A couple of weeks ago we bought the DVD of Stardust. On the Special Features section they interviewed Neil Gaiman, the author of Stardust, the novel. At one point in the interview, they asked Neil about the flying pirate ship. Those of you who have seen the movie know what I’m talking about. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, Robert De Niro plays the hilarious but rather odd captain of a flying pirate ship that rescues the two main characters when they become trapped on a cloud.
For the movie, they wanted to pirate ship to look very real. So they actually built all but the prow of the ship. It took nearly two months and the thing was so big it filled an entire sound stage.
In the interview, they ask Neil, “What was your first feeling when you walked onto the stage and saw the ship.”
Neil’s answer is so totally perfect I wanted to share it with every author in the world. “Honestly,” he says, with this look of complete wonderment, “Terrible guilt. For me it was like one paragraph. When I wrote it, it could have been anything, I just needed a way to get my characters out of the predicament I’d put them in. And here they had fifty men building this thing for two months at a cost of what had to have been well over a million dollars. I wanted to walk up to every one of those men and take their hands and say, ‘I am so sorry.’”
Can you imagine that? How many things do we as authors throw into our books just because they are cool? I need to get my characters a long distance away in a short time so I come up with a creature called a Mist Steed. I don’t want it to look like just a big fast horse, so I give it pale golden scales, a gossamer mane, and a beak filled with sharp teeth. I need my character to see into another world, so I create a magic stained glass window that crawls down off the wall, and I call it an aptura discerna.
It reminds me of a scene I wrote in the first book I ever published, where a computer generated avatar speaks does a whole bunch of different accents and impressions. Not only do I have the avatar doing voices, but I also have in the room a Russian, an Asian, an amazed man, and a somewhat snooty woman. It wasn’t until I got my copy of the audio book that it dawned on me what a nightmare that must have been for the person who recorded the book. Fortunately he did an incredible job and got all the voices just right.
Of course most books won’t be made into movies. But what about the illustrations or covers? I’m supposed to be choosing what scenes I think would make good inside illustrations. There’s one part of me that’s going, “Definitely the part where the mimicker and the wolf battle each other. Or the part where the Summoner brings all the dead creatures back to life to fight Master Therapass.” But there’s another part of me that’s going, “Wait, Brandon is actually going to have to draw the scenes that I just imagined in my head. Maybe I should stick with the talking lock or the spitting flower.”
Fortunately Brandon is as excited to draw some of these cool things as I was to put them in the book. But even if you never have the ideas you come up with turned into illustrations, or movies, or have your dialog recorded for an audio book, the images still come to life. They take shape in your mind when you write them down, and they take shape again every time someone reads the words you wrote.
I think that’s part of the coolness being a writer. Regardless of if your work gets published or not, you can create anything with a few taps on your keyboard or a bunch of little lines and dots scrawled on a piece of paper. You dream up whatever you want, and the images begin to move and breathe as soon as someone else reads the words you wrote. Now that is real magic.
Of course I’m still glad I’m the writer and not the guy who has to actually build the thing. But you know a walking talking mountain would pretty cool.