That might sound like a strange title for a post about fiction.
Of course fiction isn’t real — that’s why we call it a story instead of history. On the other hand, any lover of fiction can tell you in no uncertain terms that yes, fiction is real. Sometimes it ends up more real than that other thing. Both have their place and purpose in the world, but as a creator of fiction, there is the crook upon which I will hang my hat today.
There is a still and quiet place in my mind where I go at times to think. In it I see an endless expanse of velvet sky sprinkled with low-hanging stars. It is my creative womb, where each star is its own separate world to draw close to me, to explore.
Neil Gaiman wrote that:
“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe.”
In that still and quiet place, those worlds pulse and glitter until you pull them close, and then they absorb you into themselves. Some grab hold of you and don’t let go until you help bring them out. Others hover glowing on the fringes of your periphery until you are trundling through your daily reality to find them suddenly in front of you, unmistakable and familiar.
Long before I knew of Neil Gaiman, I held a secret belief. That secret was that those worlds were real, as real as this one. They reside in that endless expanse of sky until you bring them out, or someone else does. That little secret I harbored nestled inside of me as my urge to write grew. I realized as a hungry reader that the best books to me showed me worlds I already knew, worlds that hovered at the fringes of my periphery. The characters were old friends even before I turned the first page. The story was worn into my heart like it was part of the pumping muscle itself.
Fiction moves us. It makes friends from mulched paper and ink. It whispers lessons and truth and life — and that’s why I believe that we respond to stories that resonate with what we already know.
So how does that fit into writing? I’ve never really believed that old adage and admonition to “write what you know.” Unless it secretly means “write what you make up,” we fantasy and sci-fi/speculative fiction writers tread stampedes over that rule.
Instead I like the idea of writing reality. Everyone has their worlds, everyone their low-hanging stars. Just because they’re stories and not histories does not make them less real. You find your star, you pull it close. You let it light you up from the inside out until you’re so full you’re to the point of bursting at the fingertips. You allow that burning world of energy to pour out through your fingers, and you let it tell the truth. You are a crafter, not a manufacturer. You let this world pour out onto paper because somewhere out there, someone else knows it’s there. More than one someone. If you let the right star lull you, you find a world shared by millions. It’s how Harry is a friend to all of us, how we could give tours of Hogwarts in our sleep. It’s how the first time I heard the name of Katniss Everdeen, I felt her story pluck a peripheral world in my mind.
Even if there is magic, even if it’s the future or a far-off planet, writers can tell the truth through fiction. Because while we create, we channel. And what is a channel but a connection? Connection between reader and writer, between reader and reader, and on and on and on and on.
Know your stars. Pull them close. Tell the truth.
Write reality. Reality reaps response.
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