Writer’s Thursday (December Special)
Dear Rams and friends,
Apologies from your careless blog editor, who was so excited to start off the ski season, she didn’t realise it was Wednesday.
So, a day later, but just as good, here is Chase Ambler’s Writer’s Wednesday. This week, we’re looking at:
In college, I remember one of my teachers saying that anything that takes the reader out of the story is bad writing and needs to be changed so the reader stays focused, immersed in the fictional world. Well, as is true with most art, as soon as you make a rule, someone is looking to break it.
Here’s where metafiction comes in. Metafiction is a technique employed by authors that make the audience aware that they are reading fiction to take the discussion to the next level. This creates fiction about how we write, read, and interact with fiction. Maybe you have your character reading a book, like in The Neverending Story or Inkheart, and it has an impact on the character’s world. Maybe the author or characters directly comment on the book they are in or directly address the reader. There are so many ways that writers can comment on fiction itself or parody fiction through the use of metafiction.
When Shakespeare wrote Hamlet he had to be aware that putting a play within a play to study how that play’s fictional audience would react would surely make the actual audience feel like they were being watched as well. Shakespeare created a work of fiction that looks back at you. In doing this you have an audience watching a play where the actors are watching the audience thus creating a great comment on the nature of art and its codependency on an audience. One does not exist without the other.
Hector woke with the sky-lamp blaring in his eyes. He couldn’t remember when he fell asleep. Now that he thought about it, he couldn’t remember much of anything. The amnesiac got up and surveyed the landscape. Taking it all in was easy. It really was only about two and a half acres.
There was the waterfall coming off the mountain. That much was clear. Its pristine waters ran over the cliff and crashed on the rocks below in an ambient roar that echoed through the valley. The mountain itself was a bit fuzzy though. Hector wasn’t sure if it had snow on the top or not. The more he focused on it, the more it bothered him that it sort of vaguely melded into the overcast sky.
On the opposite side there was a cabin being built. A clacking sound in his head made him need to investigate this structure. Crossing the meadow, Hector ran his hands through the long blades of grass before one of them gave him a paper cut. He gripped his finger and tried to call out, but he realized he didn’t have the words as the blood seeped out like a bleeding pen.
By the time he reached the cabin it was finished. The moment the last detail went into the steep roof, Hector knew it was his. He gazed over the hand-crafted walls of the structure with pride, but something tugged at the back of his mind, reminding him that someone else had actually built it.
Opening the door, Hector remembered in overload. A flash flood drowned his mind in memory. There was his toy chest, there was the couch he fell off and broke his wrist, there were the pots he drummed on, there was the table where they ate, they were mom and dad and grandma, there was the chair where grandma never woke up, there was the fireplace where they roasted marshmallows, there was the door to his room.
His room. He had to see it. Hector rushed across the empty house and pushed open the door, but he was too fast. There was nothing there. Well, there was something: a rough sketch of a bed, his stuffed elephant, and his bookshelf. But they weren’t done. He wondered how they could not be finished if they were from his childhood. Looking up, Hector noted with horror that the room was missing the outer wall. It was gone. But not just gone. Beyond the wall was not the valley as it should be. It was blank, not created, void. But his fear was short lived as if by calling attention to the missing landscape made it appear all the quicker. An evergreen forest popped into existence and rushed toward the cabin at an alarming speed. Right before it seemed like the building was going to get bulldozed by trees they halted, and the wall of his room almost slapped Hector in the face. He was left peering out the window at the wind blowing through the forest. The trees bowed and swayed in the gale.
His stomach gurgled, but not the gurgle of hunger. It was the sour flavor of realization as he remembered it all now. Everything was there, his entire backstory, yet the fact that the word ‘backstory’ came into his mind instead of ‘life’ made him feel trapped. It was as if his entire life was written for him, and he had no choice but to follow. Hector knew he had to get out, but the longer he stayed in the cabin the more he felt like he belonged there. Then his wife called him to do the dishes. She was his Achilles’ heel. As he stepped into the kitchen, all thoughts of escape floated away. He lifted the plates out of the soapy water they had been soaking in and watched his wife tickle their kids bathed in the flickering light from the fireplace. He chuckled to himself pleased with how lucky he was. It really was like a fairytale ending. Here, ever after.
So there you have my attempt at metafictional flash fiction. The story is about a character that’s experiencing a story being written. He is confused and horrified to find out that parts of it aren’t done yet, but as the author fills in the missing pieces he begins to forget that there was anything to fear. In the end he is trapped completely in the story because the author gives him a happy ending, which ironically is something he should be terrified of because it’s not real, it’s just a device to keep him there.
As we go about our own lives, it can feel like there’s a lot of unknown at times, and other times it can feel like fate has been written for us already. Will we face our stories fearlessly or be trapped by them? That’s what I was trying to get at by using metafiction in this little story. You can judge if it was successful or not. But mostly I want you to try your own hand at metafiction.
Chase Ambler is an American writer who spent his childhood in South and Southeast Asia. His life has been shaped by strange obsessions: heavy metal music, mountains, travel, and soccer. These subjects have all molded his poetry and prose in some way, but the birth of his two children may have the greatest impact yet. He currently lives with his wife, daughter, son, and dog in Colorado. If one went looking for Chase, they could find him anywhere from changing diapers to summiting 14,000 foot mountains, but odds are he’s in front of the computer working on his next novel.