With all respect, I am not a big fan of Neil Gaiman’s fiction. American Gods and The Graveyard Book both left me flat.
But I could listen to that man talk about writing all day.
Yesterday I stumbled into his Wikiquote page, and it was like coming home. Listen to this:
Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe.
That’s what fiction writing is all about, isn’t it? Reaching inside yourself to show someone else your magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing world.
I spent an hour in a moon-eyed Gaiman-induced haze of writerly warm fuzzies, but I’ll spare you the rambling and cut to the quote that really got me:
The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising (“but of course that’s why he was doing that, and that means that…”) and it’s magic and wonderful and strange.
This is eloquent and true any day of the week, but it really clobbered me yesterday, because I’d just had that very experience only an hour before.
“The story catches fire” is exactly the right way to say this. You have these characters, this plot, this world, and you’re excited and everything seems good and you don’t even know there’s anything missing. And then for no special reason you happen to say “Well I guess her struggle parallels this other conflict,” and suddenly that little sub-plot you were toying with becomes the story, becomes what the entire book is about, and maybe even what life is about and you get all giggly and useless to anybody else for upwards of ninety minutes.
It’s like turning the key in a Mustang, the difference between admiring its sleek lines in a parking lot and roaring down the freeway. And this is coming from a guy who drives a four-cylinder Honda Accord.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: I’m happy. And I hope you are too. And if you’re not, then dammit, I’m going to try my best to write a book that will take you there.
As for Neil Gaiman, I’m going to read his Sandman series. I may not have fallen in love with some of his other books, but damned if Sandman doesn’t look amazing. And every book is a fresh start – right?
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