Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Imaginal

,I have never used the imagery of a butterfly’s metamorphosis in my fiction. (I did use it in my first book, a non-fiction, and have regretted it ever since.) The reasons are many. First, it is overused. Secondly, butterflies in general have been co-opted as a transgender symbol, and – that’s not me. Thirdly, for all the emphasis on and descriptions of transformation in the Bible,

the butterfly is never mentioned there. There are the death of seeds and fragile clay pots and living sacrifices, but nary a butterfly.

But recently I learned something very interesting about the metamorphosis of a butterfly. I guess I never thought about the actual mechanics of it; that is, what goes on inside the chrysalis. I guess I thought the ensconsed worm began to sprout appendages and wings.

The fact is that the caterpillar disintegrates completely before the transformation can start.

In the words of poet Carol Lynn Pearson:

When the caterpillar within the chrysalis has liquefied, special cells – called “imaginal cells” – begin an amazing process. They cluster together in small islands, communicate with each other, and coordinate the activity that will create the adult butterfly. . .

Art Prints

Liquify. That can’t feel right. It must feel like destruction.

Imaginal cells. The very word speaks of visualizing something, of reifying what is formless, of the power of representations that precede and form fact, as surely as God’s own words “Let there be light” preceded and formed the light itself.

Communicate with each other – out of this ooze of destruction comes language.

You understand what I am saying, do you not?

You write Christian fiction and you perceive that there are others that want this kind of personal destruction, this reduction to raw materials so that you can be something better, write something higher. Inside you, just as deep calls to deep, you are filled with the imaginal cells that can organize within you.

And on another level, you yourself are an imaginal cell as you communicate with others, yearning across this primordial vastness of synapses and cyberspace. You know, without saying it, the truth of the Epistle to the Hebrews: that we can only be made complete with others.

This, then, is the ooze of the transformation of Christian fiction. I am convinced of it.


Amy K. Sorrells said...

Wow. I know parts of me have liquefied as I've been writing this novel. I can only pray God mixes up my words enough to touch and change lives for the better somday. Thanks for this beautiful post! (And for being willing to--gasp--revisit an old cliche!) :)

Wendy Paine Miller said...


I feel like God liquifies me a little more each day. I become less so He is more and whenever I puff up my own wormy self, I end up only disintegrating.

Thanks for these thoughts today. (And for Amy's tweet. I almost didn't see you guys today.)
~ Wendy

Latayne C Scott said...

Amy, thanks for tweeting about this! I really believe this post can be of great encouragement to artists and writers, so if anyone else can FB or tweet about it, I'd appreciate it. (I don't normally ask for this as you know.)

It's comforting to me to know that Amy and Wendy have felt the pain and the hope of being liquified. Thank you for your comments!

Anonymous said...

As I've become more and more involved in writing I've changed. Something about writing makes me feel closer to God. I never would have called it "liquefied" before. But that does seem to be a great way to describe it.

Megan Sayer said...

Wow Latayne, that's really profound.

Here's something I've learned this year: when you give up a dream to God you really, really have to give it up. Only when a seed falls to the ground AND DIES is it able to produce a harvest. Liquifying is such an potent illustration of that.

Here's the other thing I've learned this year, both in life and in writing: Accept that there's a plan and a future just as surely as there's a process that needs to be gone through. And never, EVER open your eyes in that chrysalis, because it's terrifying. Just keep going.

Anonymous said...

Latayne, what a great post. I'm going to use it when I speak to a women's group at my daughter's church in a few weeks.

Megan, what words of wisdom. Feeling very liquified -- and very blind. But I keep going.

Marcia said...

LaTayne, thanks for your “butterflyfic” analogies.

Vivid, pointed writing... as usual.

The liquidation process brings to mind Captain Kirk saying, “Beam me up, Scottie,” in Star Trek.

Also, there was that incident a couple thousand years ago when Jesus, in His resurrected body, stood suddenly before the disciples in the locked room. Will our new, resurrected bodies (which we're told will be like His) consist of reconfigurable liquid?

Anyway, I'm just indulging in a moment of unfettered (liquid?), imagination. Maybe missing the gravity of the point you were trying to make.

But I can identify with liquid. It's always changing, always formless, always in a state of flux. Like my 35-year old perpetually-unfinished novel. I can't figure out if I'm swimming in it, drowning, or just trying to make it to the shore.

I had to laugh when I was reading Randy Ingermanson's blog the other day. He was writing to a woman who said she'd been struggling to get her novel done for two whole years.


The poor baby.

