The Delicate Balance in Visionary Fiction – by Rea Nolan Martin

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Editor’s note: One of our Visionary Fiction Alliance founding members, Margaret Duarte, wrote a review of Rea Martin Nolan’s latest book, Mystic Tea. You can read the review here. We were so pleased with how Rea represented Visionary Fiction that we asked her to share her perspective on what is important in writing Visionary Fiction, and how she goes about writing it. Here is Rea’s insightful response.

Visionary fiction is a delicate matter requiring a mastery of creative and technical balance. Unlike Fantasy, which generally takes place entirely in realms of the authors invention, Visionary Fiction is best told in the firmament of human physical and emotional experience. For me, at least, the goal is not to write exclusively for mystics, but for readers in the process of awakening. This requires an accessible entry point with opening scenes steeped in familiar culture, grounded in temporal human experience.

Rea Nolan Martin

Rea Nolan Martin

Since Visionary Fiction bears witness and insight into expanded awareness, the question then is how to balance the story structure. I have been writing what is now known as Visionary Fiction for twenty years. In my short stories, first two novels, and the third novel, The Anesthesia Gamewhich will debut this year, I maintain a similar ratio of concrete to mystical of about 2:1. Of course (being visionary) I didn’t craft this ratio consciously. However, looking back, I see what I’ve done time and again. This ratio has been so successful for me because it grounds the reader firmly in the third dimension before introducing any significant mystical or esoteric scenes. By the time the story launches into the mystical, the reader perceives it almost entirely through the eyes of one or more of my character/s. If I have made those characters credible, the reader will find the visionary experience likewise credible. In this context, character development that rises organically through the storyline is mandatory. All characters and experiences within the story must connect masterfully.

Using this structure as a guideline, the first third of the story concentrates on the five senses, while introducing or at least foreshadowing the mystical thread. In the second (or transitional) third, that thread is pulled delicately through, expanding it incrementally until the mystical feature is almost, but not quite equal to the physical and emotional features of the storyline. At this point the mystical world is threatening or inviting the reader inside, compounding tension to character and plot—worrying the reader—which way will it go?

In the last third, the balance surrenders to the mystical. If I have done this successfully, I have transported the reader with me through a looking glass into a world that reflects, illuminates and expands awareness. Hopefully, I have done this in an entertaining manner, embodying a breadth of human experience.

‘Voice’ and ‘Tone’ are as crucial to the success of our genre as to any other. Even these must be employed with delicacy. Attempting to ‘teach’ or ‘tell’ a reader everything I think I know is a technique doomed to failure. If I am in a hurry to regurgitate everything at once, I should probably be writing memoir or inspirational nonfiction. Didactic stories under the guise of fiction often carry agendas that are far more transparent to the reader than the author realizes. My advice is to take your time. Reveal your story with patience, awareness, sensitivity, and plenty of character development. This way there’s an opportunity to learn as much as you teach.

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Bio:

Rea Nolan Martin has been writing Literary and Visionary Fiction for over twenty years. She is the author of two novels, The Sublime Transformation of Vera Wright (2009) and Mystic Tea(2014), as well as short stories and poetry published in national literary magazines and anthologies. She was a founding editor of Inkwell literary magazine, as well as an adjunct professor in the Master of Arts in Writing (MAW) program at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY. Her inspirational blogs are published regularly in The Huffington Post and The Charter For Compassion. Her second novel, Mystic Tea, is the recipient of the 2014 IPPY gold medallion and US Best Book award for Visionary Fiction, as well as the 2014 Pinnacle gold medallion in the category of Literary Fiction. Her third novel, The Anesthesia Game, will be released in 2015.

 

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15 Responses to The Delicate Balance in Visionary Fiction – by Rea Nolan Martin

  1. esdragon2 says:

    You have described this fine balance perfectly, Rea Nolan. Your comment; 'the goal is not to write exclusively for mystics, but for readers in the process of awakening,' I agree with 100%. Thank you for sharing this insightful perspective on VF.

