Wednesday, December 28, 2005

world building and story telling

Storytelling seems to be birthed by world building, or at least they are never far from each other. This is certainly the case with Tolkien, and I think with Lewis, I remember reading that much of Narnia sprang from mental images that Lewis saw, details of a world (a faun with an umbrella standing next to a lamp-post in a snow covered wood). I also remember the Miller brothers aim in making Myst and Riven was primarily "making a place that we would want to go to", building a world; after that a story grew around and behind and beyond those worlds. George Lucas seems to so focus on his mastery of worldbuilding that he perhaps neglects the story at times.

And of course God made first the world and then directed his-story within that world. Come to think of it, history is really a journey from one world, an incomplete and local garden world, through a fallen world with deserts and towers of Babel, to a redeemed, complete and mature garden-city world; and in this story, we the characters are sub-creators and co-creators with God, part of the plot of The story is world-building, his world-building and ours, as we spread the garden over the world and build the holy city. It's Glorious! ... and that of course is the point: "The chief end of man is to glorify and enjoy God."

Reminds me of the Myst novels and 'games', whose stories are mostly about world-building its self. The D'ni were a culture who wrote books describing and in a way creating worlds that could then be 'linked' to and actually visited.

Umberto Eco has this to say on the topic:
"I discovered, namely, that a novel has nothing to do with words in the first instance. Writing a novel is a cosmological matter, like the story told in Genisis... What I mean is that to tell a story you must first of all construct a world, furnished as much as possible, down to the slightest details. If I were to constuct a river, I would need two banks; and if on the left bank I put a fisherman, and if I were to give this fisherman a wrathful character and a police record, then I could start writing, translating into words everything that would inevitably happen. What does a fisherman do? He fishes (and thence a whole series of actions, more or less obligatory). And then what happens? Either the fish are biting or they are not. If they bite, the fisherman catches them and goes home happy. End of story. If there are no fish, since he is a wrathful type he will probably become angry. Perhaps he will break his fishing rod. This is much; still, it is already a sketch. But there is an Indian proverb that goes: "Sit on the bank of a river and wait: your enemies corpse will soon float by." And what if a corpse were to come down stream-since this possibility is inherent in an intertextual area like a river? We must also bear in mind that my fisherman has a police record. Will he want to risk the trouble? What will he do? Will he run away and pretend not to have seen the corpse? Will he feel vulnerable, because this, after all, is the corpse of the man he hated? ...As you see, as soon as one's invented world has become furnished just a little, there is already the beginnings of a story. There already is the beginning of a style, too, because the fisherman who is fishing should establish a slow, fluvial pace, cadenced by his waiting, which would be patient but also marked by the fits of his impatient wrath. The problem is to construct the world: the words will practically come on their own. Rem tene, verba sequenture: grasp the subject and the words will follow. This, I believe, is the opposite of what happens with poetry, which is more a case of verba tene, res sequentur: grasp the words, and the subject will follow."
-Postscript to the Name of a Rose


Blogger Chestertonian Rambler said...

I may have to read Eco sometime -- I keep hearing about him. I think I was turned off by the atrocious film of The Name of the Rose with Sean Connery. But he can't be as bad as I invision, and write what you quoted.

Meanwhile, great blog! I only wish it had a RSS feed.

1/18/2006 9:05 PM  
Blogger Stejahen said...

Hmm, havn't seen it, but the book is great. I've also been reading his History of Beauty, which is excellent.

I have an XML feed if that would work:

1/18/2006 9:48 PM  

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