Writerly Notions: Experts and Imagination

So I was re-reading Histoire d’Aladdin ou la Lampe merveilleuse (as one does), and I was forcibly reminded that writers need to know what they’re writing about. If say, I write about a character baking a cake, I have to know what kind of cake they’re baking and, more importantly, I need to know how that cake would be baked. And that’s where experts and connections and all that is important. Knowing who to ask and getting input from people who know what they’re talking about. Experts.

But what I think is interesting is that I couldn’t write:

She baked a werthor from a bowl of leftover isluuma blossoms, dried up after last winter’s molt and stored by her grandmother. After all adding a dollop of yurna berry juice, with just the right thickness to keep the center stiff, she popped the feathery dough into the fire-orb, watching as it expanded into a firm round werthor.

Because it’s not based on an actually recipe or method of baking.

The Book of Flying | “The Dark Castle”

a novel

by Keith Miller

“In the forest he’d written of the sea and wings. Here on a rocky hillside he jotted evocations of shadows and rustlings and undergrowth” (Miller, 216).

It’s nice to be out of that city. While it had some interesting contemplation of art and love, sometimes Pico and the others felt a little pretentious (with the exception of Narya).

Even better, the vivid visual description from earlier returns:

“He stood in a great hall lit by basins of fire. On the floor were shreds of ancient carpet, rusting suits of armor leaned against the walls. High on the stone, almost lost in the frugal light, hung blackjacks and battle-axes, sabers and maces, bastinades and shillelaghs and pikes. Other weapons too, nameless but clearly wrought with death in mind, agony swift or slow. All were ruined now, steel pitted and tarnished, handles a lacework of wormholes, dusty cobwebs dripping from their forms” (196).

I felt I could really see the place. Dangerous. Ancient. But crumbling. Fits with the ominous mood.

Pico is greeted by a silent host who looks very much like him and who locks him up in one of the four towers of the castle. While stuck inside, Pico catches sight of “a courtyard that he now saw contained statues, difficult to make out from this height, hewn in crystal or alabaster, the fluid lines in utter contrast to the angular bulk of the building” (197). The minute I read this I thought: this is important. Or it will be.

And later at dawn, Pico gets a better glimpse of the statues (and the readers get another lovely bit of description), when he sees that “they were made of ice, light igniting the fractured interiors of the figures, transforming them into spirits, gorgeous and intricate, colorful as dewdrops” (198).

Isn’t that just lovely? Or maybe I’m biased, as I always find descriptions of ice and winter to be the most beautiful. (Which might explain why I love H. C. Andersen so much.)

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