How Do You Keep it All in Your Head?

In my writers’ group recently, I read aloud a chapter opener that sets up scene on another world: the landscapes, the protagonist’s impression of them and his impression of what was to come for those landscapes. Afterward, a non-speculative fiction listener asked, “how do you keep track of all these landscapes, descriptions and details? Do you have maps, lists, etc.?”

…Ooh, that’s a toughie. I never really thought about it, and I stumbled through the answer I gave her. But if I really have to think about it, here it is: Like many people with creative minds, I just do it. I don’t truly catalogue the work in any way, though there is some degree of recording. Yes, I have maps and written descriptions lying around, but most of the etched and scribbled details after having written and redrafted an entire novel are in my head. I spent a few years building my world, mostly before I even began writing. So by now, after a long time envisioning things, writing them and re-writing (redrafting) them, I know the details of my world, physical and social inside and out. All my previous guides and visual aids aren’t nearly as important now as they were earlier, because I’ve developed the familiarity to plug my characters, and myself oddly into the world I’ve created. That will sound bizarre to anyone outside of the speculative fiction milieu, but it’s quite natural to me, and I can assuredly say that most sci-fi/fantasy enthusiasts would understand.

But I suppose to someone hearing (or reading) it all for the first time, it’s a lot of information to process and therefore, they assume that it’s the same for me—that I too see it as a lot of information to track and thus must track it. And I’m certain this is the belief of anyone who does not have to envision a speculative fiction environment and what happens inside it. I used to say to myself how much easier it would be if I were writing romance instead of science fiction.

And it would be easier, but that’s not my passion. Speculative fiction is my passion and thus, I’m tasked with creating all that goes into it from scratch. I don’t have a modern earth society to just plug my characters into, I have to envision and then build their physical and societal surroundings. And I have enjoyed doing so with, then later without physical aides or record-keeping.

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