L.A. Times: One of the things I like about your work is a real delight in how words function, how they look on a page, how they sound. You said Samsung is a better word than sony. Why?
David Mitchell: It ends on a hard g, Samsunggg. That’s great. Sony – don’t know what I was thinking of, really. Y is about the weakest letter of all. Y can’t make up its mind if it’s a vowel or a consonant, can it?
You’ve highlighted something really at the heart of writing, I think. It’s all about decisions – you make a thousand decisions, at different levels. Structural ones, those are more macro decisions about plot, character, cliché avoidance, better still, cliché inversion, or cliché implosion. They’re wonderful. Also, micro decisions – about where the comma goes, words. You must have noticed sometimes, you know when to use maybe and when to use perhaps. There’s no way on earth you could codify that rule or how you know, but you know…
It sounds pretentious to say, but even though it sounds pretentious, I believe it. I think words operate like musical notes that the eyeball hears. That is at the root of why writers take these micro decisions about maybe and perhaps, which after all mean the same thing…. I think it’s because of this: You get to know the tastes or musical tastes of words themselves, and this informs your choice, whether you use them or not.