Fictivity: Weaving the Net of Metaphors


Scientists claim that it’s quite likely that all galaxies swirl around gigantic black holes at their centre. They even claim to have taken a picture of such a thing, or rather of the traces of light it leaves behind.

Quantum physicists say that the particles of the universe are composed of fundamental uncertainties (though they are not sure about it).

Fiction — the ‘sub-creation’ of mini-universes of one kind or another — also contains at its heart elemental ‘incompletenesses’, gaps, missing things, losses, threats, holes, emptinesses, which, in my book How Stories Really Work I call ‘vacuums’. The name suggests what they do: suck in attention, prompt motion, compel action.

They are the basic building blocks of just about everything, it seems.

Powerful stories, classic stories, the kinds of fiction which last for generations, are founded upon vacuums. These vacuums, in great fiction, tap into primal human verities: death, love, loss, joy, the meaning of Life and so on. An author can look as though he or she is telling a story about some made-up characters moving through various scenarios to some kind of resolution, but in actual fact what is happening is a web is being woven to capture greater truths — at least, it is in stories that really work. There is plenty of fiction out there which is just about made-up characters moving through various scenarios to some kind of resolution — only long-lasting, memorable and powerful stories are weaving the web which makes them great.

What is this web made of?

Metaphors.

‘What therefore is truth?’ Nietzsche said. ‘A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms: in short a sum of human relations which become poetically and rhetorically intensified, metamorphosed, adorned, and after long usage seem to a nation fixed, canonic and binding.’ We are so used to metaphors in language life and fiction that we overlook what they are doing to us; we fail to ask how they are functioning.

What is a metaphor?