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Gnostic Fiction
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My father is a wonderful storyteller, and one of his favorite phrases is: "I just tell them. I don't explain them". I think among storytellers there is a lot to be said for that policy.

But I have a notion about stories that I have been thinking about for a long time. I like to call it gnostic fiction, though I think it applies not just to fiction but to all narrative modes.

Gnosticism is a set of philosophical/religious ideas of uncertain origin. Gnosis is an ancient Greek word that translates roughly to knowledge. In Gnosticism, the path to salvation is through knowledge of the ultimate truth. As a comedy writer, I am especially attracted to Gnosticism because of its basic tenet that the world we know is the result of some primal cosmic screwup. Which sounds about right to me.

But for me, Gnosticism also suggests a blueprint for telling a story, one I have attempted to follow in various works, including my novel The Marriage of True Minds. The idea is this. In Gnostic thought, the world as generally experienced is this world of error. But an understanding of true reality is available to those who pursue it, who are able to recognize the keys, and who are open to and prepared for the greater vision.

I like the idea of applying this multi-track reality concept to story telling. I know that many writers construct hierarchies of meaning within texts. But I like to use the most obvious textual track (I don't think in hierarchies, with their implicit values, but more in tracks or threads through the text) to tell a story primarily for its entertainment value. By separating the deep meaning of the text from the reader's initial experience of the story, you can lighten the load and create the possibility of a purely entertaining event, a good thing in my view. 

For those readers who want more (or for your own amusement), you can place keys within the text leading to one or more alternate tracks of meaning, kind of like those magic quest video games where you pick up objects of power along the journey. These keys seem almost but not quite natural within the story experience, not enough to disrupt the reader's flow through the entertainment track, but enough that in retrospect, the keys call out for further attention.

I'm sure there are many ways writers can create these alternate tracks within a text. I tend to use architecture (structure is meaning, I like to say, always in my most meaningful voice). In my play, The Ghost Writer, I use a convergence of archetypes. In TMOTM, I use an evolving narrative point of view. In the nonfiction book I'm working on now, I'm trying for a kind of textual pointillism.

Whether any of this actually works is an open question (though I think it does). And there are probably those who would argue that writers should say what they have to say in the clearest way possible. But I say, where is the fun in that?

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Gnostic Tonic

From my rudimentary knowledge of the Gnostic Gospels, I am attracted by what I interpret as a, for want of a better word, pragmatic outlook on Christ and His life and teaching. Should I live so long, something to explore.

In my novels, although a philosophic premise is always one or more of the foundation stones, I rely on the characters to set everything else into motion. I follow them and their interactions and their ideas. They cause and solve problems while I have no more control than a taxi driver headed for a particular destination. Which we all might not reach.

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The entire story of the Nag Hammadi discovery fascinates me, and makes me wonder what else is out there.

I think there must be a reality track where characters are more real than their authors.