Two ways of writing a book

By , 15 February 2008 8:40 pm

Some news first. I am away in the Midlands at the moment at the end of half-term and so am somewhat technologically isolated. Let’s hope then that this blog makes it out into cyberspace. Secondly, next week, there is a concerted series of reviews on Shadow and Night by various reviewers associated with the Christian Science Fiction and fantasy group. So all sorts of people will be visiting my blog and hopefully saying nice things. So regulars, please be on your best behaviour!

Anyway I am busy with an editing project at the moment which, in addition to my normal job (the one that pays the salary) is keeping me pretty busy. I’m also finding myself preaching fairly regularly and am standing in for someone this Sunday; your prayers would be welcome. Nevertheless in my spare moments my thoughts are turning to the next sequence of books: provisionally entitled the Seventh Ship trilogy. At this stage, all I’m doing is putting thoughts and ideas together. Yet as I do this I have noticed that I am proceeding along a double track and think it worth sharing this.

One of the things I’m doing is factual. I am creating a world. What is the geography? What is the climate? What is the economic system? Who speaks what language? What is the level of technology? I am writing all those things that would be included if the CIA factbook or Wikipedia had articles on my imagined world (and know I don’t have a name for it yet). This sort of thing is very intellectual, very logical and in one sense a long way removed from writing narrative. It is also frankly very dull; if you don’t know how dull such things can be you have never read Tolkien’s Silmarillion. Much, perhaps most, of the information will never make it into print but will hopefully lurk in the background giving some sense of depth and reality.

Yet the second thing I’m doing is much more disorganised. It is, as it were, seeing pictures. I am imagining, or perhaps being, given images – snapshots – clips, if you like, of people, places and events. So for instance the other day I came up with a long line of steep-sided volcanoes rising up out of the sea and the fading away into the cloudy distance. I have pictures of a dispute in a dusty library, of a warm and sweaty night in reedbeds with something nameless lurking in the rippling waters nearby, I have seen people looking up to a distant range of mountains with fear in their eyes. These images are all largely disconnected. I had no idea how they fit together, if they do fit. Frankly, I do not really know whether I will use them all.

What is interesting is how contrasted these two strands are. The first is clearly much more cerebral and surely factual; it comes from the head. The second is much more intuitive and it emotional, sometimes it defies rationality. It clearly come from the heart or whatever organ it is that is genuinely creative. Both however are essential. I presume that readers want lively events in a living world and it is hard to see how one could write a long series of novels without doing both the creating the background situation and the dreaming up of the tale. Even in fantasy worlds, facts must be matched with experiences.

Normally I try and end my blog with some sort of meaningful theological observation. I’m not sure I have one here. But it does seem to me to demonstrate the intricacy both of writing and what we are as human beings. There’s a complexity to us, my friends, which speaks to me more of us being made in the Master’s image than being the product of blind chance over however many million years you want.

6 Responses to “Two ways of writing a book”

  1. Boaz says:

    An excellent post, and one that (hopefully) every good author would agree with in principle. Umberto Eco uses a similar technique for The Name of the Rose, choosing a setting and certain premises, and seeing how everything works out from there.

    On a smaller scale, it’s like the related processes of designing a house as an architect would and doing the interior decorating. The decorations always have to fit into the framework of the house, and sometimes if you want a specific decoration, you make sure that the house is built to accomodate.

    I eagerly await news that the Seventh Ship books will get off the ground. Would fan mail to you or Tyndale help things?

  2. Chris says:

    Thanks Boaz,

    I am a bit cautious about too much pressure on the Seventh Ship just yet as I have little to show for it just yet. And I’m hoping that with the Infinite Day coming out my stock will be higher.

    But if any publisher or agent is reading this and wants to talk, then feel free to get in touch.


  3. Jonathan says:

    While I love the idea of creating my own world, so far, I have usually just imagine things based on the real world. I have a hard time coming up with a world that is different enough from our world to be different, yet similar enough for people to understand it.

    On a side note, The Silmarillion is a very good book. I personally prefer the first half, dealing with the creation of the world and the time of the elves. The second half, about men and dwarves is less interesting to me. I think what the majority of people don’t like, whether consciously, or unconsciously, is that there are sooooo many names and places mentioned in a short time, that you lose track of what is happening to whom. But don’t diss Tolkien, seriously. He had quite an imagination, far above mine, that much is certain. He literally wrote a history of MiddleEarth, and for the most part, it is believable.

  4. Christopher Hopper says:

    Hey’a Mr. Walley,

    I’m one of those visiting CSFF Blog Tour members and I’m so excited that we’re featuring your work this month. I just posted about you on my site and hope to generate some interest in your books (and resulting traffic to your sites). It’s what we do best at CSFF!

    I’m sure my readers would love a comment from you, too, if you have the time.

    On a personal note, I want to tell you that it’s my day off and all I can think about is getting back to your book! I’m sitting here with my wife, typing this out while she’s doing some accounting, and I have this relentless urge to go see how Merral and Vero are doing! It’s not often I get this amped about a series–seriously. Really enjoying your work and your liberty to explore the theological aspects of the future.

    And as an aside, and aware that you’re of a Baptist tradition, I find it interesting that, regardless of Christianity’s Armenian or Calvinist leanings theologically speaking, your suppositions are much more in line with a literal Hebrew representation of scripture with regard to the future. Often we “can’t wait to get to heaven,” when traditional views of God’s Kingdom point to the Earth as an inheritance–of paradise past AND future. This gives much more credence to a prolonged habitation of the Earth and the development of all of God’s Creation. I just thought it was worth pointing out that, if there are critics of your work, you would find support from those who understand the established Hebraic view of scripture. I’m sure you never meant to get involved in a debate with your writings (as neither did I), but rather to utilize the powerful tool of the parable; yet we find ourselves in a highly critical society. I, therefore, felt like presenting a different point of view for those critical of any “theological errors” they feel you may have developed. (Granted, I’m a few years late in reading your work so I may be redundant in my assertions; if so, please pardon the repetition).

    Well done! You have at least one new fan!


  5. Terry says:


    I echo Boaz’s comment regarding his anticipation of the new series. On one hand, I hope you are able to write it at a blazing pace, so that we, your fans, don’t have to wait too long between The Infinite Day and the first Seventh Ship book. On the other hand, of course, I hope you take time to both meet your own standards, and keep your pace of life at a manageable level. May God bless you with that.

    I was excited to read of your work on the Seventh Ship background. One of the things that I valued from the first in Tolkien’s work was the depth of background for Middle Earth. It’s hard to imagine the sheer hard work involved in creating that kind of history. And you’re right – The Silmarillion is not for the faint of heart.

    And blessings, too, on the other side of the creative process. Do you feel that “clips” are the result of thought and the background you are doing, or perhaps more divinely inspired? Or both? I pray that God will boost your imagination, and enable you to experience a new level of creativity in your new series. I’m looking forward also to seeing what aspects of truth you weave into this tale.

    Take care,


  6. Kait says:

    I wish you much luck in your new world-creating endeavors. You’ve done such a lovely job with Farholme and the Assembly, that I will be interested to see what your next project will be like.

    (I’m another one of the many Blog Tour participants looking at The Shadow and Night)

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