the questions that occurred to me to do with what you will. If you’re a writer, do you find there’s a big difference between having someone else’s world in your head and having one of your own? Does one seem to fill your brain more? Is there a cognitive difference in terms of creative brain space vs. consuming brain space? If you’re not a writer, how do you experience a fictional world? Is it a place you wholly contain in mind, or is it very much a place that you access through the gateway of a book? I don’t have comments turned on here, both due to excessive amounts of spam and because I found that I wasn’t posting when that was the case, but I’m more than happy to entertain them on twitter or facebook.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog June 2 2008, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)