On trying to explain what’s in your head

I’m a writer; I should be good at describing things! But I’ve had two frustrating situations recently, trying to explain what’s in my head to other people.

The first was trying to come up with some ideas for a cover. I want to use the Floating Islands for the cover of Empty Skies (book 5), but trying to explain the image that I have in my mind to someone else…I can use bits of book descriptions and some images with almost-right ideas, but…ugh. I have quite a clear idea of the Islands, too, which makes it harder. I ended up sending everything I could think of and hoping that it didn’t muddle the situation too much!


And the second one was my editor, asking how the Fliyers and Gliders worked. Somewhere along the line, I’ve just absorbed aeronautical theory (I blame my father) but I’ve never gone into a lot of detail in the books about how the planes work. Most of that is entirely deliberate; if I did, I’d get it wrong! I’d rather be vague and let the reader imagine it – much as I do with most of the rest of my world.

But to someone with a practical mindset and access to the author, that must be the most frustrating thing in the world. Add into that my using the wrong analogies (jet engine =/= propellor), not having any images that fitted the designs, and having to answer “I don’t know” and “by magic!!” to a lot of questions, and you’ve got an hour-long conversation that took three of us turning the ideas around before they made enough sense.

I just…don’t need to know a lot of it. I’m a character writer; if Toru builds a plane, as long as it has wings and vaguely sounds like something the Wright Brothers made, then it’s close enough to reality to work. The fact it flies with magic doesn’t mean I can throw aeronautical principles out the window – or at least, not with the magic system I have, which links magic expenditure to rate of survival – but it does mean no-one can pick too much fault. And I use the same principle with most of my writing; until I need to know how it works, I simply assume it does work.

But trying to explain what’s in my head is sometimes really hard work…

The wonderful thing about fantasy is that you can write anything you can imagine. The frustrating thing about fantasy is that you can write anything you can imagine…as long as it sounds plausible.