Thursday, 1 November 2007

Reflections and Confessions

Firstly, thank you, Dear Readers, for your comments on my Gothic horror fantasy, The Dream. I am a little disappointed, though, that no one spotted the cleverness that was in the text. A gold star by your name if you find it.

The other day a friend posted on his blog a story or rather a scene where he let go of some of his inhibitions. In this text the narrator is rather cruel to some women. This person is far from the narrator in this story but to some extent, I think, it expressed some of his feelings. Some of his readers were a little taken aback by this story, as I understand it.

This prompted a discussion in which I participated and it brings up a very important issue: the difference between fantasy writing and ordinary writing. I don't want to make too much of it but there is a kind of stories, call them surreal, dream stories or fantasies that are a little different from just writing about something, whatever it may be. The difference lies, among other things, in how the main character, the one which the story is about, relates to the what is around them.

This may sound a little cryptic but what I am saying is that if you write a text about a subject, be it religion, a place, an event or whatever you write about real thing. If you say something about Africa you are stating something about Africa or if it is about angling, or Christianity or some person. If you write about a fantasy of yours, however, you are writing about yourself. If you describe a dream or a fantasy and you find yourself in Africa or in a church or together with some people, the story is not about Africa, that church or those people. In a dream story, the stage is yours, and all yours. Everything besides yourself (even in the disguise of some hero or heroine) is there for you.

So when this friend was cruel to those girls in his story there were not really anyone he was cruel to. He didn't state anything about how to treat girls or even about how he want to treat girls. He wrote about a fantasy, about an emotion. Perhaps he was angry or just didn't want to care about others and this was expressed in a cruel story.

I am not writing this to defend this person. He is capable of doing that himself. No, it is to point to something really important about fantasy stories. That they should be free. We should write them and read them for what they are. They are not statements about something or the world in general. They are a statement about a state of mind that is expressed in a symbolic way in the story. Killing someone in a dream story means, perhaps, anger, not a genuine wish to kill.

I do this all the time and I am sometimes reluctant to write freely, fearing I will be misunderstood. I do have settings that are vaguely Middle Eastern with people who look like Middle Eastern people. I fear that someone will construe them as being racist if some of them are cruel to me in my story, as if I am making a statement about people from the Middle East. I am not. It is a setting from my romantic store of settings, perhaps inspired by some film or by Arabian Nights or something like that. Or if I was abducted by black savages in Africa. That kind of image stems, I think, from Tarzan films from childhood and does not reflect my ideas about Africa. But in my imagination I do want them to be cruel and wild and very different from me. It is not about them but about my imagination and my emotions. They are not there to represent anything that is real. They are there to play a role in my fantasy.

I can understand the argument that this imagery stems from racist films and notions but I can't do anything about that now. It is too late. They are there from childhood and they form a part of me and if I am to let my fantasy be free and not comply with political correctness it will turn out some images that are not very nice should they represent real opinions. But they don't represent real opinions. That is my point.

And to return to the cruel imagery of some stories. I have them too and I am reluctant to write about it even here, in my blog, the blog that was supposed to be free. I have fantasies that are not always nice, about rape and humiliation and even cruelty, disturbing images that are both horrible and exciting. They point to emotions and thoughts that are contradictory, they represent, I think, conflicts in me and maybe they are even a way of dealing with very unpleasant memories. But they are there and I am reluctant to share them even if I think I should be honest and open.


Wystan E said...

For obvious reasons, I am in no position to comment on your post, except to say thank you, and that I agree wholeheartedly.

As for your challenge: Is it the fact that you/she went to sleep in a nightgown and woke up naked? (In my twisted imagination, Dear J, when you go to bed you wear footed flannel PJs and carry a stuffed Care Bear -- not that I spend too much time ... oh, skip it...

I also note that the dreamer flies... like a dove?

Dove said...

A very interesting post Janice, thank you. I have read the post you are referring to and did see it as written as a fantasy perhaps for the outlet of emotion which is possibly why I did not, for once, wish to 'save' the girls as I usually do. I think you are right in that many people think you are making a statement about a thing or prop, if you will, that is used in a story as if you are saying this is bad or this is good. Perhaps it is the reason why often fantasy writing I mean the genre itself is used so widely. Authors may feel they have more freedom as no one can say that was racist or you didn't portray purple pygmies very well as the whole world is a fantasy. The worlds in these writings often bare a resemblance to our world enough for us to understand but not so much we feel offended by the way people, places etc are depicted.

Then you have the writer's own fear of what people begin to expect of you. It would be easy to worry over writing darker pieces because they will think you are not being true to yourself when in writing freely and expressing all of your emotions is being true to yourself. One of the reasons I enjoy this blog so much and indeed the other you mentioned IS because of the diversity and that I don't know where I will be taken next.

The thing is no matter what you write, draw, paint you will always be misunderstood by someone. When 'us' as the observers take in what we read or see we are not necessarily going to get what you are trying to get across because we come to your work already coloured with our own ideals, beliefs, perceptions. Even our mood will have an affect on what we take in, I know mine does.

This got long and there a no little people either *smiles*.

I agree with Wystan though over The Dream that she awoke naked...was this to let the reader decide if it was a dream or not?


Janice said...

Wystan, you are clever. It was right. She woke up naked but was clothed when she went to sleep.

Dove, thank you so much for your comments. This is exactly the kind of discussion I wanted. I think you may have a point in talking about fantasy as a genre, that it gives you freedom. I can imagine, though, that fantasies of the kind you find here are less stories of the traditional kind than even proper fantasy writing but that is just how I think about it. It doesn't take away your basic point that fantasy worlds allow you to write things that may otherwise may be construed as being statements about the existing world.

And thank you for your reassuring words about not thinking too much about expectations. I will take them to my heart.

And well spotted...about my quite silly, cleverness...smiles.

Paul said...

Janice, we all live in a world of fantasy, to some degree.
I believe that it is necessary for our mental health.
No discerning reader should attempt to make judgements regarding the writer from the writers fantasies.
Warm hugs,

Anonymous said...

Well said Janice, you put the case for fantasy very well.

It is strange how readers will assume that the opinions of even a fictional character are those of the author, that these opiions must be held somehow or you wouldn't be able to write them.

This is utter tosh.

No-one assumes that Jack Nicholson is a cannibal because he was able to act the character of Hannibal Lecter so vividly, and yet this assumption is made that things which are within the mind and expressed as a fantasy story must have some basis in real life desire.

Please continue with your consideration of the nature of fantasy, it is an important thing for us to understand.

Incidentally I have had one of my fictional characters muse about exactly this subject in my most recent story. She worries that her fantasies are more severe than the fantasies she feels guilty about reading.



Janice said...

Paul, I do agree that we live in a world of fantasy to some extent. This statement is more profound than it may appear at first. We do live in our head and the most real thing that happens to us is perceived by our our heads, so we live the most real reality at the same place as our fantasies.

And there is a good thing you say, in between the lines, that I shouldn't worry too much about people getting it wrong. Thanks.

Ollie, thanks for your words, I agree wholeheartedly. I think my rant came about from the impression I get that readers tend to see the writer as the first person narrator in a story and not always realise that you are trying to put yourself in someone else's shoes rather than writing about yourself. In the end we can only write about ourselves but that is, I think, another discussion.

And where can we meet your fictional character, Ollie?