The Invisible Creator

dreams-mirrorYou hear writers often mention the “fictive dream.” John Gardner called it a “vivid and continuous dream.” It’s a term used to describe a simple principle: no one wants to read a book.

There, I said it. Man, it feels good to get that off my chest. But there’s more to this principle: readers want to experience the story. In order to do this, several things have to happen.

First, the writer must provide enough detail to inspire the imagination of the reader. Sometimes this takes a long paragraph of prose packed with sensory detail. Other times, you need only one or two of the right details to do the trick.

Secondly, and the point I want to make this week, is this: The writer must be completely invisible. While the hand of the creator should be evident, the fingerprints of the author, as it were, the reader should never feel that the author is along for the ride. Why? It ruins the dream. It’s like going to a movie and having someone next to you saying, “Don’t worry, it’s not real.”

I think I speak for all of us when I say, “Clam up! I want it to be real!”

As a writer, your job is to create a world that is tangible, experiential, and then hide yourself among the bushes so those who walk through the world cannot see you, cannot hear you. There’s nothing worse than a hyper self-aware writer. With every turn of the page, we read things like, “But, dear reader, be hearty! The evil villain will soon meet his demise.”

But not every authorial intrusion is nearly as overt. Most are subtle traps we fall into, namely melodrama and over-writing. This is why subtlety is so important; it removes the writer from the forefront of the reader’s mind.

Here are three things to remember when trying to remain invisible:

1. Be subtle.
2. Be specific.
3. Be succinct.

When you read a book, what elements of the writing wake you from a dream and remind you that you’re reading a book?

Review your writing. Where do you see yourself over-writing? Where do you see yourself leaping in the air, waving your hands and screaming, “Hey you! Dear reader! I wrote those! Aren’t I brilliant?!" Find these places, and surgically remove them.

14 Comments on The Invisible Creator

  1. My favorite part of reading is to forget I’m reading and escape to another world. Perfectly said, Aaron!
    Cindy Patterson

  2. Hiding one’s self in the writing is more easily said than done in some cases, but it’s an important principle. I don’t even know how many otherwise enjoyable books I’ve put down because the writer failed to hide his/herself well enough. The goal is to make the reader experience the story and not break the illusion. It’s like trying to watch a movie with a horrible actor as the lead–frustrating and dull.
    Compare the writer to a ninja grandmaster. Stealthy use of details where they need to be are his disguise as he guides his young readers to the end of his obstacle course and the ending that will set them upon the path of true wisdom.
    Hide behind the words, don’t wave them in your readers’ nose like flags. That’s tacky, anyway. Think of how much more miserable we would all be in school if every single day the teacher got two inches away from your face and said, “Hey! I’m teaching you! Did you know that?! Because it’s true! I’m teaching you right now!”
    It’s a nightmare, right? So don’t do it to your readers. They were intelligent enough to pick up your work; you owe it to them to let them enjoy it.

    • The comment about the teacher really helped me understand the topic a little more in depth. I get that feeling when the author is too specific about things like songs or books. It pulls me right out of the story.

  3. Amber (Squirrel) Hynes | October 13, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Reply

    i dont want to admit it, but i do hate reading books. its like you said, i experience them. i like to actually feel like im a part of the world and the ‘scenes.’ i never really thought of it that way, but its very true. honestly, i dont think ive read any books where the author is screaming “i wrote this, arent i wonderful?” but it sounds terrible, so i will defiantly continue to avoid that

  4. I personally prefer reading over writing mainly because I do tend to have a problem with keeping the readers’ attention. Almost like I’m too afraid to take that step closer into the action. In some cases, I have a good storyline. Everything is moving nicely, but when the hero comes face to face with the evil villain and……. nothing! Sorta like I worked myself into a corner I can’t get out of, and I guess that’s where “aliens” come into save the day. It is just something I can’t seen to avoid.

  5. Diane Sherlock | October 14, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Reply

    That kind of prose surgery is necessary, but often painful! Great post.

  6. I could not agree more. It’s not interesting when there’s somebody there telling the future of the story. There should be tension and the story should be unpredictable as long as it makes sense.

  7. I agree, if someone is to read a novel they want it to be real. You need to include, culture, the way they live think feel. Why they do this, make it seem like they are just simply, human even if they are not. For example I was watching a German animation about cats, it’s not for kids at all -.- but I could tell by the way they acted around each other the cats were exactly like humans but more brother like, they call each other brother whether they know each other or not or if they are female. Also there are religion where stupid cats kill themselves as sacrifices as the murders are going on. Yet, it wasn’t so much in detail where it bored me like history class would.

  8. Jonathan Calzada | October 16, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Reply

    The story should be like a maze, just twists and turns making the reader want to read the story and try to find things out before they happen, I like this idea because as long as it sticks to the story, you can put new outcomes in a chapter and mak em ask “Why did that happen?” so they keep reading to find out

  9. This is how i am with reading books i want to feel like im inside the story. I want to be more into the book. Books that dont interest me that much make me feel like super bored because i want the book to be intriguing to keep me wanting to read more

  10. This is a good post. I never really thought about that. Now that this has been mentioned, I look back at the previous stories, books, or novels that I’ve read are really good ones try to get you in the story and forget what it going in real life. In my opinion those are good stories. Not many stories do that to me mainly because of what is mentioned about people saying “dear reader” and things like that.

  11. Aubrie Vasquez | October 18, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Reply

    This definitely helps much. I don’t remember how many times I’ve gotten mad at a book because I’m begging for it to get better. The one thing that still bothers me though is, as the author…you generally portray yourself in the main character, so being a character in the story(told by first person) how do you know when it’s time to come out of the bushes and introduce yourself to the audience?

  12. Well, As this does seem like a good piece of advice, Not to say I am a perfect writer or anything, but I don’t believe that I make the reader “wake up from the dream” when I write. But I can say that I agree. I hate it when a book does that because for me, its normally that the book is too boring or unrealistic.

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