Editor’s Note: Karen Rider’s insightful article was originally published in January, 2013 on our VFA blog site. We thought the discussion it catalyzed was worth having it reposted. We invite you to enjoy and comment!
Setting the Literary Stage for Visionary & Metaphysical Fiction
Rapid-fire change is ongoing in the publishing industry—and it’s not just in the way books are produced, marketed and distributed. Perhaps like no other period in literary history, writers are experimenting with voice, style and format. Such literary exploration arises from both a writer’s creative urge and in response to market trends. This has led to the emergence of new genres and a shift in the way books are marketed and categorized. On physical and digital bookstore shelves, we find books grouped as “alternate historical fiction”, “slipstream” and “paranormal romance.” These categories may arise from official sources (e.g., the Library of Congress), publishers and sometimes from authors and readers. Rarely is there agreement and many books can be placed in more than one category. For example, novelist Alice Hoffman’s book The Story Sisters has Library of Congress designations as Fiction/Psychological fiction/Loss/Mothers & Daughters. The same book has been described as a literary magical realism (for which Hoffman is most widely known) and mystical fiction. (It even popped up under fantasy on my Goodreads profile—and this book is definitely not Fantasy.) M.J. Rose’s series of novels dealing with the quest for tools that can reveal past life memories (The Reincarnationist, The Book of Lost Fragrances) are categorized as suspense right on the cover. On Amazon, these books were once listed under both suspense and occult; now you can find them under metaphysical.
Within a major genre, the waters in which we swim get even murkier. The sub-genres of the speculative fiction market have always included Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Utopian, Christian and Spiritual Fiction. Fantasy, for example, is further broken into sub-genres including High/Epic Fantasy, Paranormal Fantasy (vampires and werewolves), Urban Fantasy, Steampunk and the list goes on. We’re even seeing things like “historical paranormal fantasy” as in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Who knew?!
Two other categories have surfaced: Visionary Fiction and Metaphysical Fiction. I claim no expertise as a literary historian, but from what I’ve read and pondered over the past three years (largely in search of understanding my own writing as well as market trends), it seems that both of these new categories have broken out from the fantasy market and public interest in “new age” subjects. My hypothesis considers that both Visionary and Metaphysical fiction have roots in Spiritual Fiction.
Visionary Fiction in the Literary Hierarchy
Visionary Fiction, as defined by the Visionary Fiction Alliance, are stories or novels that portray esoteric wisdom and experiences that awaken or catalyze transformation within the reader by way of character/plot. VFA also asserts that visionary fiction can be woven into any other style of literature, not just speculative works. A thriller, a romance, a western, a young adult book—any of these can be visionary works so long the essence of the storytelling embraces esoteric traditions and evolutionary concepts. Unlike Spiritual or Christian Fiction, true visionary fiction is not preachy and does not focus on specific belief systems. It does focus on teachings and traditions concerning human consciousness and enlightenment. VF may incorporate fantastic elements (e.g., dreams, visions, the occult, psychic abilities) as plot devices (http://visionaryfictionalliance.wordpress.com/what-is-visionary-fiction/), but these aspects are not the focus of the story; at least, not the way they are in a paranormal novel.
Within Speculative Fiction, there is always the potential to cross sub-genres into new breeds of fiction for just the right audience (Can Spiritual Horror scare you into enlightment?) Even as other genres can be written as a work of visionary fiction, (http://www.karenmrider.com/visionary-fiction-genre-on-the-rise/) I humbly suggest, that visionary fiction is not the same as metaphysical fiction.
Metaphysical Fiction: A Genre Emerges
I believe visionary and metaphysical fiction are different because I’ve written enough stories and read enough literature to see and to feel the difference between these two genres (and to further discern both from the other speculative fiction genres, too). On a personal level, as a writer, “Visionary” suggests to me storytelling that imparts ancient wisdom and the vision of the world it conveys. My short story, The Parade is a visionary story. It is based on messages conveyed in a dream and each message is associated with one of the Seven Chakras, (Eastern Spirituality). The message conveyed to the reader comes through the main character’s “journey into the light and shadow of her mind, heart and soul to discover all that she has been searching for lies within.” It’s a universal theme based in ancient spiritual tradition—that’s visionary fiction. Overall, though, this is not how I see my work nor do I aspire to a body of work that is entirely visionary. But metaphysical fiction… that describes the writing that consumes me. And it’s a genre appearing in other forms of literature, from fantasy to mystery to suspense.
