After reading Tim O’Brien’s ‘The Things They Carried,’ I became really interested in the concept that the truth of an experience can be conveyed through a story, even a story that does not describe the experience at all.
O’Brien’s work is metafiction but what I’m talking about doesn’t really fit the label.
Consider, for example, a woman witnessed a car crash that killed a stranger. That’s the real life event. A storyteller could convey that truth through a fairytale story about a nymph princess being herself killed — the emotional experience of the onlooker as she confronts helplessness and mortality.
Depending on how well the plot and characterization is developed, any fantasy world or metaphorical journey can faithfully recreate a supposedly unrelated experience.
A really cool idea, but not one I’ve been intelligent enough to make use of yet. However, the first step towards such creative and open-minded prowess is to use what we’ve already got. Mediums like heroic epics and science fiction are, when you think of it, quite brilliant and sophisticated metaphorical explorations of challenging aspects of humanity. Can you imagine how creative those first innovators of these genres we take for granted were!?
To me what really stands out are quest stories, such as the many biblical pilgrimages and Homer’s Odyssey. It’s no wonder making physical pilgrimages is a common practice undertaken for self-discovery, or revelation of a higher power. The physical embodies the spiritual.
For my Women and Gender Studies class, we are asked to create a cultural artifact for our final project, and I was considering writing such a “quest” short story, featuring a young girl on the quest To Become a Woman. However, the timeline is a little too crunched for me to think of a bunch of metaphorical challenges/obstacles that she’ll face along the way. So I’ll be writing a poem instead (not the one included below!)
…I had a point.
Playing around with existing genres and mediums is a great way to stark stoking that metaphorical flame. It’ll place your writing within a larger context, perhaps political or religious allusions/imagery.
Or even seemingly simple symbols! For example, in a poem, ‘All Bread,’ by Margaret Atwood, she uses the metaphor of bread-making to represent the human life-death cycle.
Once you can start drawing upon these contexts, you’ll begin to conceptualize the point you are making as its alter ego in other planes of representation, in a land far away!
So anyways, here is an example poem that makes use of the classic “quest to slay the dragon” plotline:
THE DRAGON REMAINS:
The hardcovers with glossy pages
And pastel sketches
Taught her the action ended after the dragon was slain
But nobody ever mentioned what happened to the scaled carcass
Or told her that, yes, it remained
Or it had to be buried or disposed of somewhere, after all.
Bones and flesh don’t just disappear:
but nobody mentions the dragon remains.
Though dragons tend to rear their heads once more
So there it is, folks. I just really needed to write through my writer’s block. What are your thoughts on dragons and metafiction and representations and truth? When you think about it, even words are just a metaphor we use to represent an experience.
Cheers! Happy dragon-hunting xx