Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Guest Author Roz Morris: This is Not Real. But it’s True. Logic, Emotional Truth and Inspiration in Stories

By Roz Morris

Today we have a little truth in our fiction, with author Roz Morris, chatting about why good fiction works with both the head and the heart. I first "met" Roz years ago on Absolute Write, and she's always there with helpful advice for her fellow writers.

Roz Morris is a bestselling ghostwriter, editor and the author of Nail Your Novel - Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, available from Amazon. Check out her website or her wonderful blog for more writing tips. You can also follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dirtywhitecandy and if you’d like to know more about her fiction, at www.twitter.com/byrozmorris. My Memories of a Future Life will be available from August 30.

Take it away Roz...

When we create stories, we spend much of our time being logical. We plot so that this step leads to that. We close the holes. We check every development is understood. We weave in back story, we present evidence, we mold our characters so that everything is done for a reason and no one behaves uncharacteristically - unless there’s good reason to. We do our research and check our facts. We pull threads, tie them together and snip off our loose ends.

This is all essential, of course. But there’s another level where stories work. Not just the head, but in the heart.

I spend a lot of time writing about writing. I love to analyze how we do what we do. But good storytelling also has that elusive something. You can’t teach it. It’s in the writer’s gut from the get-go, the first impulse that made them crave the company of the blank page. It’s the very essence of inspiration.

Some of my favorite novels take this inspirational bolt to wondrous lengths. They even seem to say to the reader, this is not quite real. But come with me and you’ll see it’s true.

Many years ago I read Iain Banks’s The Bridge. It begins with a man trapped in a crashed car on the Forth Bridge in Scotland. Then it goes into a dream-world - and this might have been the point where many readers would give up. But the world is a never-ending iteration of the Forth Bridge, where the character left the conscious world. He switches on a TV and the only program he can get shows a sick-looking guy in a bed surrounded by machines and tubes. We get it--this is where his soul has gone.

Good ghost stories are like this. They are not just about the ghost but the people being haunted. There is a need for the supernatural happening--and indeed some may be in the character’s mind. That doesn’t matter. The story needs to be told.

This is different from dream sequences. We’ve all come across books with a flimsy, indulgent slumberous fantasy that we skim over until the next ‘proper’ bit of story. This kind of story unreality is different. It gets under your skin. You feel lured to travel the path.

Here’s another of my favorites. In Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish, a man is trying to get to know his dying father. All his life, his father has told heroic and clearly untrue tales about himself--robbing banks, working in a circus. The son decides it’s time for the truth. But gradually he realizes that these tall tales are who the man really was.

What’s at the heart of these stories? Like the most chilling, profound ghost stories, it’s a need for the character to have the experience. Perhaps so they can move on.

Or perhaps it’s something that simply has to be said. Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead features a city where everyone goes where they die. It looks like any other, and people have coffee, read newspapers and fall in love. But each of them is doomed to disappear. They won’t know when, but one day they will be gone. They are only kept in the city by the people who are still alive on Earth. When the last mortal who remembers them dies, they vanish. That mysterious city holds no answers for the characters or the reader. Just questions that we’ll roll in a circle for ever.

My novel My Memories of a Future Life was inspired by people who remember other lives under hypnosis. The title popped into my head and I thought: a future life? Oh my, that breaks some rules. But someone needs to do that. Someone needs to go on that trip.

Because that’s the only way she can find the answers she needs.

What is it in your story that speaks, independently of logic, to your heart?

10 comments:

  1. In my book, my protagonist deals with past-life memories while rediscovering the supernatural world around him. I like playing with the idea of a man who has previously chosen the path of a warrior and hero, thrust back into a world he's unprepared for.

    Yes, he has been a hero, but he discovers he's also been other things. I like taking the idea of destiny and fate, and making them things a person chooses for themself, though they may not realise it.

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  2. Janice, thanks so much for having me here today! Was it really Absolute Write where we 'met'? I feel your posts have always been part of my online reading!
    @Paul - What a lovely idea, unarming your main character in such a way and then using it as a way for him to mine who he really is. In some ways, we might well be on the same page...

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  3. I think you're right.

    One of the ongoing themes of my series will be how the protagonist has to deal with the consequences not only of his actions in this life, but in those lives which he has had before.

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  4. Thank you so much for that wonderful post, Roz! It really spoke to me.

    It's funny that you mention them both in one post, but I just wrote a book about ghosts, and I am getting ready to write about a character with the ability to travel to the dream realm.

    I guess what really intrigues me about stories with ghosts, dreams, and past and future lives is the element you're talking about: the heart of the story. The character has to surrender to his subconscious, and not just use his head, but his heart, to solve his problems.

    I also love the idea about a ghost story being as much about the living as it is the dead.

    Have you seen "Secondhand Lions"? It sort of reminds me of "Big Fish". It's about a kid who's mother ditched him at his rich uncles to find their alleged treasure. While he's there, he hears these fantastic stories about one of his uncles. How he fell in love, and fought a sheik's army. The movie did an excellent job of weaving the kid's present problems with his uncle's former heroic life.

    Thanks again for the great post. I feel like I have some more clarity on these elements I am fascinated by.

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  5. Hi Roz! Wonderful post.

    My protagonist is the victim of an attempted kidnapping and then stalked, so much of the book is in her head. The reader has to feel her fear, her confusion. They have to walk in her shoes. Had a lot of fun writing it!

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  6. @Elizabeth - thanks, glad you enjoyed it! There's this magic, inspirational side of fiction that's so hard to pin down, but shouldn't be forgotten. I hadn't heard of Secondhand Lions - what a terrific title (and concept). I shall put it on our LoveFilm list.
    @Stacy - hi there! Nice to see you over here too! I bet you had fun with that book - and a fair few bad dreams too...

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  7. Hi Roz! Nice post, and so true!

    My story's heart concerns the MC's quantum connection with Nature. Rather than seeing herself as apart from Nature, time and space, and other humans, she accepts she's a part of a unseen oneness that only 'looks' disconnected--a POV distinction that sets the tone of the story and causes its plots to collide.

    If I understand you correctly, you're saying a book's heart gives it life. My wife and I love every word of your ARC copy of "My Memories of a Future Life" because it has GOBS of heart and more. We love it! Congratulations and thanks!

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  8. Hi Roz! Nice post, and so true!

    My story's heart concerns the MC's quantum connection with Nature. Rather than seeing herself as apart from Nature, time and space, and other humans, she accepts she's a part of a unseen oneness that only 'looks' disconnected--a POV distinction that sets the tone of the story and causes its plots to collide.

    If I understand you correctly, you're saying a book's heart gives it life. My wife and I love every word of your ARC copy of "My Memories of a Future Life" because it has GOBS of heart and more. We love it! Congratulations and thank you!

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  9. I love the idea of using memories in your stories. Nothing is linked to emotions more than our memories. We are our memories and our memories define our entire existence...even the ones remembered incorrectly.

    I will certainly have to get this book you sited 'The Brief History of the Dead'. I love the premise that extends this idea beyond our life on Earth. Once we are forgotten, we are gone for good.

    Thanks for the inspiring post.

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  10. @quantumfires - that's it, heart gets a story a long way (although under the waterline an awful lot of craft is needed too...) Absolutely thrilled you're having such a good time with my book and thank you for saying so here!
    @Jason - thanks, stories like this have so much food for thought (and for more gutfelt emotions too...) You'll like the Brockmeier, I'm sure. I tell everyone I can about it.

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