This is a more “warm and fuzzy column” than some of my more technical ones. I suppose I can break with tradition now and then. Everyone needs balance.
I’ve addressed “attitude” in worlds and concepts, but rarely attitudes in authors. But there is one that I’m going to talk about and how it relates to worldbuilding.
The attitude than an author should “play god” in their worlds and stories.
Let’s just say I think it’s a bad idea.
LET THERE BE SPITE:
To put it simply, to put it bluntly, taking the attitude that you’re a god in your world is a great way to wreck your creation and your writing.
What do I mean by playing god in your world?
Deciding that the world is there to serve a need of yours.
Manipulating outcomes to satisfy how you think things should be rather than how you think they will turn out.
“Punishing” characters you don’t like.
Using stories to “make a point” even when it doesn’t fit what you’ve created.
I’m sure we’ve done this. I’m sure we’ve seen it done. It’s also a terrible thing to do to your world and to yourself as a creative person, and it’ll burn your creativity and your worlds to ash if you let it.
CONTROL AND CREATIVITY:
One of the paradoxes of creativity is that, while we think we have ideas, it seems the best ideas are ones that have us. We all know those moments where something is just so synchronized, just so right, we’re amazed at what gets done. We’re usually frustrated as well when some of those moments can’t be duplicated.
You can’t control creativity.
The problem when you play god is that you aren’t being creative with your world and your story – you’re manipulating it, altering it, controlling it for an agenda. It’s really no different than forcing your body to body to do things it cant, or trying to force a person to be something they aren’t. Like those things, it can backfire – a body breaks down, a person strikes back.
We’ve had stories disintegrate when we’ve been heavy-handed with them. We’ve tried to grasp ideas only to find them flow through our fingers like sand. Yet, ironically, people will gladly engage in large-scale manipulation of detailed imaginative creations, trying to force their will and biases on entire imaginative universes. We may understand the need for a light touch on the small scale, but miss it in the larger.
Playing god crushes what we have.
INSIDE AND OUTSIDE:
When we play god with our creations, we also make the fatal mistake of putting ourselves outside of our creations. Our creations become something to manipulate or control or to change. They’re not part of us, they’re considered separate from us.
This is a deadly thing for creativity, which works best when it can flow, like water or blood. The more we try to control it, the less it can actually be what it is. We stop dreaming and start manipulating. Control is the antitheses of creativity.
I’ve read stories where the writers play god. I can’t think of a one where the story and characters didn’t eventually disintegrate (if they even started out integration). It’s as if some kind of soul in the work was slowly running out, as if the initial charge of a battery, of the initial creative burst, was running down under the burden of the author manipulating things.
Playing god keeps us from creating new things and cultivating the old.
THE OBVIOUSNESS OF IT ALL:
Finally, playing god has one important effect.
It’s usually hideously obvious and it annoys your readers.
Except for people that may share whatever biases or fixations a writer playing god has, people usually are annoyed by stories with an obvious “authorial control.” Readers know – often consciously, sometimes intuitively, but they know.
In general, I find that they resent it.
Readers who read a story that is manipulated as opposed to imagined, feel manipulated as well. Surprise is gone, the author is in control, the author’s biases not their wild ideas have reign. Plots can be terribly obvious or sudden and pointless, as the author’s desire for control squashes real imagination.
Playing god keeps away the readers – and those it attracts may only be interested as they share your specific biases.
THE THREAT TO WORLDBUILDING:
Those of us who build worlds are in a peculiar kind of danger from “godthink.” Those using existing worlds acknowledge that they are creations of others, they can appreciate the mystery of another mind. Worldbuilders however may be so aware of their creations and their unique role in cultivating them, we may think nothing of playing god. The mystery of that made by the imagination of others isn’t the same as the mystery of what comes from our own minds.
Because our worlds are things we know the most about, we may not realize when we damage them. Others who do not know our worlds as well as us can’t catch damage in time.
We may also treat our worlds as property. This, I find, is a great flaw and a creator of “godthink,” and a danger to worldmakers. We assume our creations are property, like a hammer or a car, something to be used – and that brings in the above-mentioned problems.
We worldbuilders and universe-creators are custodians, really. We have marvelous dreams that we can grow or cultivate, like a forest, like a child. To try and force our dreams to be one shape or another negates what they are – and when you wreck a universe for the sake of playing god, you’ve made the world just a bit less interesting and yourself just a bit less of an artist.
Playing god doesn’t do anything for you or your readers. Get off the throne, put down the tablets, give the seraphim their pink slips and enjoy writing.
A German translation is in the works at Christian Spliess’s Page
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