Tuesday, September 10, 2013
From the Mundane to the Sublime: How to Make your Work Extraordinary
Use of point of view. We all come to each situation we find ourselves in with a welter of memories, issues we're currently grappling with, and desires. In short, at any moment we're all in the 'midst of life'. If you take that 'midst', in other words the situation of your characters, and filter it into those things that surround them - the butterfly landing on their hand, the rain that just won't stop, or even the dishes that are being done, the mundane suddenly is infused with the whole of your character perspective. In the early twentieth century, this tended to sit with stream of consciousness writing, where the inner thoughts of characters become apparent to the reader, but it doesn't have to be a random stream. Those thoughts can be anchored in the moment, and reasonably logical, while still coasting across all those desires that make up any character.
Step out of the stream. Stop for a moment and let your characters see the bigger picture. You can do this with a third person narrator, or just allow the characters a momentary glimpse at the bigger picture. For example, a young girl may be struggling with bullying, but just for a moment in the midst of the highest conflict, give her a glimpse of the future or even of the broader context of her life and let her see the pain she's struggling with for what it is - momentary and transient. Those kinds of epiphanies are the stuff of character transformation and will progress the story perfectly.
Use symbols. Symbols do exactly what we're talking about here. They turn the mundane into the sublime, by referring to something else. An office cubicle or conference room might symbolise oppression. A tourist visit to the Statue of Liberty might symbolise freedom. A bird song or plot of dirt might symbolise freedom or getting back to roots or even shaking off a depression that has become overwhelming.
All of these things are subtle, and have to be dealt with carefully, with poetic skill. But being able to use the everyday to hint at a deeper meaning; a secret sub-story below the surface, is what makes art. As readers, we instinctively look for it in the books we read. As writers, we're always aiming to create it.