Dropping in for some quick blots on fiction: I’m currently taking a wild stab at magical realism, putting together what I hope, if, admittedly, doubt, will be a gracefully disorienting retrospective on the way we process the universe; of how the universe processes us; will render a diorama of how bizarre and delectable, how repugnant and addictive any aspect of human experience can be; how rich and expansive the mundane can become with a little imagination, but, equally so, how obtuse and dreary the most fantastic experience can be if poorly wrought, or if overly centralized to human beings, when an entire existence (and most probably more) expands and stagnates beyond. (Can you tell I have a bit of a tension/polarity bent? Oops!) I should practice what I preach and remind all selves: be unafraid to celebrate weirdly.
My experience writing fiction is as discouraging as it is relieving. Prose, in my opinion, can push a writer into their darkest and least constructive spaces. It becomes dangerously easy to spend far too long on one element of detail and the very meta-cognition of falling into the dreaded “too close” to one’s work can easily spiral into a full-blown obsession/resentment cycle, by which we restrict forward motion and betray our purest creative inspirations. Fixating upon the fidelity of set and setting, or over-defining characters is addictive and creates a positive feedback loop of create and destroy. Don’t get me wrong: Faulkner is correct, “you must kill you darlings” but you need not kill them all, and if you’re operating based solely on an aphoristic quotation, you’ve done more than kill your darlings, you’ve killed your mind.
If you’ve felt this before, or are feeling worse now than you did when you began (graciously) reading this article, rest as easy as you can, you are not alone (I resent the phrasal, “this is not unusual” for every individual is unusual at this scale). The key here is continuing to punch out lines, word by word, continuing to describe the world, in a way you believe, by way of reader feedback and trusting instincts. It will instill the same feeling of weird wonderment you feel when you experience it, when you imagine it, and when you navigate your imagination or perceive your environment through light-show-colored glasses.
Here are some tips I’ve found useful: try to roulette through the senses, instead of rotating through. Tessellate, rather than artifice, with your words. Take the pieces of the the plain and paste them into a new framework. Take the wildest fantasy trope and shave away, scallop it out until what remains could almost be explained through everyday means. Magical realism has always been a favorite genre of mine to read, because there is detailed engagement with normalcy — a huge part of human existence, societal culture, which is often disregarded as discrete from true “experience” — but also sudden and (hopefully) well-timed eruptions of the unreal, emerging from the everyday like a silver-chained phoenix that bawls molten tears into platinum tulip-cups for the unseen sprites of mischief and romance to quaff and become drunk on. Their belches waft petrichor and char up to our noses as they attempt to trip and bond us together with their EM spectrum fibers, and all of this results in the brief moment of borderline illicit rush you feel when you match gaze with a beautiful stranger, who smiles kindly and tells you a billion wonderful things in telling you nothing at all.
Remember your kairos. Timing of release for an idea is often as important as the idea itself. Does your character start to see mocking faces in the glass reflections of storefront windows, who begin to speak to them, before or after their vengeful ex slips them some kind of something at a party? Did they straight up hallucinate at said party? It’s best if they didn’t. Trust your readers to remember smaller details, which need be drawn attention to but never kid-gloved into relevance. Maybe the slipped tab/pill caused them to see less emotion in the faces of their friends and peers, with some reminders of this experience as time passes following. Then, the emotional response of reflections become increasingly exaggerated, until, in full crescendo, they begin appearing and acting independently of their sources. See what I mean? A fantastic plot event, but one that falls just shy of explanation.
Remember who your characters want to be, know that those ideas are typically cloistered deep inside, and how humans are much more likely to contradict those behaviors than openly embody them. Remember our poetic sensibilities; Wallace Stevens’ “No ideas about the thing…” but also empower yourself to defy all rules, even the excellent ones. Think musically: adhering to the boundaries of the momentary key, outlining the tones of the current moment’s chord, will create a strong sense of cohesion and satisfaction, but it is the notes you play outside of the box, the temporal placement of those defiant choices, which make for truly expressive melodies.
If you get stuck, read more. Read everything. Read your favorite novel again, read a new novel you don’t even really like. Finish it. Read field guides, read web articles, read old print articles. If you can, read in another language. If you can’t, maybe start trying. Just read. Let it sustain you and devour you whole.
Above all else, it would seem that the best narrative comes out when you attend to your world’s organization and its higher functions/dysfunctions, waiting and waiting, weaving and weaving with a responsibility to clarity and angular form, until you can bear no more to withhold your desire to subvert existence; to make it more than it is often perceived as, but, without question, never been proven to fall short of; to make a blood pact with the universe, creating real magic by tapping veins of creativity.
Enjoyable fiction is a simultaneous letting and dialysis: frightening whether or not there is spillage — trust me, I respect the anxieties of this risky exposure — but, as I continue to read, as I continue to write, as I trudge/sprint/worm/fly/plummet/and motionlessly astral-project forward through space and time, I’ve only become increasingly convinced of one near-perfect certainty:
If you truly believe it, so will we.