Permit me a moment to digress in the direction of Patti's “kvetching” blog last week. I'm making the leap via “liquid=formlessness=writing by the seat of your pants”. (Is such a leap allowed? Sorry if I'm breaking the rules.)

Her blog caused me to wonder if my nickname should be Q.O.P. (Queen Of the Pantsers.) Using my intuition to “get it right” hasn't worked, because it never “feels” right. So I rewrite it again, endlessly flying about on the seat of my pants. I'd say I've probably re-written my W.I.P. at least a dozen times. Good thing I enjoy the process and am passionate about what's inside me. But I'm always liquid, never arriving at a pleasing form. Over the years, one novel has morphed into another, and then another, and then yet another.

Well, I'm about to try something different. I've been convinced by Larry Brooks in Story Engineering that there's a certain structure all successful novels possess, whether the novel was plotted beforehand or ground out the long, painful, organic way, using boatloads (years?) of intuition.

He points out that if God can work within a certain framework to make a human, why can't writers work within a certain framework to write a novel?

I've bought the concept. After all, every human has more or less the same features, including an oval-shaped head with hair on top of it, two eyes, hair, a nose, mouth, two ears, two arms and two legs sticking out of a single torso, etc. --yet what a vast amount of difference there is between us all.

Is it possible that some writers, like myself, think they can make up their own structure-- create an octopus--and get it published?

So... I'm getting organized. Plotting the way all you “professional novelists” do without exception, whether you're aware of it or not. I've read a lot of writing books, but I agree with Randy Ingermanson that this one's advice is really freeing, like nothing I've tried before.

I'm hoping this will be good-bye jello, hello wings, hello sky. What have I got to lose?

More time, maybe?

Latayne C Scott said...

Susie and Megan, I liked how both of you used the passive tense to describe what happened to you. It's true that we have very little volition in most of our metamorphoses.

Sharon, you are welcome. Sent with love.

Marcia, I loved "tracking" you on your conclusions. Bless you in your efforts.

Megan Sayer said...

Marcia I so hear you! Thankfully my journey of discovery has taken a lot less than 35 years. I've also discovered Randy Ingermanson and Larry Brooks in the last 12 months, and they've been so incredibly helpful! Yay for the internet!!!

The other person/blog that's helped me enormously with story structure is Alexandra Sokoloff She's compiled her blogs into a $2.99 ebook called Screenwriting Tips for Authors, and she explains how many of the structural devices in modern storytelling come from old movies where they needed to physically change the reel every quarter, so they wrote a "cliffhanger" scene in to make sure the audience came back after the intermission. Much of it translates to books to ensure people keep reading.

The coolest thing about it all though is that you can follow the structural directives yet allow your plot to take off in all kinds of tangents - and it still works. Have you seen the movie "Inception" with Leonardo diCaprio? If you like plots that throw themselves around with wild abandon you'll probably be awe-struck by its beauty - I was. Cool thing though is it still manages to play by all the rules of storytelling structure - it even uses the dialogue to TELL you that it's doing it! It inspires me no end.

Anonymous said...

Latayne, there are times when I feel that my writing is other-than-me. It's one of the only areas in my life where I am truly confident. But it's not ego. Do you know what I'm saying?

Latayne C Scott said...

Megan, I need to see Inception. My son (who loves Memento) said I would love it.

Susie, when I wrote my first (completed) novel, I agonized over almost every word. Only in about three small sections did I "let go" and just write. Now in my next three novels that "not me" feeling is more prominent. They were much easier to write and I think better-written.

But they're also as-yet unpublished. . .

Rosslyn Elliott said...

Latayne, it has been too long since we got together!

I love this post--I had no idea about that liquifying process, even though my daughter and I "grew" a butterfly two years ago.

Latayne C Scott said...

Rosslyn! You're right, it has been too long!

Novelmatters readers, Rosslyn is the author of the fabulous new book, Fairer than Morning (A Saddler's Legacy Novel) published by Thomas Nelson.

So good to hear from you!

Henrietta Frankensee said...

How to respond to this profound post? Isn't it amazing how God uses the same process to such varied results? How vital is communication! Imagination! I praise God He gave me both and trust the end product to Him.
May I say how reassuring it is to hear others talk of the 'not me' factor? His Spirit is pouring out on so many sons and daughters!

Latayne C Scott said...

Henrietta, I was recently struck by the knowledge that in Acts 2, the quote from Joel mentions TWICE that women would be the recipients of the Holy Spirit. Amen and amen, even in the presence of of our beloved men readers.