Unlike visionary fiction, a metaphysical novel or story makes the metaphysical/otherworldly element the focus of the story, rather than a just plot device. To me, it suggests speculative fiction and magical realism with a metaphysical basis. (I must go off topic a bit here and point out that I would consider a novel dealing with the more philosophical aspects of metaphysics (the nature of the universe, cosmology, search for truth and meaning) to also be visionary, maybe even literary fiction). The popular notion of metaphysical fiction, however, deals with things like mind over matter, energy medicine, and places that which is beyond physical measurement, beyond the ordinary, into the very ordinary and mundane world we human beings in habit.
Metaphysical Fiction encompasses topics like energy healing, past lives, intuition. Metaphysical (“beyond the physical”) refers to events or experiences that we may be able to subjectively experience or sense but cannot objectively measure or explain. In the narrative, metaphysical phenomenon is part of ordinary human experience in ways that create conflict for the characters, propelling the story forward to find out how will the character deal with these events.
The metaphysical element is the key ingredient within the plot. For example, characters possess talents (or objects) that defy physical laws, which other characters want to possess and control. Suggesting reading: MJ Rose’s series beginning with The Reincarnationist – novels of suspense that are driven by metaphysical phenomenon (mystical tools that can access past lives and potentially alter life events).
Magical Realism is a strong component, but not a requirement, of Metaphysical Fiction. Magical Realism explores the paradox of the union of opposites within the plot/narrative and through characters. Magical realism is characterized by two conflicting perspectives, one based on a rational view of reality and the other on the acceptance of the supernatural as prosaic reality. Both Metaphysical Fiction and Magical Realism explore a worldview where the natural, physical laws of the universe are not the only plausible explanation for events in the story (or in real life, for that matter). Supernatural/fantastical elements are weaved into the narrator’s voice and the normal perception of characters within the fictional plot. While the reader realizes that the rational and irrational are conflicting polarities, they are not disconcerted because the author has established the supernatural/metaphysical within the context of the ordinary world. (Also see this definition of metaphysical literature and magical realism).
- Visionary Fiction: The Celestine Prophecy by James Redman, What Dreams May Come (book and film)
- Spiritual Fiction: The series, Left Behind, Rooms by James Rubin, and The Shack
- Magical Realism: Almost any novel by Alice Hoffman, Garden Spells by Sara Addison Allen
- Metaphysical Fiction: The Book of Lost Fragrances by MJ Rose, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The Time Keeper, by Mitch Albom
Having done this genre-bending exploratory writing exercise, it’s clear to me that visionary fiction has a deeper spiritual aspect than metaphysical fiction. An emerging genre, metaphysical fiction will find a readership among those who enjoy otherworldly tales and magical realism without having to depart from contemporary settings…they, like me, understand that the world is far more mystical than mundane for those who are willing to see with more than their eyes.
About the author
Karen M. Rider has a passion for writing about all things holistic and mystical. With a background in health science, psychology and research, Karen brings a keen mind and sensitive objectivity to writing about subjects that fall into the ether between science and spirit. For articles on health, spirituality and healing Karen has interviewed respected visionary healers including Andrew Weil, Joan Borysenko, Caroline Myss, Stewart Pearce and Judith Orloff. Her articles on success steps for writers have appeared in The Writer and Writer’s Digest.
An emerging fiction author, Karen spins tales that weave myth and metaphysics a contemporary, often suspenseful storyline. Karen’s first published visionary story, The Parade, appeared in Om Times magazine in 2011/12. Rachel’s Garden, a speculative suspense story will be published in the anthology Things You Can Create (January 2013, Stone Thread Publishing). Karen is currently writing The Gathering, a metaphysical story set at Gillette Castle in Connecticut. Another book project, “The Energy Healer Series,” includes three titles: The Entelechist, The Auracle and The Mystic. Karen presents programs for writers at libraries, conferences, schools and for writing groups. An accomplished writing coach and co-writer, Karen guides healing arts professionals in creation of articles, interviews, book proposals and other writing projects. Ask Karen to Write for You.
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