Strangely Familiar

fantasy landscapeThink for a moment, of a time you round yourself someplace new. Reach deep and recall the profound strangeness of something entirely new , the wonder of finding yourself in a place resembling nowhere you’d ever been. Done? Good. Hold on to that feeling.

Now think of someplace you’re entirely familiar with, a place you visit often, that comforts you simply because you know it so well—a home you grew up in, the smell of the musty closets, the leaky faucet, the endearing fish tank behind the couch.

Now, marry these two ideas. Fiction lives and breathes by taking what we’re familiar with and turning it on its ear. It makes the familiar strange, and the strange familiar.

What do I mean? Consider this: if you were to write a passage about a woman doing laundry, the sheer familiarity of the scene might bore your readers. However, if you can make it somehow strange—and not necessarily by making the water green, or making the washing machine bleed, or anything quite so far-fetched—but simply by describing it in a way we’ve never heard, you can change the way we do laundry. You can make something mundane turn exciting and wonderful.

In the same way, if you’re penning a scene that transpires on a strange alien land, you run the risk of losing the reader.Only when you can make its strangeness familiar will you have a solid scene. While the flora and fauna may feature unusual colors, they’re still plants. While spaceships may flash in the horizons, they may remind us of the skies over an airport.

When you go back through your writing, try to find a way to make the familiar strange, and the strange familiar. By juxtaposing these two emotions, you awaken the reader to a new world, one that feels strangely familiar and wonderful.

2 thoughts on “Strangely Familiar”

  • Nothing quite defines fiction like messing with the reader’s view of what is “familiar”. In a way, fiction has its roots in reality, but it blooms in the imagination, if that makes any sense.
    It’s not something we can all do well on our first draft. Try to write starting with an object or idea that just about everyone is familiar with. For example, standing in the rain. Hold on to that feeling. Dissect it. Dive into that feeling like it’s a big, clear pool on a summer day. Got it? Good. Now, how can you make that feeling new? New is strange. Strange is good.
    Write well, write often.

  • i always know the ending of my stories the mystery is how i am going to get my characters in that position and how is the story going to get to that point

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