Composing A Table of Contents

Composing — what is it? I imagine in many people’s mind it’s a process closely linked to music. For years it was to me. Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner — great classical composers. In more recent times John Lennon, Prince and Kate Bush can probably rightfully be referred to as great composers as well, in the modern realm of music.

“Compose” essentially means “to make by combining things, parts” etc. (Notice that I say essentially, not exclusively, since I know there are variants, but this element is at the core, and that’s my point.)

So an editor, and a collector of stories gathered between the same covers, is also a composer. Probably not something many people consider. I may be wrong, but that’s my suspicion. There’s nothing wrong with that, but to me this idea is important, the idea of composing is something I am quite aware of when trying to fit stories in an anthology. And am becoming more aware of with each new project. I don’t know how other editors do, but it certainly is an integrated part of my working process.

I actually liken this to the idea of creating a piece of music. There is basically a start, a middle and an ending — and for the piece to actually work, to move, to excite, all notes, movements etc. have to be combined in a way that creates a unified whole. Much like literature, a good story, wouldn’t you agree?

The same goes — at least for me — for creating an anthology.

Now, I am of course not saying the editor (in casu me) deserves all credit for the collection, and that the stories should only be considered as part of that whole. Some might think that’s what I mean. Not at all. The stories are of course a unified whole in themselves and the writers are the ones to be credited for everything here. What I am saying is merely that for me, when I have the stories I need for a collection of stories I start to work with these stories as if creating a greater whole; that is, in my small way I compose. I consider if there is an overarching theme — in case of e.g. Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities there obviously is — and then I start to look at how this puzzle can be solved best to create a unified whole.

All elements — that is, all the stories — are equally important, and the trick is to make it all fit in the most suitable and satisfying manner. With a beginning, a middle and an end. I have no doubt that not a single soul except me will ever see this “general puzzle” of things, but that’s OK, for I know it, and it is something that’s important to me and the way I work. (OK, after this post there may be a few other readers who see this too:-P)

I try to approach this without considering if, for instance, the opening story is written by a Big Known Name or not. (Doesn’t make much sense anyway, since books from my small press are primarily purchased by readers online and not in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, so it’s not like they’re browsing the first couple of pages, now is it?) Instead I wonder what tale seems most suitable to create just the right note for a beginning in this particular collection. That is of course depending on what comes after — and so it goes right to the end, where we need the right kind of story to fill in as a Finale. Whether a Grand Big Bang Finale or a more low-key tale of subtle darkness. Depending on — ta-daaaa — what went before and seems to be the right ending in this context.

Much ado about nothing? Perhaps, for the reader; but not for me. It’s how I do it. I can’t help it (and I don’t want to help it). I am doing it these days with Urban Cthulhu, with Dystre Danmark 2 and the third volume of the Danish hplmythos.dk anthology (still untitled).

Thank you to all the amazingly talented writers for giving me another opportunity to delve into this editorial world of weird, dark composing.

6 thoughts on “Composing A Table of Contents

  1. Det med rækkefølgen i en antologi, vil jeg give dig ret i, er helt vildt vigtigt. Der er altid en optimal måde at kombinere historierne på, og det kan give vidt forskellige bøger, alt efter hvordan novellerne præsenteres. Jeg sidder og fusker med det samme lige nu, og tænker nærmest på hver enkelt historie som del af et legeme, hvor organerne skal sidde i en ordentlig rækkefølge for at dyret kan leve og ånde.

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