Saturday, June 30, 2012

Stepping into a Story

For those of you following our adventures via social media, you know that my son Teagan and I just returned from a mini-vacation to Austin. We stayed in and around the city and got a pretty good overview of the place. Texas has a flavor all its own. Everywhere you look, there are symbols of the state: the longhorns, symbolizing the ranching history but also the local college team, the flag, displayed at every street corner six inches below the US flag (a bragged concession) and wherever they can manage it, a five-pointed star, the symbol of this Lone Star State. And all of it implies shared identity, and this identity stems from story. The story of the great state of Texas: the settling of the vast land, its brief period as a sovereign nation, the Alamo, the annexation into the United States (recast as Texas’s triumph), the state’s continuing riches. You can’t go anywhere without being reminded, almost constantly, of this story. Symbols are everywhere to guide you back. The surroundings are steeped in the past and I’m not sure I’ve ever been anyplace where this was so obviously the case.

And it reminded me of novels. This is what we hope for as writers, that our readers will feel as though they have stepped right into a story, become immersed in it. We have only to set up the symbols to jog memory, to light the path with reminders. Metaphor, theme, trope: these are our signposts. Wherever you go within the novel, it all leads back to the same place, the central story, and it’s the shared imagination that gives it lasting power.


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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka