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Worlds from Words: Theories of World-building as Creative Writing Toolbox

Scott, Jeremy (2016) Worlds from Words: Theories of World-building as Creative Writing Toolbox. In: Gavins, Joanna and Lahey, Ernestine, eds. World Building: Discourse in the Mind. Advances in Stylistics . Bloomsbury, London. ISBN 978-1-4725-8655-1. (KAR id:55787)


This chapter sits on the critical-creative boundary and draws upon aspects of the field of cognitive poetics to explore what happens when readers read, and asks how an understanding of these processes can benefit the creative writer. The work is pioneering in that it considers the implications of cognitive poetic approaches to the ‘mechanics’ of prose fiction explicitly in terms of creative practice rather than from the perspective of the stylistician or literary critic. The central (and simple) proposal is this: there is a remarkable facility in the mind of the reader which enables her or him to be transported to fictional worlds which may or may not bear relation to his or her ‘actual world’, for example to modern Bangkok, ancient Greece, Victorian London, the mountains of Tolkien’s Middle Earth or the surface of Mars. Traditionally referred to as a process of ‘suspension of disbelief’, this remarkable facility is something which creative writers should understand thoroughly and aim to exploit – and, crucially, should also be wary of disrupting unnecessarily (or, at least, be aware of what happens when it is disrupted). It is in providing a principled and rigorous account of the way readers read that cognitive poetics has much to offer the writer. Indeed, the paper will argue that writing and reading, rather than being separate activities, should be seen as interrelated positions along a cline.

Using terminology drawn from narratology, cognitive linguistics, Text-World Theory and Possible Worlds Theory, the chapter explores how writers build and manipulate worlds and, second, how an understanding of this theoretical infrastructure can invigorate creative practice. The various methodological issues to be discussed include overwriting, de-familiarisation, effective description (through creative exploitation of schema), ‘trusting’ the reader and the use of narrative voices. In short, it will be proposed that an understanding of cognitive poetics cans give the creative writer a sophisticated and nuanced appreciation of the ways in which language creates and builds imaginary worlds that exist at different ‘levels’ and in different relationships to one another.

Item Type: Book section
Uncontrolled keywords: narratology, creative writing, cognitive poetics, foregrounding, theory as practice
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN80 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
Depositing User: Jeremy Scott
Date Deposited: 03 Jun 2016 10:12 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2022 18:52 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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