When I first started to write fiction I set out with the idea in mind that I would write stories that I liked to read. Of course there were a couple of obstacles in the way, technical and otherwise, but funnily enough the hardest one to figure out was something that you would have thought to be the easiest. What exactly do the stories I like have in common that makes them stories I like?
Obviously I had some notion of what it was that appealed to me, but I didn't seem to be able to put my finger on it. It didn't deter me from writing my first novel and sending it off to a publisher, but I have to admit that I still felt a faint feeling of dissatisfaction with my finished product for reasons I wasn't able to put my finger on.
Since I completed that piece I had begun work on something else that was going to be based on my own life. I had been utilizing some of that information in articles I had been writing for blog posts to help make points on various topics that interested me. This had led me into believing that I was comfortable with the idea of talking about these situations in more detail, and making them the main focus of a story.
In the past I had what I considered valid reservations about making use of the material. Primarily it was my repulsion with what I considered an overabundance of people "sharing" their life stories on television at the drop of the hat. It seemed almost impossible to tune into one or another of the daytime talks shows and not find someone milking an audience with their particular tale of woe.
Perhaps it was because of the apparent superficiality of the shows and the people hosting them. Or maybe it was the way in which the audiences were eating the stories up like emotional vampires, sucking whatever life they could out of the subjects and their stories so they could be "moved" and "inspired" by the heroic victims.
Of course those feelings of contempt were only accentuated by the whole circus surrounding James Frey and his false autobiographical book, A Million Little Pieces. That people could be so hungry for details about people's troubles that they would make a hero out of someone because he had lived a dissolute lifestyle and recovered was beyond my understanding.
It seems to have escaped their notice that thousands of people have made the same journey without feeling the need to trumpet their accomplishments to the sky like they were some sort of superhero. That it turned out to be lies made the insult to people in recovery even greater. Even scarier was that Frey had been held up as an example of how one could go about recovering without professional help.
Putting those feelings aside I also had questions about my own ability to deal with the subject matter honestly. Some wounds are still more open than others and chances are that I wouldn't want or be prepared to deal with them properly. But I also remembered how much I appreciated some of the stories that I had read of other people's real and non-sensationalized accounts of their recovery when I was beginning my own process and thought I should at least try in case I could offer the same help to someone else.
For a while all seemed to be going well but then I became dissatisfied with what I was writing. At first I thought it was because I was being too intellectual and not letting enough emotion show through, but I began to realize there was more to it than that. I would read over what I had written and while it was pretty good, I wasn't really that interested in reading it.
The story I was writing had nothing in common with any of the works I liked to read. There was something missing and I couldn't put my finger on it, in the same way that I hadn't been able to put my finger on the element of the stories I read that made them appeal to me.
Then yesterday afternoon I was just sitting thinking of nothing in particular when with a jolt I realized the obvious. The stories I really like are ones that have an element of magic in them. Not that they have wizards or magicians in them, although some of them do, but reading them is a magical experience somehow.
The author has created something that is able to carry you beyond the mundane and lift you out of reality. This has nothing to do with the subject matter of the story, but the author's ability to imbue his or her work with an element that isn't of this world. When you read their books, it is with awe and wonder.
For me it's like the feeling I get when I walk in a particularly beautiful piece of forest and the sun is shining. Solitary beams are playing among the trees while the whole seems to glow with a yellowish/greenish light. I know I'm still right here on this planet living my life, but it's also a moment out of time that allows a brief respite from whatever cares or stress that I might have.
Even the stresses and the worries of characters in books like this take on that otherworldly glow that lets us know they aren't things we need to ever worry about. While it's true that the fantasy or science fiction genre lend themselves to this better than most, I've read detective and mystery stories that are able to light up from inside just like my forest clearing.
There's no way I can see myself writing about the subjects of childhood sexual abuse and chronic pain and be able to create that sort of atmosphere. I need to become a much better writer first. I think I was trying to achieve that while I was writing my attempt at autobiographical fiction, but it just wasn't working.
Last night I began working on chapter two of the sequel to my first book and I felt much happier. There is magic there just waiting to be created and I feel far better for it.