When examining the act of writing fiction, certain aspects have remained hidden from view because of one basic assumption: it has always been considered that the creative act itself consists of the writer entering into some kind of communion with something termed ‘the imagination’, a communion which was of itself sacrosanct and complete. This has been seen as a discrete act: a person, deciding to be an 'artist' or a 'writer' sits down and does this, apart from anything else that might have been going on in his or her life.
But without examining that act a little more closely, it is possible to miss something fundamental about it — which is that the flow of images, ideas, narratives and so forth from the imagination do not usually pass unhindered or unaltered from the writer’s mind onto the page. Uninspected factors, things that the writer has never taken apart and considered consciously, normally slide through onto the page along with everything else and can (and usually do) warp and affect the shape and nature of the piece of fiction that results.
The act of 'making art', including 'writing fiction' is not discrete. It is monitored by, filtered through, and generated from a life position.
There are four basic 'life positions', corresponding to four basic genres in fiction:
‘I’m happy in a happy world’ = Epic
‘I’m happy in a neutral world’ = Comedy
‘I’m sad in a neutral world’ = Tragedy
‘I’m sad in a sad world’ = Irony
So whereas it has been assumed that the action of writing fiction consisted of a writer simply contacting his or her imagination, in fact the process normally rests upon a hidden pre-existing foundation. What we get, then, is not ‘something straight out of the imagination’, but something seen through a usually unanalysed filter mechanism of the writer’s life narrative.
If we can accept, for the sake of this discourse, that human beings continually and universally create elaborate ‘fictions’ as part of their consciousness, and that these invented narratives come to be considered ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ by most people -- big idea though that is -- then this will become a little clearer. What is happening during the act of fiction writing is that the writer is involved in two creative acts, operating at the same time: one is his or her standard attempt to access ‘the imagination’, while the other is the more fundamental and ongoing but usually hidden process of ‘myth-making’ in which every human being is involved.
It’s that latter act of myth-making which acts upon the individual writer but is not fully seen or understood. This myth-making appears to be continuous: from an individual’s earliest moment of life all the way up to present time, human beings are in effect ‘writing their own story’. A great part of that story is ‘things happen’, in the sense that the world ‘does things’ to the individual, one day at a time — but the meaning of those events and evolving circumstances is processed by the individual until it forms part of his or her narrative.
Let’s say that a particular person has had an unhappy childhood. Aggressive and unhelpful parents have caused a series of unpleasant and tragic events in that person’s youth. The individual creatively and often unconsciously moulds out of these events a story about themselves and about life as they see and understand it. This may result in them thinking of themselves as worthless, or of others as worthless, or the world as a dark place. As further events occur, they are shaped by these conclusions and fitted into place in the unfolding narrative of that person’s life. The person comes to the general position of ‘I’m sad in a sad world’ = Irony.
A different individual, with a happy childhood, could have the same events happen to him or her but interpret them differently and fit them into a completely different framework. A random car accident, for example, occurring to our first individual, might be seen as evidence that the universe is devoid of meaning and that fate is blind; whereas the second individual might interpret the car accident as a specific one-off event designed to convey some kind of spiritual message for future well-being. In both cases, ‘stories’ are being created and shaped by the individual using the same events.
If either of these individuals decides to be a fiction writer, then, they do so with predispositions. The first — let’s call him ‘Joe’ — goes into communion with his imagination and comes up with a novel consisting of images, ideas and characters, all of which will be coloured to some degree by the ongoing myth-making process of his life. Jill, our second person, also decides to write a novel and enters the world of her imagination — but the colouring of her series of ideas, images and characters will be quite different from Joe’s.
Now, it might be that Joe is a more adept writer than Jill. Joe’s story turns out to be a gory thriller about a madman’s attempt to poison a city. Joe’s command of language and detail helps him to pen a book with great reader appeal and effective emotional power. Jill, less skilled with words and struggling with structure, writes an altogether happier romantic comedy, but it doesn’t quite work because she simply isn’t as good a writer as Joe.
But what if it were possible to take Joe on a journey into the mythic world which he calls his life, and to get him to see how he has arrived at certain conclusions and is predisposed to certain attitudes and assumptions. He doesn't necessarily have to alter his position - he could remain 'sad in a sad world' - but, turning back to his imagination, it is highly likely that his thriller will be even better after this process -- not necessarily 'happier', but probably stronger and more resonant with more readers.
Jill, undergoing a similar internal quest, might also find that her create writing improves. Technically it might still be lacking compared to Joe’s, but the level of appeal and emotional power would almost certainly have risen because she would have come to understand much more about her own, and therefore human nature.
Examining personal myth-making is astonishing and powerful in unique ways. Its purpose is to bring the individual writer into a much more complete awareness of his or her own constructed narrative — of the story that he or she was writing before they even thought of writing a story, in other words.
Its implications are huge.