In the model railroading world, as in just about any creative endeavour, you get all kinds of different people indulging in all kinds of different passions. Some modellers are obsessed with creating miniature worlds that are absolutely as precise re-creations of the real world as is humanly possible. Others tend to be more laissez-faire, and actually enjoy the creative freedom that goes along with it: they make up their own railroads instead of modelling real ones, and send them through fictional towns and mountain ranges to imaginary seas and oceans. One author in the model railroading world has called this “prototype freelancing.” It means the modeller is trying to re-create real world situations, but has assumed creative control over the process that someone modelling a real railroad doesn’t have to --- or get to --- do.
And you can do the same thing in writing. The genre is called fantasy, and I happen to like it a lot, both reading and writing it, to wit:
Reading - beyond the usual childhood fairy tales and such, I think the first serious work of fantasy I read was when I was all of 12, and it was, as anyone who knows me or has read my blog at all, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. (I sometimes joke about the obligatory Tolkien reference that has to appear in just about every post I write. Except... it’s not really a joke.)
Writing - I’ve been writing fantasy since I was 12 (strange coincidence given what I wrote above, I know), and when I ultimately progressed beyond that early doggerel into real prose, my first novel was fantasy. It’s called Gryphon’s Heir, and there’s all kinds of information about it elsewhere on this website.
In my last post, I was talking about the historical fiction genre, which is, I think, in some ways related to fantasy, except that it’s firmly grounded in real events that have taken place in this unhappy world of ours at some point in time from the Beginning to Now. (Fantasy can take place pretty much anywhen, too, but much of it focuses on the time period we might loosely call “medieval,” and there’s a reason for that, but that’s something to talk about in another post.) But fantasy... ah, fantasy is historical fiction for people who don’t want to be constrained by the shackles of our own world. At least, that’s how I like to look at it: it’s the prototype freelancing of historical fiction.
That being said, I’m not sure prototype freelancing has particularly anything to do with satisfying a God complex, although I can see how some people might view it that way (especially friends of mine, and They Know Who They Are). But as a writer, you get to decide what your world looks like, what flora and fauna and peoples inhabit it, what their characteristics and good/bad habits are. And the beauty of it is, nobody can gainsay you. For example, if I want to write (as I do) that in my world, there are two distinctive branches of the gryphon species, nobody can say, “Wait a minute. No, there aren’t.” (Gryphon majors and gryphon minors. The gryphon major is enormous, with a wingspan of about forty feet --- large enough to be ridden, although they don’t like that and generally don’t allow it. Yes, they’re sentient and can communicate verbally. The gryphon minor is much smaller --- about the size of an Irish wolfhound, which is still pretty big. And they’re sentient, too, but don’t communicate verbally, just through thoughts. At least yet. Thanks for asking.)
Some people ask me if this approach isn’t taking the lazy, easy way out: “I mean, you can just make stuff up. Any stuff,” they say. Au contraire, I return with spirit (sometimes more than necessary). In some ways, it’s actually more difficult, or at least more challenging. Because, when you have to “make stuff up,” you can’t just do it at random and arbitrarily. If it’s going to sound plausible within our human frame of reference, it has to be logically consistent within its own world. Details can’t contradict each other. Things can’t be wildly nonsensical --- unless you’re going for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, of course, and most of us aren’t doing that. (Did you know that Lewis Carroll --- which wasn’t his real name, by the way --- was a mathematician in his day job? Kind of ironic, really, given the nature of his stories.) So... there are actually all kinds of interwoven threads in the fabric of your narrative tapestry that have to be remembered and accounted for, because if even one is out of place, rest assured it will come back to bite you in the posterior --- usually at the most inconvenient moment. That was, as I recall, one of the things that impressed me most about Middle Earth: there was this entire world Tolkien had created, complete with histories, customs, languages and such (Languages! Real, functional, working languages, for crying out loud!), fitting together so seamlessly he might have been chronicling a real world instead of one made up in his imagination. Like so many others, it gripped me --- but to the point where I wanted to do it, too. I think that’s where most of us, regardless of creative endeavour, get our start: we see something inspiring, and we also want to do it. Not mimic, but use it as a springboard into something uniquely our own.
So... prototype freelancing. You might want to unlock your imagination and give it a try.
After all, remember what Jack said: “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”