Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My Brain Went To Hawaii, And All I Got Was This Lousy Blog Post! Or:The Mental Journey in Fiction

Welcome back, faithful readers!
I should really stop offering up excuses for putting up posts so late. With the frequency of lateness lately (that was horrible, I know), I might as well just say this: expect some time between posts. I’m a busy woman as of the moment. Being single again does that to you, oddly enough. Anyway before I accidentally open that can of  hyperactive space worms, I'll just go ahead and address what I'll be talking about in this post: travel within the mind in fiction.

Pictured: The Mental Weekend Road Trip

Now the simplest way I can explain what this concept is is the run of the mill, character-learns-something-about-something plot device. You know how it goes: the main character is on top of the world, has everything, but has some fatal flaw to their personality that will lead to his or her ruin, goes through a series of events, and then either overcomes or comes to peace with that fatal flaw. Though when I say character, I don't necessarily just mean one character. The subject can be one person, two people, hell, even a whole society of people. Heck, the subject doesn't even have to be on top of the world, they could be in a rough place, they could be in search of something, they could even be dead for that matter! It really is up to you as long as you remember that a journey within the mind often results in learning something from the events on the journey. As moralistic as this type of journey is, it doesn't always have to appear preachy or dangerously close to being a cliche!

And you shall know me as Fuzzy Jesus!

Now that you already get the idea that a character can take a mental journey by learning something, let me give you another mental nugget to chew on: the character (subject) does not need to learn a damn thing!

Mmm, tasty mental nuggets!

How is this possible, you may ask? Easy, you make the reader learn something. Every action has a consequence within a series of events. If your character becomes faced with a circumstance that should change their way of thinking and doesn't learn anything about it, make the consequences appropriate for the action. The consequences speak for themselves and will affect the reader just as well as any active choice the characters make for themselves.

Pictured: Learning how to just let go!

Now I'm going to pause right now before I raise any more eyebrows. "What is the whole purpose of including a teaching aspect at all in your fiction?" you may ask. There are a number of such purposes, and you may pick and choose them based off of what you want to do with your novel. However, the most crucial aspect has little to do with learning, morals, or any other teaching cliche that would normally cause any self-respecting reader to cringe. Being conscious of every element of your story as you're writing it and how it will affect the mental journey of the character or reader presents a valuable, realistic aspect to your writing.

Novels do not have to read like a text book or a manual. Heck, what is learned within a story doesn't even have to be all that important. Sometimes your characters, plot, and setting will take on a life of their own and by presenting them realistically, by having them react to each other realistically, they may even teach you something that you never even thought was there. Think the novel as a sort of a thought experiment in that manner. Believe it or not, in working on my current novel, I had the chance to reexamine certain aspects of my own personality and some of my relationships with certain people simply because I was watching them in the forms of my characters, but as an outsider.

That's right, squirt, I don't need you and your football snatching ways anymore!

In that sense, and forgive me for rambling, the story is also different for every person who reads it. Don't believe me? Think of any time you've watched a film interpretation of one of your favorite books. Are they ever what you expect them to be? Most likely not because the director often identifies with some aspect of the work that you did not. A good example of this is Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl and how the Hollywood and BBC film versions of it differed heavily from each other (and to some readers--myself included--the source material). The Hollywood presentation focused mostly on the relationship between the sisters, the BBC version focused mostly on the personal feelings and motivations of the characters.

Why do you think English classes are so frustrating when it comes to interpreting literature? Especially when other people pick up on elements that you didn't even notice in the book? Sometimes you're not paying attention, but more than likely you simply did not identify personally with that aspect. A death in a book is going to resonate much more with someone who's lost somebody close to them than someone who has not. To get around this while reading, but more importantly while writing, the imagination is key. You must take a mental journey of your own.
Place yourself in the situation of the character, how would you feel if in that situation--and every event leading up to that situation. Now think of the character you already created, are they used to being able to fix everything in a situation they have no control over? What does an event actually do to them on a mental and emotional level? Empathy, imagination, and research are key. Read often and pay attention. The journey of the mind is not just a journey in your own mind, but also in the minds of others--real AND fictional.

Attention faithful readers! Due to much (ok, very little) coercion on Laura Fitzgerald's part, I am now on Twitter! Click here to see shorter, more frequent ramblings of mine on writing, geekery, or whatever happens to cross my mind after a whiskey sour or two!

In the meantime, happy writing!

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