Why I Write Fantasy: To Explore the Meta

To be honest, in writing The Killer and The Dead I didn’t set out to explore aspects of metafiction, which I define as fiction that interrogates itself, and that can operate in a separate space in the reader’s mind beyond merely the ingestion and understanding of the narrative: it just kind of happened. In meta fiction the subject matter can highlight, among other things, its artificiality, cast doubt on its veracity, ask the reader what they want to, or choose to believe in the narrative. A meta-fictional superstructure comes into being, a frame, or frames of reference from which to view the core story, and these frames of reference can conflict with each other, be knowing or subconscious, be obviously accessible to the reader, or shrouded and hidden in the text as an Easter egg for the discerning.

The Killer and The Dead has significant metafictional aspects. It is a first person narrative told by a prisoner (the Killer) to his unseen audience of apprentice wizards, in which he tells the story of how he came to be a prisoner in the first place. Beyond that, the listeners have been informed by their master that they must write a report based on what the prisoner tells them, and the three worst reports will result in the writers being ‘culled’. The prisoner assumes this to mean killed. Thus throughout the book the prisoner, in addition to telling/being forced to tell his tale, is using it as an audition to his captor, to justify why he should be allowed to live at the tale’s end, and he is also trying to undermine, mislead, and trap the listeners into writing reports that will be clumsy enough to get them killed. Yes, it is somewhat ambitious, but I believe in aiming high, and in trying to stretch myself and do something new with each project. The book thus has a frame story – the killer telling his tale to his audience (and of course by extension the unseen audience is also the reader), and the actual narrative of his adventures and misdeeds that got him to the point of being captured.

The story is set in a world of paranoid misery, where everyone, including the killer, lies to get by. Everyone wears false-faces, masks, in order to survive. (Not literally though!) The narrative, which has interjections and speculations by the killer sprinkled through it aimed directly at his fictional audience (never at the reader directly, I did not want to break the 4th wall: that was a meta too far for me!), thus already exists on a few different levels – the simple narrative, and the expression of the Killer’s goals, his interrogator’s goals, and the presumed lessons the apprentices will choose to highlight in their reports, and how then those reports will be used by their master to judge their fitness to avoid being culled.

So that is fairly meta already. I am trying to channel Philip K. Dick into a fantasy novel. I look forward to seeing how successful you guys think I have been!

Where I go full force into the meta, I think, is in my idea to write a bunch of the apprentices’ reports. These will be fictional commentaries about my fictional tale, told by a desperate killer to a group of people threatened with death if they poorly analyze what he has to say. A few will be put in appendices at the end of the book. More will appear here, on this site. I intend to use each report to highlight both the character of the apprentice writing it, and different threads of the story: what each apprentice will decide is the main point of the narrative, be it psychological, socioeconomic, political, or magical, among many others – I have at least thirteen outlined already.

Here is my question to you: Is that a bridge too far? Are you intrigued by these commentaries, or do they turn you off? I like the idea, in the future, of inviting readers to write their own commentaries, imagining themselves as an apprentice. There shall be prizes, and the best shall be admitted into canon with the ones I write.

Does that sound like a good idea, or is it all far too meta for words?

Have a good evening everyone, and remember to keep seeing the wood for the trees!

3 thoughts on “Why I Write Fantasy: To Explore the Meta

  1. The project I am working on right now involves an academic translating an ancient text. So there’s a lot of meta there as he has to interact and interpret the text and narrative.There’s lots of comments and footnotes. It’s fun! I think having appendices in your book sounds like a neat idea. Do it! Just don’t feed the reader a certain interpretation or force them to view the narrative in a certain way.

  2. Stuart Wright

    The Killer’s story must be quite a tale to stand up to all that scrutiny!

    My initial reaction was that it all sounds too complicated… but on reflection I have become intrigued and can imagine how this could work really well.

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