On living in an alternate reality

Writing fiction is such a strange process.

I’ve read plenty of articles and books about writing fiction by fiction writers. They almost all talk about that moment when you’re writing when your characters take over the story from you and do what they need to do, so I was at least prepared intellectually for something of the sort to happen.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how much my fictional world would take over my consciousness. Sure, the characters gradually began to seem autonomous, but I figure that’s just because I’ve gotten to know them so well that the way they behave in any given situation becomes so obvious—even inevitable—that I don’t have to consciously think about it. I just have to write it down as it happens.

But more than that, my fictional world takes over my whole consciousness. When I’m seriously into the writing, it’s even better than reading an engrossing book—my fictional world becomes the universe my mind inhabits. Having to stop for mundane matters like meals and letting the dog out and paying bills and making sure my joints and muscles can still move is disorienting.

It’s rather like watching Richard Burton on stage in Camelot years ago in the scene in the second act where everything’s falling apart and Arthur escapes to the forest and recalls his boyhood when he was transformed by Merlin into a hawk and soared over the world. Burton barely moved, with his arms hanging down at his sides, but somehow, we the audience were transported, flying there with him, tilting on the breezes, wanting it to go on forever. Then Mordred spoke, and it was as though we all were shot out of the sky and crashed to the ground together.

That’s how it feels to stop writing and return to real life. My fictional world takes over my brain. When I have to take a break from it, I can’t wait to get back to what almost feels like a world more real than reality.

And yet, at the same time, I can’t wait to be free of it, to reach the stage that it will let me go, let me fully back into my real world again, to something that feels relatively normal.

It’s a peculiar sort of induced insanity.


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