storytelling versus writing in fantasy

After several months of just putting words on paper, I finally have a real story.

There is a difference, you see, between just writing words and telling a story. When I write essays or blog posts, I'm writing. It's sometimes dry, occasionally (very, VERY occasionally) witty, or just a quick note or two to let folks know that I'm still here. That is writing. It is the presentation of information, nothing more.

On the other hand, in order to tell you a story, I have to feel what the characters are feeling and understand their thoughts and motivations as my own. I have to immerse myself into a world of make-believe, so that you, the reader, will become immersed with me.

One day, as I was daydreaming, I realized that one character was throwing the whole story off. She was too developed, too complete in those first scenes. The parts I had written were suitable for the last half of the book, not the first. I wanted her to awaken to magic, but I had no immediate explanation for how the magic worked. After wrestling with the issue for days, I finally trusted my instincts and deleted the old words and wrote new ones based on a few lines that kept rolling through my head.

And magically, the story started to speak to me in the way that stories do. Just that one change gave me the subtle shift that I needed to make the rest of the story live. I stopped trying to analyize how things were happening and believed in the myth of magic.

Jeff VanderMeer awakened me with these words in his excellent post on The New Surrealism:

There’s always a reason, an explanation, for anything. On some level, in these post-post times explanations are less useful to us than journeys that expand consciousness, get at psychological truths, and convert the dross of the everyday into something amazing.

Then I came across this lecture that Federico Garcia Lorca gave in Madrid in 1923* where Lorca talks about the child's wonder as spectator and creator in the story:

The child comprehends much more than we think. He is in an inaccessible poetic world, that neither rhetoric, nor imagination the procuress, nor fantasy can penetrate; a flat plain, its nerve centres exposed, of horror and keen beauty, where a snow-white horse, half nickel, half smoke, falls, suddenly injured, with a swarm of bees furiously nailed to its eyes.

Unlike us, the child possesses his creative faith intact and is still free as yet of the destructive seed of reason. He is innocent and, so wise. He understands, more deeply than us, the ineffable key to poetic substance.

Both of these passages make me realize that if I'm working too hard to find explanations for you, the reader, then I have robbed you of a wondrous journey. I have slipped from my role as storyteller and have become a writer; an author who seeks to force my understanding of the world on you. I have cheated you of the ability to expand your consciousness through your own interpretation and robbed you of your chance to let go of the "destructive seed of reason" so that you can be a participant in the story.

Fantasy is a journey into the realm of myth and magic and an even deeper journey into the subconscious; it is poetry, it is beauty, and it is terror. Fantasy cannot always be wrapped up neatly with twenty-first century logic. Nor should it be.

I am so glad I happened upon both of those posts last week. They reaffirmed to me what fantasy is and what it is about. It's not about explanations and writing; fantasy is about the story, the journey from darkness into light. It is about becoming something other than what we are, it is about seeing deeply.

*From Las nanas infantiles / On Lullabies, the lecture has been translated into English

the craft of writing--from the initial spark to the finished draft

Today, I'm over with my friend and colleague Lindsay Smith, talking about how I craft a novel from the very beginning to the finished draft.

In terms of first features, occasionally I get “what if” plot ideas, but most of the time, my story ideas begin with a character. Lucian started with a dream, Guillermo came to me as I was daydreaming one day, and there was something intriguing about both men—I knew they had stories to tell.

So once I have my character, I choose a theme. I want it to be something that I feel really strongly about because I think that makes me and the reader care about the character and his or her story. Sometimes the theme comes to me and stays consistent throughout the novel like it did with MISERERE, and sometimes I pick a theme, but the character dictates another, like what’s happening with THE GARDEN right now ... [READ MORE HERE]

And don't forget this is the LAST WEEK to place an entry of flash fiction with AWESOME prizes including the chance to win a query critique or a 25 or 50 page critique from my agent Weronika Janczuk. The contest ends JULY 15. Now who doesn't want to wow a literary agent with your prose? Rules are here.