Those of us who write undergo a personal odyssey each time we pick up our pens or apply fingers to a computer. We also participate in discovering the origins of fiction. But what starts us out on these explorations of other’s lives?
One of my bios states “Lily sprouted on the Canadian prairies under cumulous clouds that bloomed everywhere in Alberta’s big sky. They were her first creative writing instructors, scudding across the heavenly blue, constantly changing shape: one minute an elephant, bruised and brooding. The next morphing into a rabbit or a castle. These billowing masses gave her a unique view of life on earth.” This was the beginning of my own impulse to step off into the unknown and to return changed by the experience.
I credit my childhood experiences for my writing impulses, for my desire to explore (and expand) my immediate surroundings—to move beyond them. They also gave me a sense that there is more to reality than what is visible from our earthly perspective.
Being a writer is being a shape shifter, a mythic concept that Ovid capitalized on in his Metamorphoses. We are constantly manipulating reality, making it do things that we actualize in our fictions. And it involves the psychological term transference where we are able to project emotions, ideas, and perceptions onto something in the external world that others resonate to because they share these same impulses—the foundation of what it’s like to be human.
How is a writer a shape shifter? A reader’s shape is shifted as the writer shapes and shifts a character until s/he takes shape in the reader’s imagination . There’s a whole lot of shape shifting going on!
It isn’t just that our imaginations seek opportunities to alter the material world—to recreate it. But I think odyssey is an important word here to describe the journey that each of us takes when we begin writing a narrative, whether it’s short or long fiction.
The origins of fiction are as mysterious as the origins of life, but let’s not let that stop us from exploring how and why.
Telling stories has been our way of communicating what it’s like to be human since we learned how to use language, from the oral tradition down through print. The foundation for most of these stories can be found in the myths at the root of every culture.
In the Odyssey, Circe is the ultimate shape shifter, turning Odysseus’ men into pigs. We writers all share this impulse, whether we recognize it or not.
We can’t bear to take the world as it is. We are always probing, inquiring, analyzing, creating and turning things into clouds, into human beings, into fiction.
And that’s how stories begin. It’s also why there are constantly new stories because there are always new combinations, fresh possibilities. How can we possibly stop searching in these clouds of perception for novel forms that will immerse us in new worlds that we have at our fingertips?