Ah fiction. It has so much truth to tell…
They were running hand in hand, and the Queen went so fast that it was all Alice could do to keep up with her: and still the Queen kept crying “Faster! Faster!”… The most curious part of the thing was, that … however fast they went, they never seemed to pass anything…. “In our country,” said Alice, … “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”
Funny, I was rooting for Alice. Not to pass anything, but to pass any one, because that is where I run. Not to get to somewhere, but to get ahead of someone. Who has the patience to fall in behind that slow car in the slow lane when there are so many places I need to get?
Alas, what if I set that vehicle on cruise control at the speed limit and thought no more about it? No worries about the police vehicle parked on the median. No concern about the motorist who stomps on the gas to power by me. No angst about the destination I will arrive at in measured time.
Imagine the worlds I might create with that clean sheet of brain space released on its own recognizance, free to travel wherever it pleased, all the while headed in the right direction?
Structure is such an interesting thing. Rules, authority, discipline…we rail against is all. Leave us alone! Give us our freedom. Let me do what I want! You’re not the boss of me.
Yet, I look back at the times of real growth for me, times that propelled me toward who I am today, times that were real and tough and took courage. It was there that I sought structure. What do I do here? I have all this bubbling inside me. How do I make sense of it? express it? communicate it?
There I turned to people who did well at what I was trying to do. I asked, what’s your secret? And they didn’t share a secret, but a process or structure they had developed based on years of effort and experience. They helped me put things in their proper order, so I could see the big finish I was building toward. Not as a dream far off in the distance but as a place with stepping stones that would get me there.
The stepping stones were structure, meant to be negotiated one by one. Perhaps that’s why I chose the gravatar I did for the Kinesthetic Christian. Stepping stones across a small creek. Small round pillars showing me the way.
How often I’ve looked with longing across a raging river to the far bank, so lush and green and inviting, and dived right in. I’m a good swimmer after all. I can ford these waves, plow through the miles, endure the frigid water. No problem. I’m strong. I’ve got resources.
But for these successful people – effective, knowledgeable and consistently productive – it wasn’t just about the resources. In fact, just plowing through would have been disastrous. No, they had a method. And they were patient and generous enough to share it with me.
Their way couldn’t be my way, exactly. But their method, their stepping stones, could. These people who looked like they just waved a magic wand and up rose a miracle, actually took things step by step. Just as I needed to. But I was a long way off.
I look back today on the first run of my story. How naive and unguided I was to think it would work to take the reader by the hand and say, “Okay, in chapter one I’m going to teach you this.” “Now in chapter two I’m going to teach you this.”
Yet, my mentors accepted my naivete without chastisement and ushered me behind the magic curtain. There lurks the mess that proves too much for many, perhaps most. But the one meant to create has no choice. The creative is compelled to wade in and impart order and, in doing so, create something so dazzling that no trace of the design process may remain. The first strokes are brushed over. The outlines removed. The sketches tossed. All that is evident is the product – the story, the painting, the outcome – and it is gripping.
These masters of their craft have our allegiance. We’ll follow them anywhere, trust them with everything, even though we have no idea where they’re taking us. Because their track record is impeccable. The process, applied even perhaps in new and different projects, works every time.
I can imagine God working just this way. Laying down the structure and then orchestrating the details so beautifully that no trace remains. We live in the details, but the structure assures we will get to the destination. By this, we’re completely free to step from stone to stone. When we look back, it will look like a life lived out. A story told. Just as it should have been.
It amazes me that I can dive into fiction using the same structured approach I learned writing non-fiction. At least with non-fiction, readers know you’re stating a truth. In fiction, good fiction, only the story line shows; the truth is hidden. Perhaps fiction is the highest form of deception and the most complete version of truth.
Giving thanks today to Tom and Mary Lou for their guidance and belief in me and in something beyond me.
Some UVA scientists have “discovered” something: “the human brain is wired to connect with others so strongly that we experience what they experience as if it’s happening to us.”
Really? People who read books discovered this eons ago. We see what the protagonist sees, hear what she hears, feel what she feels. It’s the magic of story, to draw us in. It’s just that recently brain scan technology has allowed us to confirm what our bodies already knew. Not only is our imagination right in there but so is the rest of us. The sensation is indistinguishable from what we’d feel if it were happening directly to us. Except it’s safer. We can extract ourselves at any time or scan through the “tough to read” parts. If we’re reading.
But what if we’re writing? Then, we can’t skip anything. We must experience every detail. Every offense. Every degradation. Every searing pain. So we can translate it into words that are authentic. Words that make our readers feel what the protagonist feels. What we are feeling. This is a dangerous place, this place of ‘taking on.’ We don’t jump in lightly, and there is not an escape hatch. Reader, it may be imaginary to you, but it is real to us.
Why in the world would anybody do this?
- to get the pain on the inside out
- to invite others into the miraculous that only they know
- to share this inner space
- to complete a recurring nightmare so it will go away
- to strike out against someone who has hurt them
All possibilities, and at times, my possibilities. But not for today’s me. I write to understand and to embrace the feeling. I would like the feeling to be a happy one, but I don’t know until I get in there. And even with the happy ending there is always struggle and angst. There must be, in order for the happy to be real. Because “real” always contains both. Contrast is what defines.
I’m a sensitive sort. Always have been. I used to get teased by my brother who called me “cry baby” because I was, at the smallest slight, a bawler. Still am. Tear up at movies, stories, poems, even commercials. It’s something about how I am wired. Why in the world would God make my defensive shields so thin and my boundary walls so low? Everything gets in!
Perhaps so He could get in and help fend off the attack? Maybe that’s part of it: easy God-access. But, from His command post He could strengthen the shields and raise the walls; He hasn’t. I am regularly on the forefront of a hard conversation. I am intentionally on a prayer list where I read about pain and sorrow, and only when I feel it, can I pray for it. I am called into action where kids are hurting and families are struggling. All of it visceral. Painful, but not hopeless. It’s just their story. An on-going telling, that needs some shaping to move it along.
Perhaps the ‘cry baby’ is by God’s design. Am I meant to take in the hurt and work it into story? Into language and image where people can dabble, one chapter at a time from a safe distance? So they can see themselves without being themselves.
Oh, believe me, my instincts would rather I shout them down and tell them what’s good for them. The story telling is God’s idea. Maybe that’s why the story has an arc, an arching plan, in rainbow colors. Brilliant, up close, but even more beautiful when you step back and look from a distance. I don’t see the whole thing, but color commentary…that’s inviting.