Monday, February 25, 2013

Seeing with Eyes Unclouded

I think that's a line from The Lord of the Rings...or maybe that was 'with my waking eyes'. Pretty sure it came from the Bible. Anyway -

- I'm in the middle of reading this fantastic article in the March/April 2013 issue of Poets and Writers magazine. The author, Tony Eprile, talks about how important it is for writers to really SEE what's around them. It isn't just enough that we surround ourselves with inspiration; if we grow numb or, as Eprile says, blind to that which is around us, it does us no good. And we do have the tendency to grow blind to that which is familiar.

The idea of grounding fiction in reality -regardless of genre- by using subtle details and real-world workings has been inspiring me lately. Since I started writing I've considered myself a fantasy or speculative fiction writer. I'd much rather read about magical realms and things that go bump in the night than fictionalized headlines from the evening news. I also believe in the old adage "Write what you know".

Remember the part in Little Women when Jo March is told that very same thing? She wanted to write sensational fiction: murder, mystery and mayhem. There is, of course, nothing wrote with writing this. One can even write about it without having experienced it first hand. I have countless outlines and pages devoted to mythological lands and fantastic beasts. Sadly, I have yet to journey to Atlantis or procure a dragon of my very own. How, in both instances, can the author be said to write what they know?

By incorporating the REAL in with the UNREAL. I'll dispense with my long-winded, metaphysical discussion of "What is real?"[ If you wish to talk more about that, first read L'Engle's "A Swiftly Tilting Planet" and Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" and then we'll talk :D] What I will discuss is how we, as living, breathing, flesh and blood humans can write about things that aren't necessarily every day occurrences.

The secret lies in both SEEING the ordinary things around us as extraordinary; we need to un-cloud our vision from dismissing the robin at the feeder, the patch of weeds in the garden, or the leaf blowing across our patio. Especially when writing the fantastic, I tend to lament the fact that I lack a herd of zombie unicorns from which  to draw inspiration. But we must draw from two different wells: the one of our imagination, yes, but also of our everyday waking lives.

Regardless of what you write, you have countless experiences and hobbies, jobs, relationships, bizarre collections and old, rusty frying pans you can work with. Give your characters fantastic powers, sure, but also give them scars, quirks, that boring job you had in high school selling shoes to burned out basketball players. Have them bake, garden, collect stamps, go swing dancing twice a week with their 85 year old grandpa.

The point is, even if you main character fights vampires or sails the seas of Mars, there has to be SOMETHING that the reader can relate to. Start digging into your own experiences for that something. Also, the next time you trip over a root, don't dismiss it. Take a good long look at it. You may be able to use that experience (roots and all) in your next story!

Happy Monday,


  1. It's all in the details - the little things that make up our lives.

  2. It is a bit of a discipline to really pay attention. I think our habit is to just go about all the daily living and not really absorb the details that, you're absolutely correct, lend a voice of authenticity to our writing. Great reminder as I head into the coffee shop to meet a friend this morning.

  3. Alex is right: details make the difference.

  4. As Kurt Vonnegut said, "Every character must want something, even if it's only a glass of water."

  5. Excellent post! I absolutely agree that one needs to bring realism into fantasy as well. Otherwise the writing is too shallow.

  6. Alex: You're right! I have always admired any writer who can bring me into their world (imaginary or otherwise) through intricate details.

    Julie: So true. We tend to rush past things that are everyday and miss out on some beautiful moments. I hope you enjoyed your time with your friend! Life is always better at a coffee shop :)

    Susan: Thanks for stopping by! Yes, I'm learning to pay attention to the little things. What is that saying, God is in the details?

    Ms. Sparrow: Yes! I love that quote! Thanks for reminding me of that :)

    Misha: Thank you. Without the mundane, the fantastic can seem unbelievable. It's those recognizable details that bring the reader in and make them say, "yeah, I can believe that!"

  7. This is great, Jen!

    I find that I don't take many pictures of my home town. I see it everyday and it doesn't seem inspiring to me.

    When we go someplace new, I take tons of photos. I know that you are talking about writing but that is what came to mind to me.

    It is so good to see you on here more now.

    Kathy M.

  8. Kathy: Thanks so much! It's good to BE back. I've got so much to catch up on! I've seen new books, new babies, moves, new blogs, new blog styles, etc. It's amazing what people have been up to while I feel like I've been locked away in the prison of finishing school. But it's worth it.

    I'm so thankful for all the blog-friends I've made over the years. And they are all still here, in some capacity.

    Happy Tuesday!

  9. Nice to see you out and about Jen!
    Great post.

  10. As the old adage goes; the devil is in the detail.

    Good stuff!

  11. Michelle: Thanks! It's good to BE out and about :) Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Wendy: Thank you! There is a lot to be said for details. I love them...and I don't mind it when a writer goes into deep details to build their world. It makes it more real to me.


Well, hello! I'm so glad you made it. Come inside and sit by the hearth. I'll take your coat and hat. The kettle is singing and there's cake and candles and good conversation. Settle in and make yourself at home. Don't mind the wolfhounds; they're friendly if you give them a bit of lemon curd.