LITERATURE: At Swim-Two-Birds – Connections of Characters to Authors

In this epitomy of metafiction, we’re bound to get lost if we wander too far away for too long.  O’Brien makes sure that we don’t:

Trellis’s dominion over his characters, I explained, is impaired by his addiction to sleep.  There is a moral in that.

(…) He is a great man that never gets out of bed, he said.  He spends the days and nights reading books and occasionally he writes one.  He makes his characters live with him in his house.  Nobody knows whether they are there at all or whether it is all imagination.  A great man.  (p. 139)

(…) Very unexpected things happened, I said.  They fall in love and the villain Furriskey, purified by the love of a noble woman, hatched a plot for putting sleeping-draughts in Trellis’s porter by slipping a few bob to the grocer’s curate.  This meant that Trellis was nearly always asleep and awoke only at predeterminable hours, when everything would be temporarily in order.  (p. 141)

Hah!  We tend to indeed live with our characters surrounding us as we write, and yet the thought never before had occurred to me just how they might turn the tables and gain the upperhand.  I’m personally very free with my characters and allow them to go where they might; might this be dangerous?

O’Brien’s ideas and perceptive insight into narrative are so complex, and yet so deceptively simple as to be genius.  He reminds us now and then of who is who and in what plane of structure so that we can note the connections and accept them; after all, the author himself (the one created by O’Brien) is telling them to us in a fairly detailed fashion.  Shall we doubt the author’s author?

There may be an underlying "moral" to this situation as the character states.  Does sleep in fact create a looseness or flexibility so different than our waking state of control?  Or is he perhaps referring to the mind at sleep being so much more dramatic, more free-flowing with ideas that dreams are of what literature should be composed?

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1 Response to LITERATURE: At Swim-Two-Birds – Connections of Characters to Authors

  1. Roberta S says:

    I found your last paragraph here so interesting. I suspect this is the formula for writing with real inspiration. I often mentally form stories soon after sleep when the fluid residue of dreams is still a flexable and malleable gel. Unless I actively play with that residue, it all too quickly hardens, like play dough. It is good to keep working it — pressing it, squeezing it, and warming it with pen and pondering.

    But letting those characters move in? I know what you mean about them getting the upper hand. All too soon they’re telling me what to do and how to do it. Mostly, they’re pulling at my shirt so I will leave off household routines and engage my attention with only them… 🙂

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