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  2. philipparees says:

    A beautifully clear exposition. Now I am happy that I do indeed write visionary fiction as here defined! And for much the same reasons.

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  3. ellemoss10 says:

    Thank you for your deeply thoughtful analysis. It's helpful and your dog is wonderful.

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  4. Rea, Thanks for this post. I love talking about structure, and this is so clear. It makes perfect sense, too. How do we move from this world through the looking glass, so to speak, into the metaphysical experience of the novel's climax? Slowly and through well developed characters. As you put it so well, "Attempting to ‘teach’ or ‘tell’ a reader everything I think I know is a technique doomed to failure." Your MYSTIC TEA is such a great example of visionary fiction. I loved it. Looking forward to your next one.

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  5. Your post reminds me of why I was so impressed with your novel, MYSTIC TEA.

    "My advice is to take your time. Reveal your story with patience, awareness, sensitivity, and plenty of character development. This way there’s an opportunity to learn as much as you teach."

    Well said, Rea.

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  6. One of the take home gems of wisdom in writing VF was, for me, your idea of introducing the mystical slowly -" expanding it (the mystical thread) incrementally until the mystical feature is almost, but not quite equal to the physical and emotional features of the storyline." Even for those readers already in full alignment with the mystical, it is a lovely and effective way to embed this thread in the story and the reader's awareness.

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  7. libredux says:

    Thanks for sharing your insights and experiences in writing your VF, Rea. I like how you discovered your ideal ratio of 2:1 for concrete to mystical as the right mix for your stories. Indeed many VF writers will concur with this, as it has been said here before that VF roots itself in the real and draws the reader into its own dimension through the familiar. I also agree with you about the importance of being able to put out a message without being didactic.

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  8. reanolanmartin says:

    thanks for taking the time to read it, everybody. if it helps one, it helps all, right? we're in this together! xo

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  9. Thanks for your insights, Rea. I thoroughly enjoyed your Mystic Tea (a surprise as, at first sight, it did not seem to be my kind of book, confessing my prejudice against what might be chick-lit) and its superb blending of all the elements of an excellent story. You even wielded the ax against "established" patriarchal religion without coming off like a harridan. And now, with the above, to hear your recipe, complete with exact measurements behind the work, is a rare tour of a VF writer's kitchen.

    "Mastery of creative and technical balance" is what takes the work and time, but without that VF becomes diluted didacticism. In a way, we are sneaking the higher dimension (spirituality) into the skeptic's awareness in the same way that the spiritual Universe insinuates Itself into our daily lives, a glimmer (or flyby) at a time. An excellent application of the Hermetic principle: "As above so below. As below so above."

    Oh, and your wonderful use of humor–as a former seminarian (the male version of the monastery), I was laughing until it hurt. I, for one, need to work more on that. The joker is often the wisest person in the cast as he can get away with telling the unvarnished truth and keep his head.

    I do hope we will see future posts from you. I can imagine there are many more valuable recipes in your cookbook.

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  10. thanks so much, victor, for that reply as well as for your welcome reviews on amazon & goodreads–any author's lifeblood. loved how you put it: "In a way, we are sneaking the higher dimension (spirituality) into the skeptic’s awareness in the same way that the spiritual Universe insinuates Itself into our daily lives, a glimmer (or flyby) at a time." it's true. the Universe does that in the beginning, but as you have no doubt discovered, after a while it seems to trade-in its glimmers and flyby's for a blunt axe. at least it sometimes feels that way!

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  11. drstephenw says:

    Some wonderful advice for writing VF, Rea. I think tone and humor are yet to be fully explored in the genre.

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  12. Anne T Kerrigan says:

    Thank you, Rea! Your post affirms where I am with my current writing project. And is a good reminder to remain patient. I often want to push forward and talk it through with my contacts here on VFA, but it's probably too early.

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