Hello! This is Alice. She’s happy to announce her wondrous discovery: organicity is a word the dictionary recognises! Isn’t it wonderful? A bit clumsy, yes, but far above its super clunky counterpart, organicalness!
Anyway, this is a companion piece to what I wrote earlier about authenticity. I sought to understand authenticity in terms of truth; organicity, on the other hand, I associate with life. When I try to determine if a text is organic, I ask myself: is it alive?
Like authenticity, organicity is one of my guiding principles. And yes, like authenticity, it’s just as nebulous. So, apologies in advance for any randomly colliding thought trains!
So, what makes a text “organic”? When is a text alive? Here are some guidelines.
A living text doesn’t exhaust itself
Wolfe’s metric for a good book was that he could read it again and again, and it would keep giving him joy. A living text is like that: not a one-trick pony, nor a one-hit wonder, it reinvents itself between readings, so that every time I pick it up, it’s new. It’s a cornucopia, a wondrous Sampo or a cauldron of plenty that keeps nourishing me until the end of my days. Better yet, it gets richer and richer in subsequent readings.
A living text isn’t a slave to structure
The text may follow the hero’s journey, or fit into a three act structure. It may be divided into chapters, and adhere to a grammar. But it is not defined by these things, like humans are not defined by their skeletons. They may give it shape, but the shape merely serves the greater thing, a thing above all shapes, forms, chains, and limitations.
A living text isn’t a slave to story
A text may tell a story, but a living text isn’t a story. It may tell a hundred stories, but it is not one of them, nor even the sum of them. A living text may even contradict or make fun of its own story. Life itself doesn’t have a story. Neither does a living text.
A living text doesn’t end
Books end once you’ve read the last page and closed the back cover. But the text isn’t the book. The book is just the media, a slew of paper and ink designed to deliver the text, which is born in your brain. And if the book delivers you a living text, it keeps on living after the book has been closed. Ink and paper cannot contain it: it lives in larger spheres, where infinity alone is big enough to cradle it.
Now, as I’ve written these guidelines, I see that they all say pretty much the same thing. Well, so be it. I guess the root of all life is more or less the same.
How am I to write a text like that, then? How can I catch a spark of that life? Well, my dear Alice, try one of these:
1. Explore unrelated tangents.
I know, I know. You’ve outlined a tight plot in three acts. You’ve pared down your list of scenes to a minimum. But still, why don’t you try that path down there? It probably doesn’t lead anywhere, and maybe the characters won’t really learn anything. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t bind your text up until it chokes.
Unbutton for a while. Let the text breathe. And if the digressions keep bothering you later, you can always cut them out.
2. Be interested in the world, not just the story and the characters.
You can craft the perfect protagonist, then kill her off in the first chapter, and your world won’t care. (Much.) And if you let it, your world can spawn you another protagonist just as good as the first one. Ain’t that a marvellous thing? Won’t you take a look at the world, by itself, and see a bit of what it can offer?
Take my word: the world doesn’t revolve around you, Alice. Neither does the world of your text revolve around your characters. No matter how much you love them.
3. Be ambiguous.
Write clear, write concise. We’ve heard that one before, right? And I’m not telling you to pepper your sentences with some, thing, about and mostly. I am telling you to pick at the contradictory knobs in your characters, and poke at the weird spots in your world. Explore the unexplainable, but don’t try to explain it. Withhold your opinions. Leave room for more than either or.
Ambiguity is lifeblood. If you don’t give your reader any ambiguity, you might as well not give them a text at all.
…and lastly, I suppose, don’t force yourself on your story, Alice. The prettiest gardens grow without human interference. So does your text. You are, at best, just the medium.