We people like to make things. We are creators. We build things. We make art.
To make art, we need materials, media. We shape sculptures from metal, wood, ceramics, and other materials. We create pictures with paint on canvas or paper. We create photographs with light, paper, and emulsion—or with digital technology. And we make worlds with words.
While I have written in various forms for most of my life, I’ve also experimented with other forms of art. I’ve made a few sculptures from salvaged metal, I’ve created multi-media shadow boxes for charity art auctions, and I’ve spent years learning to throw and fire ceramic pots. There is something therapeutic, even spiritual, about the creative process, whatever media one chooses. (See M. C. Richards’ Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person for an excellent example of the intersection of spirituality and art.)
I’ve found that to be especially true of pottery and of writing—both poetry and prose. And I find myself particularly fascinated by the process of writing, by the creation of worlds from words. Language seems to me to be very different from other kinds of artistic media—with perhaps the exception of music, which is itself a kind of language. Metal and wood and paint and clay all have substance or mass. They are materials shaped by the artist’s hands and tools into physical objects that can be seen, touched, held.
Writers too shape their media. We put words together into sentences or fragments, paragraphs or stanzas. And our work can be seen, touched, and held as books. But the art we create isn’t really the physical artifact of the book that holds our words. Certainly, we (with the help of our publishers, cover artists, and printers) create that artifact. But the real art of the writer is the creation of a world. Our words bring places, characters, relationships, and actions to life in the minds of our readers. We take stories and people that are born in our own minds, and through the act of writing, of stringing words together on a page, we share those stories and people with others.
When I stop and think about it, this seems miraculous to me. How is it that bits of (actual or digital) ink on a page transform into characters that seem to live and breathe and love and hurt and bleed and die?
All of us who love to read know that the characters in our favorite books feel to us like friends or family. Often, we return to a book over and over because we want to live in its world again and again. I, for example, have thought for a while now that it may be time to re-read the Harry Potter series (see Jennifer Flaten’s recent post on Harry Potter here). We can get so caught up in the worlds we read about that they haunt our dreams or follow us through our waking lives, because we just can’t get them out of our heads.
I remember when I was a college student, home for a few days vacation, staying up late into the night reading Peter Straub’s Ghost Story and having the sense that I couldn’t stop reading, couldn’t put the book down unfinished, or the ghosts would escape from the book and destroy me in my sleep. I did put the book down unfinished, and I did fall asleep, and the ghosts didn’t get me. But that whole incident illustrates something to me about the creative energy of books and writing. Our words live on the page between the covers of the book, but our worlds live outside those covers, in our own minds, in our readers’ minds, in the interaction between the words on the page and the reader who reads them. It is as if, on some level, the books we create are themselves the media for our real art, which is the alchemical transformation of words into worlds enabled by the act of reading.
In Jasper Fforde’s wonderfully inventive (and funny) Thursday Next series, characters can move between the “real” world (a sort of parallel world to ours) and the literary worlds of novels. In the first book in the series, The Eyre Affair, Jane Eyre is kidnapped from the novel, and Thursday Next, a literary detective, is charged with solving the crime. Thursday ends up in the novel for a bit, and ultimately affects the story in a small way.
Fforde’s novels play on that ability of writing to create worlds that feel real enough that we could inhabit them—or characters that feel real enough that they could inhabit our world.
From words to worlds.
It’s a kind of magic, really.
Book embrace image from pembrokepubliclibraryblog.blogspot.com.
Book covers from Amazon.
Connect with Stephanie Stamm:
Stephanie Stamm is the author of the New Adult/Young Adult urban fantasy A Gift of Wings. (The sequel, A Gift of Shadows, will be released late 2014.)
She has also contributed stories (one fictional and one true) to the following volumes: