As a reader, you may not see all the streams running through a novel, but the ones you do see are usually streams you recognize from your own life. Maybe the courage of the main character inspires you, because you need courage. Or your conscience nudges you when the character is too angry to forgive. Is it the love story that grabs you? Or the sense of betrayal the main character feels? Do you identify with the character’s struggle to forge his or her own identity?
Most of us raft through a novel for the joy of the ride, but we can learn a lot about ourselves by noticing the streams that challenge us. Which streams make you think? Which streams affect you emotionally? Which streams become whitewater for you? Professor Timothy Spurgin, in his course “The Art of Reading,” suggests that we readers ask, “How has this story exposed me to myself?”
You probably won’t be aware of all the streams that flow into any given novel. In fact, it’s not necessary to see them all. Even I, as an author, don’t see all the streams in my own novels. A friend read an early draft of Eye of the Sword and said it’s a novel about brothers. I was surprised, because I hadn’t seen that stream, even though I had rafted the novel dozens of times. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized she was right.
Some novel streams might best be called “themes” (or “threads,” although that’s a different metaphor). When you’re reading and notice a stream or theme resonating deeply with you, you’ve entered the territory of truth in fiction. Fiction may not be factual, but it must tell the truth. About you. On this raft, you’ll get wet.
So grab your binoculars, put on your life vest, hop aboard the raft, and watch out for whitewater. Happy rafting!
© 2012 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy morguefile.com