I’m a big fan of metafiction, as long as it’s not too cute, and as long as I think the author has a good reason for using metafictional techniques, and isn’t just indulging in stylistic weirdness for the sake of weirdness, or using metafictional approaches to hide the fact that their story, really, is actually kind of thin.

(By “metafiction” in this case I mean stories about stories, and stories that address the structure and devices of fiction, and stories that blur the line between fictive-reality and real-reality in various ways, including having the author appear as a character.)

Don’t get me wrong, I also like stories that don’t go out of their way to call attention to the fact that they’re stories — most stories I like are that kind! — but a good metafiction can give me a powerful mental shiver, a sense of the uncanny, a feeling that I’m seeing something I wasn’t meant to see.

The first metafiction I remember reading, the one that made a big impact, was “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood. I found it really chilling as a twelve-year-old (or whatever) and it still gives me a little frisson, and gets to the bottom of some root assumptions about Story. The fact that (almost) every story, taken to its logical conclusion, ends ultimately with the death of its characters — wow. Quite a realization for a young writer who hasn’t really gotten a handle on the idea of death at all yet.

That story was somewhere in the back of my head when I wrote my own piece of metafiction, “Her Voice in a Bottle”, which just went online at Subterranean. The story is entirely true, except for the parts that aren’t, and it draws very deeply and profoundly from real things that happened in my life — and, certainly, it describes an emotional truth. It also deals with that notion of happy endings, because in real life, things don’t end, at least, not the way they usually do in stories.

That kind of inserting-yourself-into-fiction thing isn’t new, of course, and I was very consciously emulating writers like Jeffrey Ford (who does that sort of thing beautifully, like in my favorite story of his, “The Honeyed Knot”), and Rudy Rucker, who often appears in his own work as a character (Rucker is a master of transrealism, a term he coined to refer to including fantastic elements in realistic, naturalistic writing; well, that’s the gist, anyway). (They didn’t invent the trick, either, but I like the way they use it.)

I was so happy with “Her Voice in a Bottle” that I did the metafictional thing again, in a story called “Unexpected Outcomes” that will be in Interzone sometime, where I appear as a character — sort of. But it’s a technique that can be distracting, and is best used sparingly, at least for me. And it can be terribly self-indulgent, something I always worry about, because, hey, I like indulging myself, but I don’t need to inflict that on other people. Still, when such techniques work, I find they can really get to the heart of the thematic matter, revealing truth a bit less than usually masked.


3 Responses to “MetaMetaMeta”

  1. March 3, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    Wow, I just read “Her Voice in a Bottle.” Wow. Just awesome. Can’t wait for “Unexpected Outcomes”!

    Also, I am generally so not a fan of authors inserting themselves into their stories (despite how much I loved this one) that I can’t imagine ever doing it myself. Which means, of course, that I really need to. 🙂

  2. 2 tapratt
    March 4, 2009 at 12:56 am

    If you try to do it honestly, and really think about what you’d actually do in such a fictional situation, it can be… bracing, and illuminating, and scary, and cool. But, yeah, it’s something best used sparingly I think.

  3. March 9, 2009 at 12:23 am

    If you want to experience a great metafiction book that test the narrative voice, and is written with true authorial intent, check out Ara13.com and Drawers & Booths (and look at it on Amazon). If it seems up your alley, and you would be willing to review it, I will gladly send you an ARC. Let me know via Ara13c@yahoo.com

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