Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Fictive Dream

Though a novel is a commercial product, like a drug or the performance of a stage play, it provides a service. So, the writer should think of novel writing as a performing art and a service industry. The key to success in any service business is a keen sense of what the customer wants. What he really wants — which isn't necessarily what he says he wants. For example, a tennis pro knows that his clients want, not just help, but also praise and encouragement. A divorce lawyer knows that his client wants, not just a big settlement, but also to make the ex suffer. Television executives know that in Europe and North America most people watch the news, not for the facts, but rather for "interpretations" of the facts that support their belief that their politics/political party is good and the opposition is bad.

So, you must be as perceptive about your readers as you are about your characters. What is the service a novel performs for the reader? In a word, transportation. Or absorption. James M. Frey, in How to Write a Damn Good Novel II, says
As a fiction writer, you're expected to transport a reader. Readers are said to be transported when, while they are reading, they feel that they are actually living in the story world and the real world around them evaporates.
In this altered state of consciousness, the reader can become so absorbed that you must shake him to get his attention.

Absorption is probably the better word: the reader is absorbed/transported into the story world. This experience is often called the "Fictive Dream," and that is as good a name for it as any. It is like a daydream, except that the reader isn't its author. It occurs at a subconscious level. Your success as a novelist depends largely on your skill at inducing it.

How do you induce it? Through the power of suggestion.



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