I thought I’d give a little preview of my upcoming post for my Modern Mythmakers series, which will be about the fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin. I am currently reading her Earthsea series and am thoroughly captivated with it. Le Guin has come to mind as a perfect dovetail with my post about Miyazaki, since his son did an anime film inspired by Earthsea. And then, when I was reading the introduction to Tales From Earthsea (a collection of short stories), I was taken with the way Le Guin describes her process of researching and writing about a fictional world. In lieu of quietly tacking this onto my earlier post about research-driven writing, I decided to give it its own post.
I love how Le Guin makes the point that researching an imaginary history is not much different than researching actual history.
The way one does research into nonexistent history is to tell the story and find out what happened. I believe this isn’t very different from what historians of the so-called real world do. Even if we are present at some historic event, do we comprehend it–can we even remember it–until we can tell it as a story? And for events in times and places outside our own experience, we have nothing to go on but the stories other people tell us. Past events exist, after all, only in memory, which is a form of imagination. [...]
When you construct or reconstruct a world that never existed, a wholly fictional history, the research is of a somewhat different order, but the basic impulse and techniques are much the same. You look at what happens and try to see why it happens, you listen to what the people there tell you and watch what they do, you think about it seriously, and you try to tell it honestly, so that the story will have weight and make sense.
She goes on to explain how the ensuing books she wrote about Earthsea came to her like reports from a distant land. Reports that led to research, that in turn led to discovery, and finally to new stories.
I like this because it resonates with my own experience in the writing process. I need answers to my questions about the world I’m creating, and they can’t just be whatever I happen to come up with at the moment. I need to mine the vein of logic and see where it takes me. What a nice complement to that earlier post, isn’t it?
Look for my Le Guin Modern Mythmaker post next week!