Metaphysical fiction is one of the genres that has increased with the self-publishing revolution. Many authors are writing metaphysical fiction, or books with a metaphysical aspect to them, but at the moment it has a relatively small following, and the books that do well in terms of sales also fit into another more popular genre.
What is metaphysical fiction?
One of the things that holds the genre back is that many, if not most, readers have no idea what metaphysical fiction is, and the best of it is couched in stories that fit other genres as well, which makes it hard for readers to know if they’ll enjoy a look listed as metaphysical.
Metaphysical fiction are stories that include some aspect of the inner, incorporeal, supernatural, spiritual, archetypal or transcendent aspects of human experience and may emphasise an individual’s movement towards self-actualisation. The term ‘metaphysical fiction’ is a description of an emphasis in a book rather than a specific story style. Metaphysical fiction can be romances, science fiction, fantasy, contemporary fiction, even thrillers and practically anything else. (For a fuller definition see my post called What Is Metaphysical fiction?)
Potential and hurdles to growth
Though metaphysical fiction is unlikely to hit the best-seller lists, due to its small readership, the genre does have potential for increasing readership, because with so many books available for so little these days, eventually avid readers are likely to try something a little different. Hopefully, when they stumble onto some metaphysical fiction, they’ll find it entertaining and well written as well as inspiring.
Unfortunately some readers think that metaphysical fiction is somewhat tedious to read, and this is the kind of perception that prevents it from becoming a popular genre. Literary fiction suffers from the same perception in some readers, and in both genres, there’s a good reason for this – some metaphysical and literary fiction is rather boring and self-endulgent. But good examples of both genres are entertaining as well as moving and thought provoking. This is the challenge for metaphysical fiction authors.
Writing metaphysical fiction
The risk, and a common fault in metaphysical fiction, is that the emphasis on the spiritual/supernatural/philosophical elements are more important to the author than having a good story. This shows in the finished product, leading to books where the metaphysical aspects are too solid to digest or too removed from reality to relate to readers. Story is most important in all fiction. Above all, readers want a good story with characters to whom they can relate.
I’ve seen pages and pages describing some spiritual experience, sometimes in beautiful language, that is totally unengaging because it doesn’t have the supporting structure of a solid story and characters. It doesn’t relate to anything. Other times the metaphysics slow the story so much that the reading becomes tedious or the story completely overwhelmed. This kind of imbalance gives metaphysical fiction a bad reputation, and books like this do not do well. The metaphysics much be held within a solid and interesting plot, the same as with any kind of fiction.
The metaphysics in a book is not sufficient on its own. Metaphysical ideas are interesting—that’s what draws people to the genre—but people who just want to read about ideas choose non-fiction. If they choose fiction, they want a good story, and if metaphysical fiction is to fulfil its promise, then authors must deliver. Without the metaphysics riding on a strong story, we end up with vague, wishy-washy fiction that doesn’t do our ideas or the genre justice.
An example of highly readable metaphysical fiction is my Diamond Peak Series, a contemporary fantasy series that is an analogy for the path to enlightenment. The books have all the elements that make a good fantasy and the metaphysics is so woven into the story, that the protagonist must learn meditation if she is to defeat the demons. The learning of meditation is actually essential to the plot. And yet the word is never mentioned!
Readers will dip into the genre but if the books they choose don’t hold them, they’ll assume that all metaphysical fiction is the same and never try another book with that label. Books labelled metaphysical fiction should be as exciting as the ideas they contain, and for that they need to start with story, not with philosophy.
Your spiritual or philosophical ideas should be an integral part of the story, not an addition, but rather something interwoven into the plot. Without that, you run the risk of preaching, and no one likes to be preached at! Heavy handedness is overkill and turns readers off. Good Christian fiction for instance, appeals equally to non-Christians.
As a general rule, you’ll find that you need a lot less of the metaphysical elements than you think you do. When writing the Diamond Peak Series (my first novels) I pruned the metaphysics back heavily over successive drafts, and less was certainly more. Each small gem of wisdom then stood out. It’s very easy for philosophical or spiritual ideas to overwhelm a story, and like too many metaphors, you create something so solid with images or ideas that the reader feels as if they’re wading through mud – or perhaps treacle.
Plot basics are the basis
So, authors of metaphysical fiction, please make sure that you book has the plot basics in place—a protagonist (the central character) who has an aim, or a task to complete, or a challenge or problem of some kind, and an antagonist, the person or thing that gets in the way of them successfully achieving their aim, completing their task or solving their problem. Without these three things—character, intention, thwarting of intention—there is no dramatic tension, and books without tension are boring.
Fiction of all genres must have a challenge, a struggle, some conflict, either internal or external (preferably both) and it needs to be clear what this challenge is, and who or what is thwarting it, by 25% of the way in at the latest—the sooner the better. By 10% of the way in, the reader should be invested in the main character, and things should be changing in their life, the ground should be shifting beneath them, questions should be arising, something should be happening that will lead into the full revelation of the challenge and the antagonist.
Characters have beliefs, knowledge and experiences that make them react to plot elements in specific ways, so your book could simply be about or include a character who responds to their challenges from the view point of their spiritual outlook. This is the approach I take in my Prunella Smith books – Worlds Within Worlds and The Locksmith’s Secret. The metaphysical aspect in them is due to the way Ella sees her world and handles her challenges.
Do you have any metaphysical aspects in your writing? How have you woven them into the story?
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