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!