Monday, July 13, 2009

My Life as Fiction

A few weeks ago, someone in my email writers group asked us if we could define metafiction. She had read in some publisher's guidelines that they were looking to acquire works of metafiction, which seems even stranger when you know what it is. Anyway, after ruminating on this term for awhile, I decided that the term "metafiction" could sum up my life--at least my writing life--pretty nicely.

If you google the term, you'll find all kinds of fancy, long-winded definitions, but here's my simple one. Metafiction is fiction about fiction.

For example, there's a Stephen King novel where the author's main character turns up on his doorstep. (And being a Stephen King character, proceeds to commit murder and mayhem.) And there's the recent movie with Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson, Stranger Than Fiction, in which a man starts hearing a voice narrating his life, and it turns out he's a character in Emma Thompson's novel.

I've decided that one reason I find the writing life so difficult is that I'm living a metafiction. I have this picture in my head that I've been carrying around ever since I was a child about what it means to be a novelist, and it bears no relation whatsoever to reality. It's a fiction about fiction.

This is how my mental movie goes. An idea for a story comes to me--or maybe it's a couple of characters. There's something beautiful and mystical about the experience. Maybe it comes to me in a dream, or a flash of inspiration. This story is beyond me and my paltry little experience. It gives me goosebumps just to think about it, and I'm sure it'll give you chills, too, when you're lucky enough to share it.

Step two, I'll spend hours alone but happy, translating my characters' story into words--lovely, poetic words that flow over the page like, like--well, like something beautiful and poetic. A mountain stream or something. You know.

Now comes the fun part. I share my creation with others. Like me, they're immediately pulled into the world of my story. Women fall in love with the strong, sensitive men I've created. Men are haunted by my mysterious femmes. They all want to know more--they have to know more! If I've only written the first couple of chapters, they spur me on to finish.

At some point, the second most amazing thing happens since the day the story first exploded into my mind. Totally out of the blue, someone who is reading a sample of my work not only falls in love with it, but has a cousin who's an acquisitions editor...or is an acquisitions editor herself. You get the picture. A little divine intervention and I'm on my way. Published!

After I'm published, there's not necessarily fame and fortune. But there are readers. There are friends who now share this world I've created, who want to live there with me, who love my character-children as much as I do. Again, the bond is almost mystical. Something larger than life is at work here.

If you're not laughing too hard to read, you have by now seen my problem. REALITY.

Reality is that thousands of other writers have created worlds and people that they love, too. Editors have seen them all and are jaded. If what you've come up with isn't almost bizarre, it's been done before. If it is bizarre, they don't know how to sell it and don't want it.

Most people who read your story will be far more interested in how you wrote your sentences than in those strong men and mysterious women you've invented. All that babbling brook poetry stuff? Forget about it! Show don't tell, use active voice, don't use gerunds, blah blah blah.


In my own defense, I hope you noticed that my metafiction isn't so much about me being worshiped as a great writer or making millions of dollars. That would just be a bonus.

Seriously, my dream has always been about making connections. I really do feel that my characters and stories have brought me so much joy, and I'm so fascinated by them that I long to share them. I yearn for "playmates" who will play in my garden with me.

I don't think the whole dream can be real, but some of it can. Maybe if I concentrate enough on active voice and showing not telling and all that, I really can wow an editor. Maybe. One of these days.

Or I can leave all that behind, never get published, and maybe find a like-minded group of Geeks to read my little stories and play in my Garden.

Question is, which part of the dream do you go for?


  1. I just want to be monetarily compensated for my work of entertaining people. I think. Also, I want to make a difference--a good difference--in people's lives. I hope that's possible.

  2. I love when you say "I yearn for "playmates" who will play in my garden with me." I do too!