Steven Erikson on writing (reflections and diffractions)

Two quotes from his latest blog where he started to describe his approach to writing.

In a general sense, I write elliptically. By that I mean I open sections with some detail I want to resonate throughout the entire section, and through the course of writing that section you can imagine me tapping that bell again and again. Until with the final few lines, I ring it one last time – sometimes hard, sometimes soft, depending on the effect I want, or feel is warranted.

While the narrative infers something linear, as in the advancement of time and a sequence of events, in fact the narrative loops back on itself again and again. And each time it returns, the timbre of that resonance has changed, sometimes subtly, sometimes fundamentally.

It sounds like playing with rays of light and mirrors (reflections, diffractions), and it also made me think about Infinite Jest. In IJ the characters couldn’t be more different between each other, yet they are all reflections of each other. Both Erikson and Wallace use the writing as way to see reality and both use heavily this game of light and mirrors. What they write is layered and interconnected, it’s up to you to find out the links and make them resonate so that they can tell something unique and true.

The same happens in the way Erikson creates his characters. I’ve read on forums how some readers consider some characters as copies of each other. So, for example, Kruppe is essentially the same character of Iskaral Pust. At a superficial level this is true. Both characters have a funny way of speaking and relying plenty on wordplay (sometimes metalinguistic wordplay! my favorite kind). They are both quirky and both used as a humorous interlude. They both act mysteriously and following an undisclosed plan. Yet seeing them as equals means failing to recognize their purpose.

At a basic level these two characters are not specular, but opposite. This is the first thing I noticed when I started to read about Iskaral Pust and why I enjoyed the way they are related in their being opposite. Kruppe is a man who’s deliberately trying to appear clumsy and harmless. He is aware of himself and his quirks are mostly a deceit in order to make an impression. What Kruppe does in the first book is trying to not be noticed and be underestimated so that he can pull threads and manipulate things in the back. He plays his part deliberately and willingly. He’s sly and only dressing himself an idiot because that’s part of his play. It’s all sleight of hand: he is in control.

Iskaral Pust has a kind of similar explicit role because he also passes as an idiot who babbles on about useless stuff. He appears as nuts, completely fool, gone. But he is INDEED a fool. He thinks he is smart and he is outsmarting everyone else, but this conceit is a false one. Iskaral Pust thinks aloud without being aware that others can listen his most secret thoughts. He is blind toward his own condition and he is definitely: not in control. In fact he is manipulated directly by Shadowthrone and it’s very hard in the text to figure out when what he says “belongs” to himself or his master.

These characters ARE related. But they aren’t related because the writer isn’t good at characterization and “repeats” himself, but because the narrative is emergent FROM that relationship. It’s the relationship between the two characters that builds “meaning” in the text and helps layering it in a meaningful way. What’s written opens on a much broader sight.

See how all this takes back to Erikson’s quotes.

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