Vision: A Resource for Writers
Holly Lisle's Vision
Holly Lisle's Workshop
Lost on the Border at Twilight:
Finding -- and Using -- Your Life's Essential Strangeness
2001, By Holly Lisle
experience all sorts of little oddities in our lives --
from deja vu to serendipity to bits and pieces of the purely
inexplicable, we brush up against the borders of an unknown realm daily.
Mostly, we ignore these tiny excursions into weirdness.
Or if we don't ignore them, we brush them off with raised eyebrows and a
nervous laugh. We prefer the
universe we live in to be brightly lit, sensible, secure . . . comfortable.
no one has ever written a really good book from a position of comfort.
If you aren't twitching at least a little, if your material doesn't make
you nervous, if you aren't afraid, you're not doing anything real.
So, in our search for what is real and what is scary, let's take a tour of your life, and all the oddities you've been looking past in order to pretend you always see sunshine in some of those shadowy corners.
all this stuff is superstitious nonsense, isn't it?
Big, definitive "I dunno" here. Some
of the synchronistic events that happen in our lives may have some scientific
explanations. Spend time reading the "what-it-all-means" sections
of books on quantum physics and the simple act of deciding to get out of bed in
the morning can start to take on an air of surreal significance.
At the quantum level, we may all be connected; may all be resonating at
the same rate. We may all be part of something bigger. It won't kill you to read a few books on the subject, just to
give yourself the information to form an opinion.
why these weird events happen in our lives is not actually the point.
These things do happen. The
three examples I gave at the start of this workshop all happened to me.
trick with finding value in such oddities is to pay attention to them, to notice
that's where this workshop will start. With observation.
A single caveat: If these exercises make you feel uncomfortable . . .
well, my first inclination is to say, "Good, you must be onto
something," but if you find yourself too uncomfortable, or if participating
in part or all of what we'll be exploring will violate religious or personal
codes, just give the offending section or sections a miss.
that out of the way, let's head for the borders of the familiar, for the
twilight realm . . . because it's time to get a little lost.
give you three exercises, and at the end of the workshop I'll offer some
suggestions on how you can use the data you'll obtain to add something unique to
this exercise you'll need
then, if you didn't already have all these things, you wouldn't be a writer.)
Keep track of unexpected things that happen during the day.
This isn't just limited to big strange things like knowing who's on the
phone before you pick it up, but also little strange things -- talking with your
spouse about an episode of a t.v. show, and having that show air that day,
little feelings of deja vu, having little household objects appear or disappear
-- as you start actually keeping track of the oddities, you'll be startled by
how many peculiar things happen to you in a day.
But don't stop with things that happen when you're awake.
Try remembering your dreams, too. Along
with dream events that seem to have some real-world correlations, (and great
story ideas, of course), keep an eye open for people.
People you know, dead relatives or friends, people you don't know who
tell you interesting things. Dreams
lie well across the border into the realm of the weird, and they offer up some
truly bizarre nuggets.
this exercise every day for at least a week.
A full month would be better.
Number the front of enough envelopes to give you one for each object. Place the
envelopes face down, and shuffle them thoroughly.
Place one object into each envelope and seal the envelope, making sure neither
of you gets a look at the number of the envelopes the objects go into.
It also helps if you can each keep the other from seeing the objects
Spread the envelopes out in front of you, numbered sides up.
Pick and envelope, and in your notebook, write down the number on it.
Then, rest your non-writing hand on the envelope, relax, and while
leaving your hand on the envelope, start writing the first things that come to
mind. Write down colors, sounds,
impressions of places, descriptions of faces -- anything you think.
When you run down, move to the next envelope, write down the number on
it, and repeat the process. Leave
as much space beneath each description as you used for the description itself.
When each of you has written something for each of the envelopes, start opening
them, one at a time. In the space
beneath the appropriately numbered entry, write down what the object was.
Then each of you read aloud what you wrote about the object, and the
person who knows the details of it will point out anything in the description
that actually connects with the object itself.
Do this exercise at least three or four times over a period of one or two
months, preferably with the same partner. Look
for any improvements in descriptions, accuracy, connection with objects.
Look for specific objects that you routinely do well with. Look for those that you never get any links to at all.
this exercise, you'll need
a brief reading from the friend -- a general reading, nothing where you ask
questions. Record the reading, and
over the time period specified by your reader, keep track of which things in the
reading were on but obvious, which were off, and which really surprise you.
take a bit of time to learn to read cards yourself.
You can look at this from either the Jungian archetypal perspective,
wherein all cards will have meaning to you because they play off of deeply
embedded archetypes, and your subconscious creates meaningful stories from each
of the images drawn; or from the connection-to-magic perspective, wherein you
touch the border when shuffling and drawing the cards, and connections to the
Other-realm affect those that you draw. Either
way, you'll find out some fascinating things about yourself, your prejudices and
your preconceptions by learning tarot.
suggest tarot rather than astrology, psychic reading, or other methods because
anyone can learn the basics of tarot. Getting
good at it is something entirely different.)
you decide to go the second route, I can recommend either the book Learning
the Tarot, by Joan Bunning, which teaches the readily available Universal
Waite Tarot deck, or the book Motherpeace: A Way to the Goddess Through Myth,
Art and Tarot, which teaches the round, feminist-oriented Motherpeace deck.
Most men, and a lot of women, will be more comfortable with the images
and approach of the first set.
DON'T waste time or money trying to find a good psychic reader on the Internet, locally, or on the phone. Sincere readers exist in all three of those venues, but you'll spend a lot of money and a lot of time wading through frauds. You're doing this to get background -- you can get pretty good background for free, and in this case pretty good will be good enough.
It All Together
You've done some tapping along the border, spent a little time feeling
lost and uncomfortable.
going to have come up with a lot of dead ends.
Everyone does. But along with all of those dead ends, you'll have discovered
a couple of places where you got close to the border -- where you and the
strange and the unnerving came nose to nose.
playing around with the things that you really couldn't explain away.
Let's say that you got a tarot reading that just blew your socks off.
Or maybe you discovered that you have dreams in which your dead relatives
come to talk with you, and when you listen you find out that things they say
actually offer answers to your current problems and challenges.
ask yourself how you can use these events, just as they are, in a story.
start extrapolating from your starting point.
Create a character who dreams of dead people in her sleep because she
actually drifts into the realm of the dead -- and then have something happen to
strand her there, or let her fall in love with someone there, or . . .
take a look at how what you've experienced has changed your world view.
Create a universe in which the little oddities you've encountered are
more common, more reliable -- give a rationale to the force that stands behind
them. Then start writing in that
down and brainstorm story ideas that incorporate the things you've uncovered.
Head back to the border for more material if you need it.
Keep the journal, read more envelopes, keep your hand in with the tarot
deck. Get hold of books on the
strange and the inexplicable. Yes,
they're full of nonsense, but they're also full of fascinating events that can
be shifted, twisted and turned until they become novels that have some real
things that touch us deeply are those that are true.
In order to write fantasy well, you need to have a visceral connection
with the truth that what we can see in the universe is not the whole of the
universe. When you know in your gut
that something (no matter how small) exists beyond the realm of human
understanding, you'll discover that this realization colors your work and adds a
richness and depth to it that you would never have thought possible.
luck getting lost. Good luck being
uncomfortable. Remember how it
feels -- because as soon as you've unnerved yourself, you can pass that
experience on to your reader in a gut-grabbing tale that he'll never forget.