Scrap Pile 2 – The God-Writer Metaphor

This is another piece I had originally intended for my current writing project, but which I found simply didn’t fit in the work.


Now, you may be thinking “How can anyone say writing has to make sense? Everyone knows the author is god for that world so if I don’t want to bother keeping track of what my background characters special powers, names, appearances and personalities are that’s totally, like, my choice”. Unfortunately, this idea that the god-author of a universe can do whatever they want with it comes with a fundamental flaw in the god-author metaphor: it doesn’t specify what kind of god the author or creator of a universe actually is. And when examined, it proves to not be the one you’d automatically think it is. You see, conceptually speaking, there is more than one type of god (and we are NOT getting into any actual religious debates here, okay? Whether or not I or anyone else believes in one or more deities, which I don’t, is irrelevant to the metaphor).

Most people when they think of a writer as the god of a fictional universe imagine them in a vaguely monotheistic form – a single, omniscient and omnipresent deity who is supposed to have total control and who created the entire universe (often with ease, which just goes to show how little some people know about how much effort viable writing actually takes). The idea of the author as a singular all powerful, unquestioned, creator-god is certainly tempting to the ego of those who write, but ultimately it does not gel with the common experiences reported by writers (phrases like “[character x] insisted on doing the opposite of what I wanted”, “I’ve got so many stories fighting to come out that if I don’t write my head will explode”, “the story just decided to go a different way”, “you [the readers] asked for more [blah] so…” and “my editor/beta suggested” are typical) . If the author of a work was a monotheistic omniscient and omnipresent deity, none of those things would be the typical experience of a writer.

Similarly, it might be tempting to expand the metaphor to say that the author is one of a dualistic pair of deities – the other being the editor/beta or story as it so pleases – but this is also not quite right. The story is the universe the deity creates, the editor – although a non-negotiable necessity – is not an equal creator as the author. Likewise, the author is not a deist deity; impartially creating the world and then letting it run amok as it pleases, because authors are actively involved in the path their work takes and find it to be not-unlike herding cats. So what kind of god is the author if the metaphor can work at all?

Congratulations, dear authors, you are but the head of polytheistic pantheons. The author, essentially, fills the same role as Zeus atop Mt. Olympus (although, I feel I ought to specify, Zeus was a third generation deity and did not create the universe – minor issue with the metaphor there).

The author is officially the ultimate power, as head King of the gods, but is forever struggling to deal with their shrewish and demanding Queen (editor or beta who, like Hera with Zeus, was actually – for all that she could be unreasonable – vital for keeping Zeus’ head from getting too big and to stop him from doing too many stupid things). The author is forever dreading the passing visits from and occasional wars with the Titans and Protogenoi who came before (such as Real Life [Gaea], Critics [Kronos], Publishing Houses [Rhea], Legal Issues [Tartaros], and Money [Ananke]).

It just gets worse from there, too, since as King of the Gods the author has people with their own opinions to rule over (and hope that, as Zeus did to Kronos and Kronos to Ouranos, no one of their children will overthrow them – that’s why he ate Metis and their daughter Athene came out of his head and why he married Achilles’ divine mother off to a mortal, by the way). That means having to keep a lot of people happy while keeping the world working as it should.

First come the other deities – the siblings (co-creators) and divine children of the king of the gods (characters) – and boy do they like to fight! Aphrodite is supposed to be going along plot A with Hephaestus, but instead keeps sneaking into plot B with Ares, which causes Hephaestus to go totally AWOL. Artemis shoots every plotline that gets near her, while Apollo is supposed to be off doing important things but instead chases Hermes around because he decided to fuck up a plot twist again. Demeter seems to be a perfectly compliant secondary or background character, but when Persephone’s plot goes a way she doesn’t like she starts ripping the setting to shreds (that was SUMMER by the way, not Winter – it was the fucking Mediterranean, after all). Dionysus gives everyone a case of writer’s block by insisting on being too drunk to make the plot anything other than a drunken I-give-up-party. Aphrodite and Athene fight over their prominence as characters while Hera-the-editor tries to strangle them both because she doesn’t like those characters. Meanwhile, Hebe’s whining in the background that she doesn’t get enough page-time (even though the fans love her and have invented a Fan Character – Heracles – to be with her), Athene’s whining about how Poseidon destroyed a background character (Medusa) in Athene’s (setting) temple, and Hades is hanging around in the back, refusing to do any work and snarking about how the story would probably work better if rocks fell and everyone died. Oh, and then, to top it off, the Titan Prometheus (another author of other works) decides to steal a major plot point off you and buggers off to leak the spoiler for free so that the author/Zeus can’t use it and they can take it for their book.

Then there’s the little people down the mountain. The readers. They’re always whining for something. More rains of angst so the crops will grow. Set a hydra on those people. Stop setting a hydra on those people. Pay more attention to this character. Pay more attention to that character. Don’t smite me for complaining about how you made the world even though I don’t like the way you made the oceans and the streets aren’t clean enough and I want more cows. Give us more heroes. Take away the heroes they’re making a mess. Make someone really pretty. Get rid of her: she’s too pretty. It’s little wonder that Zeus spent so much of his time as a drunken manwhore – and that Hera was always getting exasperated at him for that and chasing after the trouble he caused while doing it.

So, yes, the author is the metaphorical god of their fictional universe. But they aren’t a monotheistic, omniscient, omnipresent deity; they are but Zeus atop Mt. Olympus, fighting the urge to give up and get drunk in order to deal with all the editors, character and readers making demands of them and constantly aware that – as Zeus overthrew Kronos and Kronos overthrew Ouranos – if they fuck up too badly someone else might wrestle control of the rights away from them and take the position of King of the Gods of that fictional universe, leaving the original author exiled to Tartaros.


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