Imagining on an Epic Scale

When imbalanced brain chemicals send me into an anxious, self-doubting spiral, my beau generally says to me something along the lines of: “You have worlds inside you.” It’s his way of reminding me, when my brain is trying to tell vicious and defeating lies, that I am creative and passionate — and perhaps more importantly, that I have the ability to communicate those worlds to others.

I think those worlds inside of me have always been the fount of my creativity. I am a natural world-builder. Show me a map, and I daydream about the stories happening inside of it. I have always imagined on an epic scale, not a domestic one. I have almost no memory of playing house as a kid, but plenty of playing the-mountain-dinosaurs-are-at-war-with-the-plains-dinosaurs-and-only-their-human-friends-can-help-them-triumph. I loved war games of all kinds, not because I’m an inherently violent person, but because given about four seconds to think about it, I would invent an epic struggle that justified any particular round of Capture the Flag. I generally cast myself and my teammates in the roles of plucky rebels, desperate to triumph over an oppressive evil invader. (Is it any wonder I latched onto Star Wars years later? I mean really). The toys from my McDonald’s kids’ meals acted out internecine intrigues worthy of Greek drama, and my Playmobil dollhouse featured regular power struggles, underhanded machinations, territory disputes, and the occasional murder. Everything had backstory reaching three generations into the past; alliances and rivalries formed tangled and ever-shifting networks. I had literally no idea how to do anything other than turn every story into a tale of Homeric proportions.

Go big or go home, y’all.

My favorite books and movies were always the ones with worlds big enough for me to fit myself into. I never needed to be Princess Leia when playing make-believe; I was that blonde officer in the background on Hoth when the Rebels learn that “the first transport is away”. She had a story, too! She fit into that magnificent, enormous universe, but rather than someone else defining her character and her life for me, I got to make it up myself. She had steadfast friends, a sadistic arch-nemesis, a tangled melodrama of a love story — and a whole galaxy for her stories to play out in.

Take that pattern, rinse and repeat over a dozen franchises, and you pretty much have the shape of my life as a child and teenager. Hell, I still do it when something catches my fancy — but now, I spend far more time building universes of my own with the hopes that other kids will want to come play there.

My parents observed the world-building nature of my creative impulses early on. More than once, my dad has pointed out that the things writing books tell you to do to build a character or a setting, I do instinctively. I never just build the scenes I need; I build everything around them. I may not ever write it all down, but for any story I’ve worked on, I have an encyclopedia of information on it in my head. Point to any country on the map of the world of Aven, and I can tell you what’s going on there. Ask me about any character, and I can give you at least a quick sketch of their appearance, family, and personal background. I don’t always even do that consciously, but if something or someone has surfaced enough to be worth putting on paper, then my imagination fills the rest in, like an app constantly running in the background of my mind. (I suspect that drain on my battery power explains some of why I’m so tired all the time. It. Never. Stops.)

This has come out in the editing process, too. My first editor had questions about the economic realities of Aven; I had answers. I hadn’t written them down before she asked me to, but I knew what they were. And, I’ve got a spreadsheet detailing the Elemental association, occupation, strength of talent, and education level of all 330 mages in Aven. I haven’t named them all. Yet. But it was important that I set that all out for myself: which Elements are most prevalent? Which are uncommon — and what does that mean, in a city of 300,000? How many mages are working in temples? How many are patrician versus plebeian? How many are children? Seriously; I worked out all of those demographics. Check the pic:

Creativity manifests in a lot of different ways. I envy those for whom it comes out artistically; I’ve always wanted to be able to draw but utterly lacked the talent. I think some forms of creativity aren’t widely appreciated as such — the creativity of science and engineering, every bit as elegant as a lilting melody. Even in writing, the creative seed varies wildly: some writers start with an image, some with a point they want to make, some with a plot element to work around, some with a phrase they can’t get out of their heads. I love the creativity of wordcrafting itself, the beauty of rhetoric, the utter intoxication of putting words together that have never before been conjoined — but my first spark of inspiration will always be the world the story lives in.

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Cass Morris lives and works in central Virginia and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin University in 2010, and she earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart.

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