Sometimes books that are metaphysical fiction can also be called visionary fiction, but books that are visionary fiction are not always metaphysical in nature. Visionary and metaphysical are not synonymous terms.
So what’s the difference?
Metaphysical fiction essentially has two components, philosophy and a non-corporeal, ineffable or supernatural element. In metaphysical fiction both components are an integral part of the story, ie the character’s supernatural/psychic experiences and their philosophy – or the philosophy of their world – are part of the action, ie through which the character achieves their goals or is thwarted in, or by them. Though it often is, metaphysical fiction is not necessarily ‘spiritual’ in nature. It may, for example, be based more on psychology or pure philosophy than on any spiritual system of thought. Visionary fiction, however, is always spiritual in nature.
The usual subject matter and plot thread in visionary fiction is a character’s, or society’s journey towards self-actualisation. This spiritual aspect is of primary importance, whereas in metaphysical fiction the spiritual aspect – if there is one – is not so obvious. Visionary fiction, as its name suggests is generally inspiring and has the wisdom of some form of spiritual teachings woven into the story. However it does not necessarily describe altered states of mind and does not use them as plot devices as in metaphysical fiction.
The differences between these two genres of fiction are best understood when you read something that is clearly one and not the other. An example of metaphysical that isn’t visionary is the Rule of Ten books. They have Buddhist philosophy and expressions of ineffable /meditative states but are not concerned directly – ie it isn’t the main thrust of the story – with a character’s journey to self-actualisation. My own novel You Can’t Shatter Me is the same.
An example of something that is visionary and not metaphysical is ‘Laughing out Loud.’ This story is about a person’s journey to self-actualisation, but it has no descriptions of ineffable states or anything that could be called supernatural, ethereal or non-corporeal. The story doesn’t go into altered states or meditative experiences. As far as I can remember, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior is like that also.
The example of a book that is both visionary and metaphysical that I am most familiar with is my own Diamond Peak Series. If you look at the overall story, on one level it is the story of a girl climbing a mountain to rescue her mother from a demon, but on another level it is the story of her overcoming her ego to reach enlightenment. The whole story is an analogy for the path to enlightenment, which makes it visionary, and the teachings woven into it are Buddhist, hence the spiritual element.
The reason it is metaphysical – and more truly that than visionary – is because the demons must be defeated by using mind power, and the ineffable mind states entered into are a plot device. Without them, the demons could not be defeated. There is also no Buddhist terminology because it is all analogy. Although it is there, the spiritual nature of the work is not immediately obvious.
With the growing number of works of metaphysical fiction available today, I think it is helpful to be clear about the differences, particularly because I believe there are readers who would enjoy metaphysical fiction but would find visionary fiction a bit too spiritual or new agey.