Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Mind Warp of Writing and Weather

My dog, Belle, coming in from the snow
Last week marked the first day of Spring—but try telling that to the foot of snow that fell here in Eastern Pennsylvania! Considering that I’m currently working on a novel that’s set in the sweltering heat of a Louisiana summer, it takes more than a little imagination to write a story set there while there’s a veritable blizzard going on just outside the window here. But it can be done, through sheer force of will, a couple of tricks, and lots of imagination.

The Fictive Dream

When reading, have you ever been so transported into a story that you’re a little startled when you come back out of it again? For just a brief second, you’re actually surprised to realize that the heroine isn’t real and right there with you, the setting doesn’t exist, and you’re not in peril or in trouble or in the midst of exchanging witty banter with someone. Instead, you’re simply…you, you’re probably in your bed, and you need to get on to sleep now or you’ll never wake up in the morning!

That trance-like state from which you’ve emerged is what’s called the “fictive dream,” and it’s a wonderful thing, for sure. It’s what makes reading so magical.

It’s also what makes writing so possible, because for an author to transport you to a whole other place, she first has to transport herself there—and then build it up, make it work, and pave the way for others to get there as well. 

I like this quote about achieving the fictive dream, from John Gardner in The Art of Fiction:

"This and nothing else is the desperately sought and tragically fragile writer's process: in his imagination, he sees made-up people doing things—sees them clearly—and in the act of wondering what they will do next he sees what they will do next, and all this he writes down in the best, most accurate words he can find..."

When It Works

Once you get the hang of it, achieving the fictive dream as a writer is usually not all that hard to do. It just takes a quiet and comfortable space, some deep breathing, and a little mind play. As Gardner says, “…when the dream flags [the author] can reread what he’s written and find the dream starting up again.”

That’s how it works for me. When I settle down to get started for the day, I’ll usually pause and reflect on my story and characters, then I’ll just back up a few pages and start reading, to get into the flow.

After that, I’m off again, far away in some distant land or time, somehow actually feeling that splintery wood under my bare feet, tasting that delicious bite of peach cobbler, or smelling that gently blowing grass in that meadow as I write. 

When It Doesn’t Work

Sometimes, however, it’s not that simple. For some reason, it occasionally takes a far greater effort just to get back in the flow. I wouldn’t exactly call it writer’s block, it’s more like a sensory deficit, where your mind is willing to churn along with the story, but your imagination for some reason refuses to join in.

This can happen thanks to a variety of issues, such as personal matters that are tugging at your mind, some sort of physical pain that keeps bringing you back to reality, or even just constant interruptions by the world around you. Sometimes it's as simple as a bad night’s sleep, which can wreak havoc with a writer’s ability to enter the fictive dream the next day.

For me personally, the biggest barrier I face is weather—or seasons, rather, as in when it’s summer in one world but winter in the other. This can be so confusing to my psyche, in fact, that I have to go to all sorts of lengths to overcome my actual situation and fully immerse in my imagination.

Here’s a short video I made last week when it was snowing, just to elaborate a bit on this phenomenon…

Sensing the Problem

As you can imagine, my solution to this issue involves tricking my senses. For example, if I’m writing about summer in the midst of winter, I may do one or all of the following…

• Put on some music that evokes the fictional location, such as steel drums and reggae for the Caribbean or Zydeco for Louisiana.

• Make myself a location-related snack—such as a pineapple-mango smoothie or some boiled peanuts and an RC cola—to nibble on as I work.

• Surround myself with photos of the location. 

Once I’ve done all of the above, I just try to relax and let my senses lead the way. I may go back a little further than usual with my reading, perhaps by a whole chapter or two, and then get started. Usually by the time I reach the end of the words I’ve written thus far, my fingers are ready to fly. I’m back in that magical place in my brain, the one where the real world goes away and I'm moving around in a reality all my own.

Hopefully, by achieving the writer's fictive dream on my end, I'm able to send you into the reader's fictive dream on your end. That's always the goal, anyway, to send you to  a place in your mind that actually feels more real than the world around you.

Happy reading!

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