I’m just going to go ahead and get the point across right at the start here: Books are magic. They just are. You can argue all you want, but you won’t convince me otherwise.
Books are magic, and in the hands of a skilled wizard, they change the face of the world–for better or worse, but mostly for the better, I think.
Books show us things we rarely see, or want to see. They open our minds to possibilities we never considered. Science has shown that reading fiction books enhances brain function and increases empathy in readers. Fiction allows us to escape to another place, another life, to live grand adventures and weather terrible tragedies, and experience fated love, all contained within the safety of a book. And whenever it gets overwhelming, we can set it aside for a while, catch our breath, and restore our equilibrium before moving on.
I am an immersive reader. When I read, I forget the outside world exists. I forget to get off the bus at my stop. I don’t feel hunger or thirst. I tune out the cloying noise of the real world, ignore what’s going on around me, and just sink into the story I’m reading. I become an unwritten character in the book, following the heroes’ journey from the shadows, but everything they see, I see. Everything they hear, I hear. The tone of the book sets the tone of my moods, and the characters’ personalities and attitudes affect my own. When I read about a brave hero, I find myself walking a little taller, speaking up a little louder. When I follow a character with a particular speech pattern or accent, it sometimes leaks into what I say and how I say it.
When I read Charles Bukowski’s Post Office, I kid you not, I had to stop a third of the way through because I sank into an existential crisis that made me resent just having to wake up at a set time in the morning to go to work. I was annoyed by everything and everyone that week. I hated my job and imagined quitting on a daily basis. I just didn’t see the point of it, and I hated the fact that I had to report to the office for those set times because they paid me to do it, and the usual bills just won’t go away on their own.
I applaud Mr. Bukowski for the brilliance of what he’s accomplished, but I will never read another of his books again. Not because he isn’t good, but because he’s too good. I read to escape the doldrums of everyday life, and he gleefully drags me back into them and sinks me even deeper, where I can’t see a way out.
But that’s the thing about fiction: When it’s good, it’s transformative. That’s why I prefer stories with happy endings, ones that are uplifting and awe-inspiring, because reading them changes my entire outlook on life and my place in it. It makes me feel like I can accomplish anything, and everything will work out in the end. Don’t scoff. I may put a brave face on it, but when my writing stalls, or when life throws obstacles and disappointments in my way I need a little encouragement.
The worst thing about books is that they end, and when they do, I’m forced to deal with reality again, where animals don’t talk, and Othercreatures don’t hide in the shadows, and people can’t change shape. It annoys me at the best of times, but when I’m interrupted in the middle of an intense scene, it actually jars me quite a bit and it takes me a second to reorient myself to the present.
I’m telling you. Magic. Guided astral projection that turns ordinary people into Seers.
The same phenomenon applies to my writing, too. I don’t make up the story, so much as watch it happen and describe what I see. When I type it out, it’s as if I’m revealing words that already exist on the page, and I become the book’s first reader.
Some writers do their best work when they outline a book and follow its path to the end. That doesn’t work for me. Whenever I write out an outline or summary, it feels as if I’ve already written the story. But it’s an abbreviated version, so I feel cheated out of the richness of the entire novel, but at the same time the impetus to write it out diminishes to almost nothing, because it’s “already done.”
It’s kind of like forcing myself into lucid dreaming. I never understood the appeal of that. The best thing about dreams is that they open doors I never would have thought to open. Why would I ever want to limit that to my conscious mind’s comfort zone? When my drift descends toward the water’s surface, why would I steer the dream into flight? The most amazing wonders could await me at the bottom of an ocean, for all I know.
Why would I ever want to give up the amazement of experiencing magic by reminding myself it’s not real?
My stories are daydreams I translate into words so others can enjoy them, too. I give them structure to make them coherent, but I never pull back or steer them in a particular direction. Even when–especially when–they lead somewhere new and potentially uncomfortable. That would be cheating myself and my readers out of its true potential.
I may or may not have been called a cynic and a pessimist in the past (although I prefer the word realist). When it comes to everyday life, I’ve had decades to learn that disappointment is a part of the human existence, and I temper my expectations accordingly. I’m also a control freak who, due to the aforementioned disappointments, has adopted the philosophy that “if you want it done right, do it yourself.”
Books and stories are where I let go of all that. Within the worlds of my imagination, I know that my characters know best. When a new one shows up with an outstretched hand and a twinkle in his eyes, I’m more than happy to follow wherever he decides to lead. No arguments, no complaints.
Some people drink or smoke to “loosen up”, others dance or exercise. I dream.
Hi, my name is Alianne, and I am a shameless dreamaholic. 🙂