It’s our job as writers to show the world in three dimensions. Some of us become masters at this, others get very good, and still others never quite achieve it.
It takes thought and the ability to recognize and cast aside prose that doesn’t say what we want it to.
“I was learning something from the painting of Cézanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone. Besides it was a secret.”
~~Ernest Hemmingway, A Movable Feast
You’ve heard the saying that one picture is worth a thousand words.
As authors, our craft is that of shaping words to form a picture of the world.
In other words, when we write, we are painting a picture using words.
Let’s assume it does take 1000 words to show that picture to the reader. Can you look at a single brushstroke and see the happy little tree? No, but when combined with 999 other brushstrokes, the tree is made clear to us.
- Each word is a packet of information, but it is a single brushstroke.
- The intention of each word only becomes clear when combined with the other 999 packets of information.
- Each individual word in the 1000 has a specific task; if that word doesn’t do the job, cut it and find one that does.
The fact is, unless we are there physically, other places don’t really exist for us. I see world building as not a hurdle, but a natural outgrowth of living.
It goes back to physics and how the universe works on a fundamental level. The only world that really exists in this incarnation is the space we physically occupy as individuals. The only true reality is the space we can see, hear, smell, and touch.
Authors and artists make the imaginary world real.
People who are not authors and artists build worlds every day just by thinking about their next move.
They do it by planning where they are going next, and recounting to others where they’ve just come from.
If you can visualize stopping at the mini-mart on your way home after work, you can visualize the convenience store on a space station.
You must practice world-building. A good exercise is to write a word picture of your immediate environment.
Detail the furniture, the smells, the sounds, the way certain doors creak.
- Use as many descriptors as you can think of.
- Use all the strong, power words you can think of to build that world.
It’s only a practice piece, and no one will see it but you.
Let that piece sit for a day or two, then come back to it with fresh eyes. Pare away every unnecessary word until you have the simplest picture of that space, the equivalent of a line-drawing.
That is the world that your readers can hang their imagination on.
Cézanne’s visual perceptions in art, via Wikipedia:
Cézanne was interested in the simplification of naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials: he wanted to “treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone” (a tree trunk may be conceived of as a cylinder, an apple or orange a sphere, for example).
Additionally, Cézanne’s desire to capture the truth of perception led him to explore binocular vision graphically, rendering slightly different, yet simultaneous visual perceptions of the same phenomena to provide the viewer with an aesthetic experience of depth different from those of earlier ideals of perspective, in particular single-point perspective.
His interest in new ways of modelling space and volume derived from the stereoscopy obsession of his era and from reading Hippolyte Taine’s Berkelean theory of spatial perception.
Credits and Attributions:
Quote from A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway, Scribners 1964
Wikipedia contributors, “Paul Cézanne,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Paul_C%C3%A9zanne&oldid=925729485 (accessed November 17, 2019).
Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Les Joueurs de cartes, par , collection Al-Thani, Yorck.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Les_Joueurs_de_cartes,_par_Paul_C%C3%A9zanne,_collection_Al-Thani,_Yorck.jpg&oldid=355049009 (accessed November 17, 2019).