– Dedicated to writers who have influenced me
Each story genre has a central concern. A love story, for instance, answers what love is while detective fiction answers what crime is. A bildungsroman talks about growth or maturity while superhero fiction talks about morality. Metafiction can be understood as a work that explores what fiction is.
We have probably heard that metafiction is a text aware of its fictional status. That is one way to write/conceive metafiction. Another way of thinking about metafiction is that it is a commentary on what fiction is, and what writing it must feel like. Such works explore the connection between art/fiction and reality, creations and creators explicitly.
We will write this second form of metafiction. We will write about the process of writing. And we will definitely write about writers, with them as protagonists.
To do this, think about what fiction means and bring it out in your pieces. For instance,
Fiction is lying, so metafiction either says that fiction is a lie or that fiction is the truth. Then, you can describe a writer who writes true fiction or fake fiction and what happens to those stories. Do they have value if they are false? Or do we learn that fiction is both true and false simultaneously?
Fiction is constructed, so metafiction either says that fiction is constructed or that it is reality-as-is. Then, the writer in your story works hard to create fiction or absorb it from the world, and the problems it brings along.
There are other axes of thinking about fiction: permanence/impermanence, difference from the author’s world, originality/influence, pervasiveness and containment, cohesivity of a text, structure and sequencing in a text, translation, authorship and authority, censorship etc.
Write something in which a writer protagonist talks about their relationship with fiction. Use a metafictional concern if possible.
Here are a few prompts to get you started. You can choose to ignore these and write your own ideas.
Ell-P reads a Tamil translation of their Hindi text and there is a mis-translation on Page 48, Line 17. They do not know whether to attribute it to the translator or the publisher. They decide to trace the source of the mistake, uncovering the unnerving fact that a novel is actually ‘written’ by an industry, not an individual.
Pavan is a ghostwriter for Ashvin’s mythology series. Ashvin is rewriting characters from the Matsya Purana into Modern Matsya Purana, an adaptation for modern readers. Pavan wonders if Ashvin is any better than him because they are both copying work by someone else. He struggles to explain why Ashvin is a writer and he is a ghostwriter.
Anjali is the writer for Nikita’s illustrated children’s classic targeted towards early readers. A particular storyline is text heavy and Nikita wants Anjali to cut down on the writing to make ‘space’ for the illustration. Anjali believes that early readers have to ‘read’ and Nikita argues that they need to ‘read’ illustrations as well.
Amel has experimented with minimalistic writing. Her most recent novel had twenty-five words spanning seven hundred pages, framing the whitespace in innovative ways. After receiving her Pulitzer, Booker and Nobel, she sits down to edit her piece to create her masterpiece, driven by a Platonic calling for ‘true art’.
Shikhar does not write anymore; he spends his days lying on his back, smoking weed and tracing the smoke into typing and writing gestures. The words of every novel he has thus written are embossed firmly in his mind, accessible only when he is high, though in that state, he cannot write. When sober, he stutters to complete a sentence, leave alone write one. He is worried that his stories will be lost with him.
Isha has a prohibitive pencil and Karthik is a voracious writer. They create books based on an ebb and flow of words, Isha striking out much of what Karthik writes. This excess/dearth has been a bone of contention between them until they separate their professional work. Isha becomes a successful editor while Karthik finds no readers. Do they eventually get back to working together?
Vishakha died recently, and her work was published posthumously by her long-time partner. Her fifty-odd fanbase who had tolerated her cliffhangers find that this new set of stories has an ending to many of her previously incomplete storylines. They realise that the cliffhangers they found so appealing were actually random stops in the plot. Does this enhance Vishakha’s status or reduce it?
Abhishek is a famous writer in Canada who writes about Indian slums. The authenticity of his work is plugged by his sharper-than-thy imagination, which he has started using a lot of of late. His critics find his descriptions ‘stark, evocative but true to the reality of millions of starving mouths’. Abhishek flies down to Dharaavi once, but finds that his work nowhere mirrors the reality but differs from it in subtle ways.