By Eleni Papanou
Visionary fiction’s theme is the evolution of human consciousness. But what does that mean? What is consciousness? Psychologist, William James, coined the phrase stream of consciousness. He identified consciousness as something that is shaped by experience and how the experience is processed in our minds. So it’s our life experience that defines who we are, and we play out that definition in reality. If we have many dark experiences, then it might lead us to passing similar experiences on to others. Why are some people able to overcome darkness?
The great sages of history paved the way to free us from our dark nature. Socrates taught us the limitations of knowledge by asking us to question our assumptions. The Buddha taught us that our attachments lead to suffering. Attachment to possessions, to people, to social status, and destructive personal and outer beliefs can overcome our sense of self, and we instead become products of culture. In other words, without taking the time to reflect upon our experience, we’re instead shaped and molded by culture. When that happens, we lose a sense of who we truly are. We go through life performing a role that we believe we’re expected to play.
The Jungian term of enlightenment is moving beyond the archetypal roles that we’ve perpetuated since the dawn of civilization. Once we can look from the outside in, we become what Jung described as modern man. He explained that modern humans (noun adjusted for modern usage) are lonely because they have detached from their historically assigned roles. They also may be viewed as crazy as a result of their unwillingness to continue being fellow cast members. Jungian psychology offers us plenty of fodder to write some great characters!
Modern Human in Visionary Fiction
As an author of visionary fiction, it’s the journey toward becoming a modern human that I find the most alluring. The journey feels more intense when characters have flaws so great, the challenge to overcome them may not seem possible. They might be close to seeing through the archetypal fantasy, and the truth frightens them to the point where they will take drastic action to avoid seeing reality.
When considering Jung’s definition of what it means to be a modern human, the fear of being lonely and isolated from the collective can touch upon many primal instincts needed for survival. Surviving might be translated into maintaining the status quo. If that is the case, how far would the protagonist go to keep from seeing the truth? This, for me, is the crux of the inner struggle for the evolution of consciousness. The deeper the conditionings, the more extreme the reactions can play out. And that translates into the action that drives the story.
To develop the best characters, I have to give them the freedom to struggle—as much as they need to, even if it means them taking actions that are nefarious. This might sound antagonistic to the spiritual aspect of visionary fiction, but the journey toward a higher state of consciousness doesn’t always translate into a pretty postcard to send home. Abhinav Kumar, author of Once Upon A Time In Singhpur, says, “the whole idea that a plot, story or character should simply move from a state of spiritual penury to spiritual enrichment is extremely fanciful. Real movement in the real world, does not happen in such a chartered direction. I don’t think the purpose of visionary fiction should be to simply create this kind of enlightening entertainment. If a writer is adequately rooted in the spirituality he or she speaks of, they should be able to paint dark or (more appropriately) grey characters in the same light as their heroes.”
What about if the hero is dark? In steps the antihero.
There’s something alluring about writing an antihero, which may be why most of my protagonists fall under the characterization. The “antihero is a protagonist who has the opposite of most of the traditional attributes of a hero. They may be bewildered, ineffectual, deluded, or merely apathetic. More often an antihero is just an amoral misfit (tvtropes).”
The darkness of humankind can be displayed through the actions of the antihero. As a writer, sometimes her actions reveal aspects of myself that I have yet to deal with. Writing can also be used to vent dark emotions. Bob Edward Fahey, says, When I first decided to try writing novels, I was writing three books at once. When I felt romantic, I went with The Mourning After. When I felt rage I worked on The Soul of Hatred. When writing passionate characters in dire situations, it has a way of taking you over.”
Affective antiheroes are difficult to write because they dare to take us down paths most of us would not travel in reality. For me, this is what makes the antihero more 3-dimensional, thus realistic and authentic. Jenna Newell Hiott, author of The Todor Trilogy, says, “I believe in authenticity and self-love, which usually means embracing one’s own dark side. Characters are born out of this philosophy and tend to have a whole lot of dark side to embrace!”
Traveling A Dark Path…
I’ve had to put all of my books aside at one time or another, because the characters took me to dark places I wasn’t ready to visit, dark places that I knew were lurking in my subconscious, waiting for me to bring them into the spotlight. That was especially the case in my first book, Unison. Damon, a true to form antihero, is very flawed. Getting into his head scared me at times. Some of the actions he takes are so diabolical, I didn’t think he could ever redeem himself. I was tempted to tone him down, to make him more likable. Nevertheless, I understood to get the best and most honest story, I had to let Damon lead the journey, no matter how treacherous it would be.
I hold a similar view for the villains in my story. It’s easy to create a bad guy who challenges the antagonist. It’s harder to craft a bad guy with whom readers might sympathize with. Jenna Newlett Hyott also touches upon a similar point when she says, “I love dark characters, and I love showing that even the darkness is part of All-That-Is.” Without darkness, light cannot be known, and vice versa.” In essence, the journey toward the light would not be an end goal if there wasn’t darkness.
In closing, Stephen Weinstock, author of the 1001, the Reincarnation Chronicles, offers some great advice for visionary fiction authors who are afraid to face the dark side of a story. “We are probably our own worst puritans, so we probably couldn’t be offensive or immoral or monstrous in our writing even if we tried. So get down and dark! Have fun with it! With visionary fiction, there’s a higher context that will contain the evil in a positive or uplifting way.”
Intention is demonstrated in the meaning of the journey…
Eleni Papanou is an award-winning author and perpetual student of life. Visit her website for news and updates.