Last night I had a vivid dream. It was progressing nicely until a suspicion grew in my mind that what I was seeing and feeling wasn’t real. A moment came when I realized I was dreaming, which broke “the spell” and I awoke.
In The Truman Show, Jim Carrey’s character, Truman, undergoes a similar awakening, though he isn’t dreaming. His entire life is a sham, a television show of which he is the unwitting star. Truman’s suspicions alert him to what’s going on and he eventually breaks free from his prison.
In The Matrix, a computer hacker named Neo allies himself with a clandestine organization who show him that his entire life is a deception, a computer program diabolical machines are using to simulate a dependent consciousness for their human captors.
“You know something,” Neo is told. “What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.”
In his case, waking up to reality is a painful, disorienting process. But once his reality begins to unravel, once he really starts to tug and pull at the fabric of his belief system, finding the truth is inevitable. As Truman’s captor, Kristoff, muses, after Truman’s escape from the TV show, “If his was more than just a vague ambition, if he was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there’s no way we could prevent him.”
In literature, effective fiction is built on something called the fictive dream. Readers willingly submit themselves to the imaginative powers of a writer in exchange for a chance to lose themselves in the world of the story. When you forget you’re reading a book, the fictive dream is at work. The thing is, with every story, whether embracing a sci-fi or an Amish melodrama, a contract is formed between writer and reader.
Within the first few pages, an effective writer establishes the ground rules for the contract. At any point in the story, the reader can opt out.
This story takes place in the future. Check. Or check out.
You are on a space ship. Check. Or check out.
There is a dangerous alien on board. Check. Or check out.
The effective writer draws the reader along with invisible cords, inviting her to accept the major premises of the book, to embrace the world in which the story takes place. If you can’t handle sci-fi, you check out. Put the book back. If you love sci-fi, you may think, “Okay. I’ll give you the fact that this is the future, we’re on a space ship, and a dangerous alien is at large. Cool.” From this point on, effective writing pulls you into itself, into the story, and we’re swept along with the plot and characters—we willingly enter the fictive dream.
Unless, of course, something niggles us. Unless the author doesn’t write effectively, or something doesn’t make sense, or the characters do something incongruent with their identity. At this point, the fictive dream collapses and we become conscious of the fact that we’re reading again. We critique the author. We decide whether or not the contract we made in chapter one should still hold, or whether we should put the book down and give up.
What many people fail to realize is, Satan is a master storyteller. Right from page one, right from the moment we begin forming our concept of the world, God is trying to help us see the world as it really is—while our enemy is fabricating an elaborate fictive dream for us to live in. He’s laying out the framework for the contract:
You are alone in the world. Check.
There is no God. Check.
Life is up to you. Check.
Or whatever our particular fictive dream may be, because each dream is uniquely spun.
But…”You feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.”
The Holy Spirit is continually drawing us too, guiding us into all truth, trying open our eyes, leading us from the prison of our contaminated paradigms. My question for you today is simple: Is there a splinter in your mind, a niggling thought that perhaps, just maybe, your view of a particular thing is skewed?
Maybe it’s time to wake up from the fictive dream.