This morning while I was reading “Map of Heaven” I was struck by the author’s discussion of the invisible world versus the visible world, the real world versus the shadow world. One example you’re probably familiar with is Plato’s metaphor of prisoners in a cave, chained to a wall, with flickering light coming from behind: the prisoners think that the dancing shadows on the wall before them is the real world. And when one of them escapes and actually sees what the reality looks like, the poor prisoners won’t believe him.
As I read “Map of Heaven” I was struck by the similarity of that discussion with the technique of the character-driven story. Because I’m trying my hand at fiction, I’m reading a lot about what makes good story-telling. What does fiction writing have to do with the argument of which world is real? Well, Plato and others propose that the real world is our spiritual home, and this physical world is where we act out the drama of the lessons we wish to learn — like one of those movies where the lead actor is also the writer and director. In weak writing, the author tells us that John Smith is a noble man. In strong writing, the author shows John Smith doing noble acts. In great writing, we are so absorbed in the intricacies of plot and the beauty of language, that the physical world disappears and the story world is all that exists.