Flavorwire Exclusive: Writing Advice From George R.R. Martin, Karen Lord, and Other Sci-Fi/Fantasy Authors

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“What Is/What If: The Beauty of Mystery” by Karen Lord

Fiction is both process and mystery, knowledge and imagination. It lies somewhere on a spectrum that begins with poetry and ends with statistics. It is art. It takes the forms and shapes of the real world and re-views them with new perception: the shade, texture, and weight of the subconscious and the unreal.

Various stories can be told only using only what you know. Jane Austen wrote what she knew from her own life and the lives around her: a music box of a world with familiar society characters dancing to a familiar wedding burden. An intimate knowledge and a small stage can provide enough material for a story. A sufficiently self-aware and observant writer should be able to convincingly depict love, loss, family, childhood, growing up, growing old—in other words, the experience of becoming and being a human among other humans. It is the literary equivalent of a still life: the portrayal of everyday things in a familiar setting.

Knowledge traces the outline, but adding unusual texture and color to that outline creates the variation that makes fiction more than mere retelling. Breaking into the unexpected and the unknown transforms a photorealist image into the dreamy blur of an impressionist painting, or the edged, off-kilter planes of a cubist sketch. This is art’s paradox: images unseeable from the vantage point of so-called “real life” may be more evocative of the real than the real itself. Similarly, art that uses the medium of the printed page requires more than unvarnished facts to illuminate truths.