Visionary fiction is a category of fiction that brings a strong vision of the world, points a way forward through tough times. When fiction is billed as visionary it seems to elicit excitement or groans. Bestsellers or flops. And this is usually because it is so easy for visionary fiction to stray into preachiness and soapboxing. But most fiction that catches on to become a hit actually is visionary in some way, such as the way dystopic YA lit helps people explore a destroyed world, fulfilling an important function in our troubled society. I would go so far as to say that all good fiction is visionary.
Vision of a Fictional World
My fiction is shelved as speculative supernatural or high-concept fantasy, and has been compared to fantasy sci-fi authors Ursula K. Le Guin and Ray Bradbury. But it has a distinctly spiritual flavor because of its cosmological speculative elements about how the world might be knit together—portals between worlds, visions of what kinds of fantastic beings might be out there, that kind of thing. Even though I never aim to tell people what to think with my fiction, I did realize after a lot of reading and writing that I don’t like stories that don’t have some kind of depth to them, emotionally, spiritually, even intellectually. I now believe that the vision of a fictional world, or of its author, is one of the most important components in a great novel, though it often works best when it is behind the scenes, woven into the story where you can’t see the threads.
How can writers impart vision to their fiction? I think you do it by following your heart. Whatever is deep inside you, whatever is really important to you that you wish you could write about but are afraid no one would care—that is your vision. Write it. What do you care about more than you care about being a commercial success? What keeps you going in life when times are terrible? Write about that. And write about what you love and what you hate all wrapped up in a circumstance where they can’t get away from each other. That’s what matters to you. That’s your vision of the world.
Vision for a Way Forward
And if you’re a reader, don’t be afraid to go for those stories that make your chest tingle when you read the description, the ones that speak to what is going on in your life emotionally, spiritually, or even imaginatively—regardless of how popular that genre is that speaks to you. There’s a reason that fantasy appeals to certain people, who live through their rich imaginations. And it’s a good reason, much more than escapism. There’s a reason some people can’t get enough of romance. Even that genre has a vision of the world, full of love or excitement. It may be a basic need, some would say base in the case of more erotic fiction, but it’s a human need. Good books in every genre contain the vision for a way forward toward meeting human needs, living a fulfilled life, and becoming all we are capable of being. I believe that readers in general recognize good fiction when they see it, so there is a reason that strong love stories dominate the fiction trends in most genres, even when the writing isn’t strong. People need love stories. People need many other kinds of stories, too. Adventure. Scientific exploration. Spiritual reflection. Or my favorite, multi-dimensional spiritual adventure!
When I write speculative spiritual fiction, it is important for me to make sure it is the best fiction I can write. No excuse to soap box. This is art. But if you have something burning inside of you to write and no one seems interested, I say you learn your craft and you push your art to its limits, and when you offer it to the world, they may realize that was what they needed all along. Unless you’re Van Gogh and never sell a single painting in your lifetime, in which case you can hope you’re good enough for posthumous accolades. And if you’re a reader, no more apologizing for what you love to read. There’s a reason you love it. It probably has something to do with the author’s vision, which speaks to your experience of the world.
Life is too hard to read or write truly shallow fiction, regardless of genre. Even quick escapes meet a need, and take you to a place that speaks to your heart. Write or read what’s inside you, whatever it is. Bring it out into the light. I know for myself, when I stopped apologizing for how spiritual my focus is in life and in my fiction, written and read, I became radically happy. I may not be right about everything: how could I be? But I now know that I value certain kinds of books for good reason. They speak to me, to my life and my needs and my dreams. And you’re probably not crazy for whatever is burning inside of you to write or read either. So I say read or write not just whatever you like, but whatever you really care about. Regardless of what it looks like on the surface. No apologies. Even the strangest of best-sellers has some kind of visionary appeal. Let’s embrace going after what we love.
Laura K. Cowan writes imaginative stories that explore the connections between the spiritual and natural worlds. Her work has been compared to that of acclaimed fantasy and sci-fi authors Ursula K. Le Guin and Ray Bradbury, but her stark and lovely stories retain a distinctly spiritual flavor. Laura’s debut novel The Little Seer was a top 5 Kindle Bestseller for free titles in Christian Suspense and Occult/Supernatural, and was hailed by reviewers and readers as “riveting,” “moving and lyrical.” Her second novel, a redemptive ghost story titled Music of Sacred Lakes, and her first short story collection, The Thin Places: Supernatural Tales of the Unseen, received rave reviews, and Music of Sacred Lakes also topped the Kindle free bestseller lists during its launch, including #42 on all of Kindle. Laura’s short stories also appear in a number of anthologies, including the popular charity anthology Shades of Fear, and the upcoming historical horror anthology Sins of the Past, the rather ridiculous soon-to-come Panthology anthology, and the completely absurd upcoming Faery Tale Therapy.