In a comment to John Blase's article Monday, Katy said, "... there's a certain value in a novel ... and that is a window into the author's subconscious ... the reader almost gets to read the author's dreams."
That's exactly what fiction is all about -- the (hopefully) vivid imagination of the author beckoning to the reader to take a giant step over the threshold, because as readers of fiction, we aren't, or shouldn't be, observers, but participants.
When I open a novel, especially one I'm excited to read (which, sadly, isn't always the case), it becomes a three-dimensional experience. I don't stand at arm's length as with non-fiction. As Steve Grove pointed out, "A novel allows you to enter into an experience like nothing else." Rather, I do indeed step over the threshold into the author's fictional world and become a participant.
I quickly develop an affinity with one of the characters, and experience the story as he or she experiences it. And unlike in real life, in fiction there needs to be a lot to experience, particularly in the way of trials and tribulations. We want to go through the crucible with a character so that victory, when it comes, is all the more sweet. Sol Stein, in Stein on Writing, says, "... because touchy subjects arouse emotion, they are especially useful for the writer who knows that arousing the emotions of his audience is the test of his skill" (pg. 74). So don't be afraid to bring controversy to your story. Controversy is your friend, and it comes in many forms. You're bound to find what's exactly right for your characters and your audience.
That's what creates a lasting story. Consider Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Nothing but trouble at every turn. It doesn't matter that this classic was written as a children's book, it's become a part of our collective consciousness. We still quote from it nearly 150 years after it was written. Who wouldn't love to maintain that kind of influence and staying power?
While entering the dream world is entertaining for the reader, it's pure magic for the writer. I'm still amazed that when I allow my thoughts to play make-believe, I find a character waiting to play along. The latest is a 12-year-old girl whose story is unlike any I've attempted so far. But it's not a story I've imposed on her, it's her revealing her story to me, one layer at a time. I love each and every rendezvous that has deepened my knowledge of her until I now feel I know enough to put pen to paper. I don't know it all, not by a longshot, but I know enough to look forward to the discovery of the rest.
I recently had a funny conversation with my husband after seeing Dolly Parton interviewed. Perhaps one of the most prolific songwriters of our time, she made the statement that for her, "everything's a song." I said to Rick, "I so relate to what she's saying. I'm not a songwriter, but I have these people living inside me with all these stories to tell, and this one girl has shouldered her way to the forefront, saying, "Me first!" Hers isn't the story I thought I would write next, but I find I must. Does that ever happen to you?" I asked. He looked at me as if I'd grown a third eye. "No," he said, "I can't say it does." And we both had to laugh, because therein lies the difference between a writer and a non-writer. After all our years together he's become accepting of my creative quirks, but he sure doesn't understand them.
What about you? What entices you to cross the threshold into the dream world, as a reader and as a writer?