I read something once – I forget where – about how strange the concept of sleeping is. To poorly paraphrase, it talked about how bizarre it is that we, as humans, find it so normal to put on special clothes, turn out all the lights, and hallucinate vividly for eight hours every day.
I sometimes feel the same way about writing fiction.
Fiction has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been an avid reader, and at nine, I began writing my first short stories: at first blatant retellings of my favorite chapter books but then, later, less derivative work that almost always started with a scene that was born in some strange recess of my mind: fully formed and ready to be wound into a narrative. While these first scenes come from somewhere so deep that they feel completely independent of me, I know I am the orchestrator of the universes that will hold them; I make the choices that lead the characters to these scenes, through them, and out the other side.
It feels normal to me, now, to spend much of my days wondering what fictional people would do in a given situation, but when I really step back from it – especially when I’m discussing it with people who do not write fiction – I realize just how strange it is: to wonder how a person who does not exist would act if a series of events, which also do not exist, were to occur.
Would she kiss him now, or wait? I ask myself at the register at the supermarket.
What has he lost to make him so bitter? I consider, as I’m folding laundry.
Should I have them go out to a party for New Year’s Eve, or would they be more likely to stay in and watch the ball drop? I think while making dinner.
Today, as I agonized over my main character’s first kiss and wondered what she would say, how she would react, whether it was better placed before or after another event, a fellow fiction writer called it “being God,” and honestly, sometimes that’s the most apt description for my place in the fictional universes I create. While sometimes that subconscious imaginer takes over, making characters say things you never would have dreamed up in your rational mind, at the end of the day, to wield the pen (or, err, the keyboard) is to wield power, and with that power comes an enormous amount of agonizing responsibility.
It also gives you a newfound appreciation for the people who came up with some of the most well-known stories, stories that you don’t think twice about, now, because you’ve heard them a million times, but that nevertheless required an inordinate amount of imagination, planning, and time.
I could cite hundreds of such stories, but for the sake of today, I’ll leave you with just this: consider, for a moment, the imagination it must have taken to come up with even the simplest of fairy tales. From Hansel and Gretel to Cinderella to Jack in the Beanstalk, the minds that came up with these stories must have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to decide the way in which Hansel tricks the witch, who gives Cinderella her beautiful ball gown, or how on Earth Jack gets his hands on those magic beans.
These beans aren’t magic, but they are super easy to make, full of umami flavor, and really good for you – the perfect thing to make while you’re also considering how to get your main character to talk to her crush.
Jumbo White Bean Stew with Greens and Parmesan (serves 2, recipe originally published on Organic Authority)
2 large oil-packed Mediterranean anchovies
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 1/2 cups cooked jumbo white beans (gigante or lima)
1 cup water
1 Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
5 kale leaves, de-stemmed and finely chopped
1 cup raw baby spinach, chopped
1 cup raw arugula, chopped
Place the anchovies in a pan and heat slowly over medium heat. Use a wooden spatula to crush the anchovies into a paste. Add the shallot and garlic, and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the paprika and stir to combine for about 30 seconds, then add the white beans, the water, and the cheese rind. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid and cook as needed until the broth has reduced to the consistency you like. Remove the cheese rind and add the kale, spinach, and arugula. Stir until just wilted, then remove from the heat.
Serve as-is or drizzled with chili-infused oil.