Stuart Little is a bizarre book. Every time I tell someone that they say, “Hmm. I haven’t read it in a while.” Well, I haven’t either, but every once in a while I just start thinking about how weird it is. Now is one of those times.
It reads like a dream. Not like a story based on a dream, but like a literal dream. Can’t you just imagine me saying, “Hey, guess what I dreamed last night? Mom and Dad had another baby and, well, it wasn’t really like a real baby. It was like a mouse, actually, but somehow that made sense in the dream. Anyway my little mouse brother ran off one day to look for this bird that was his friend and had disappeared, and then he, like, met this guy who had this tiny car that would become invisible if you pushed a button. So he rode around in this invisible car, and then once he met this girl that was about the same size as him. He took her on a date but it didn’t go too well. And then I just kind of woke up and I don’t think the little mouse guy ever found the bird.”
I looked “Stuart Little” up on Wikipedia and what do you know, it was based on a dream. There wasn’t much info, but it did say that the reason E.B. White ended it so abruptly was because he was scared he was gonna die so he hurriedly finished it. Then he ended up living another 40 years.
Well of course the fact that it was based on a dream immediately made me like it better. I am always fascinated by books based on dreams. The vast majority of the stories I write come from dreams. Seriously. I started counting last night. Not the short stories that I start to write and then stop almost immediately to write a new story that pops into my head, but the ones that bounce around for years. Ones that are complicated enough that after about six drafts they could eventually be books.
Now only three of these actually have a coherent draft done, but all together there are eight. All but one are based on dreams. One of them was based on two dreams. One of them was based on two dreams of mine and one dream of Amy’s. Though in the end I hardly used any parts from Amy’s dream.
See, I don’t get how E.B. White got Stuart Little published. I don’t understand how it became a classic. How many books are there out there that are based in a dream-like world, our would, only bizarre things like invisible cars are possible?
The Series of Unfortunate Events books are sort of like that, I guess. But not many books. However, it’s my favorite sort of place to pretend to be, and most of my stories end up set there.
But that fantasy-reality place doesn’t really have a name so I just call it fantasy.
How do you pull off fantasy? Every time I finish a story I find it lacking. So I asked my Mom, and she said you have to put realistic characters with realistic emotions in your fantasy setting.
So I took my characters and their emotions and imagined them going to my school and…ah. No wonder my stories were falling flat. That’s when I decided I needed to learn to write realistic fiction, a genre I have never been able to write without either…
- Writing about things I know nothing about (like, what it’s like to be a normal kid going to public school), or…
- Writing about things I know a lot about until it’s not a story about a fictional character, it’s a story about me, or…
- Writing very boring things.
But teaching yourself to write realistic fiction is harder than it sounds. At least it is for me. Finally, on the way home from Oregon, I stumbled across a writing exercise that seems to be helping. I picked an event in my life that was sort of dramatic, and tried to re-write it so that it was much more dramatic, and my character was experiencing it, not me.
It didn’t work that well on the first try. It actually ended up being less dramatic than what really happened, and a bit unrealistic to boot.
So I rolled up my sleeves, made a detailed list of what was wrong with the first re-telling, and re-told it again. I combined two people I know into one person, three weddings I’ve heard about into one wedding, and threw a party I went to a year ago into the mix. And suddenly, things started to emerge. Realistic characters and emotions and back stories.
Perhaps I may be able to master this after all.