Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Guest Author Roz Morris: This is Not Real. But it’s True. Logic, Emotional Truth and Inspiration in Stories
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?