The Clarendon House Master Author Programme Part Four: Different Environments

Works of fiction exist in great variety in various environments and for very good reasons. Different works take different things out of the native imagination, and put different things back. Poetry, for example, operates close to the morpheme/phoneme level and thus can often fix its own meaning swiftly and directly. But you can wipe poetry out for its potential audiences by applying superficial or unappealing interpretations. It is not that the poetry does not respond to interpretation, but rather that rational description can act to unravel a poem's primal power and can smother it out. Poetry, correctly handled, on the other hand, can enrich the fictive environment a thousandfold.

The basis of all writing is, of course, the imagination. But the imagination that writers have to draw their subsistence from begins with the raw, pre- morpheme/phoneme level of perception first grasped as a baby. That covers, fortunately for writers, much of the material they need in order to retain a reality with readers, who have grown up similarly as human beings and have these primal instincts in common. Some of this raw material is derived from the most fundamental perceptions; some has been carried down through the generations; some has migrated there by cultural transmission; and some dragged into place by hard experience. But however this basic stuff got to where it is now, it is continually and microscopically changed in interactions with the units of meaning that are assigned to it: the hardest raw concepts in the world will be ground down and eroded in time as they come into contact with existing morphemes and phonemes.

In other words (literally), as soon as primal concepts are assigned words, they are altered. What we think of as ‘love’, for example, is at first an unassigned emotion, a raw instinct, a sensation or series of sensations; as soon as we can call it ‘love’ it becomes associated with a vast array of other things that are connected with that label.

For writers of fiction, this may all seem abstract and far removed from storytelling, but in fact nothing is further from the truth: storytelling begins with the raw, the wordless, the primal, and it is the power of the master author which gives it shape, sound and meaning.