Tag Archives: writer

The Illusions we live by

By Heather Sylvawood

Authors/writers deal in illusion. Readers accept that they are being drawn into the illusion and for a time enter the unreal world the author has created. Even non-fiction is an illusion because the writer offers the reader ONLY the filtered version of their observation.

So when this image (below) came through Facebook from UniverseLetters.com (artist is J R Slattum) I was jolted into a mind-blowing vision of illusions within illusions within illusions.


‘Your future self is watching you right now through your memories’

My translation of experience today becomes my memory, and influences how I look at things in the future – thereby, at the moment of the experience, I am shaped inevitably into my future-self.  (This is my filter – not necessarily yours. If you see it differently, whose illusion is the ‘truth’?)

As a writer,  I know also that my memories shape the characters I will write into my novels and short stories, and in the writing of them and their imaginary experiences they become another layer of memory. Then, in reading my stories, the reader (perhaps you) absorb the memory of my character and what happens to them, and your filtered memory shapes your future self, your beliefs and even your intentions.

Like a bolt from the blue

The thought made me realise that authors and writers have a huge advantage. We can influence future generations through memory and illusion.

My second thought was – ‘Duh! People have known this for centuries when relating the stories, propaganda, and the half-truths they have told.’

All religions have passed on and added to the stories that influence their believers. Even the ‘truth’ that has been written down is recalled through the reader’s filters. For instance, the stories in the Christian Bible from the apostles, while based on the same experiences as the others, will have been filtered by the previous experiences of the apostle who is relating  what happened.

Who is doing the telling matters

Think about the real-life dramas that are being played out in Court rooms throughout the World. Witness 1’s recall contradicts  Witness 2 and 3 and … We talk about reliable witness statements – but these come from the illusion that people who haven’t had a conviction, or attend church, or run community groups, or public figures, or are talented entertainers are somehow more reliable than the general hoi polloi. We can all point to examples where people in these groups are far from reliable.

The only way that these illusions are accepted as ‘truth’ is by having them committed to memory. And most of our memories are based on frequently repeated stories that become ‘beliefs’.

Writers capture readers by beliefs

A book or story that captures reader imagination must be based on some accepted belief or disbelief. So the writer or author needs to understand the common illusions accepted by most people in their culture.

If an author tried to base a story on the belief that the World is flat they would have an uphill battle convincing readers. The best they could hope is that the reader would keep on reading through sheer disbelief. Even fantasy novels are based on some commonly accepted beliefs, e.g. mountains are high and made of rock, or water runs downhill. (Think about it!)

The trick for writers is that they must pick the beliefs/illusions they tamper with. They have to decide how far the reader will go without putting their novel or short story down in disgust.  I also think they need to decide what they are putting into the memories of their readers – violence, cruelty, experience of death, love, kindness or courage.

Reality doesn’t exist unless you see it

If you consider that memory is based only on filtered illusions, news that Australian scientists have discovered that reality is an illusion comes as no surprise.

“According to a well-known theory in quantum physics, a particle’s behaviour changes depending on whether there is an observer or not. It basically suggests that reality is a kind of illusion and exists only when we are looking at it. Numerous quantum experiments were conducted in the past and showed that this indeed might be the case.

“Now, physicists at the Australian National University have found further evidence for the illusory nature of reality. They recreated the John Wheeler’s delayed-choice experiment and confirmed that reality doesn’t exist until it is measured, at least on the atomic scale.”

If you don’t believe me (and why would you?) take a look at this article on the Mind Unleashed website.

Accepted illusions of life

Many of the great novels of the last two centuries have been based on illusions

  • That good always triumphs over evil
  • That the underdog always succeeds by using tenacity
  • That the pursuit of money is a worthy goal
  • That the rich and powerful are involved in a conspiracy against world populations

Or are they illusions?

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Can you write an accent into your stories?

Loik whatcha red, mate? Dun wanna do ya hed in wif awl vat stuff. No watta mean?

Watcha sayin’, I gotta accent? I speak like we awl do – proppa hinglish.

Here are a few videos that will attune your ear into the differences between accents.

New Zild

The New Zealand accent is an amalgam of many influences.


Australian versus New Zealand accents

Listen carefully to Amy’s distinction between long and short vowels.

British versus North American accents

Here a few words that are said quite differently between these northern hemisphere countries. You can use vowels and even hyphens to exaggerate the syllables and length of the word sound.


Writing accents

So how do you write an accent on the page?

Identify key words where accent differences show

Get creative with your written words.  In these videos (above) key words were mentioned where there were distinct differences in pronunciation.  Often the differences are around the length of the vowels. Use these options

  • A (a, e, i)
  • E (e, ee, eh)
  • I (i, e, ee, eye)
  • O (oh, oo, o-a)
  • u (oo, uh, a )

Using these letters in place of the normal spelling can alter the way the word is ‘heard’ in the reader’s brain. Only a few words will start them thinking in the accent and add credibility to your dialogue. You don’t even have to continue beyond a page or two – just keep adding in the odd word in the accent and the reader will make up the rest.

English was always a bastard language or change is inevitable

Take this history of English as you’ve possibly never seen it before:

English influences were bound to mould the way we speak.

Let’s have some comments in a favourite accent and we’ll see if we can work them out!

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

How to recognise a novel’s theme

What on earth is a novel ‘theme’?

I remember struggling with this at high school as English teacher after English teacher asked the class what was the theme of our set novel. I was among the blank faces or embarrassed book shufflers.

What is a ‘theme’?


Like many of my classmates, I thought you simply read a novel, enjoyed it or not, and moved onto the next one. Why dissect it?

Is there any value in recognising a theme?

I understood that your characters had to be real – have some depth – so that the reader could believe in them. Believable characters carried me through the action – even unbelievable action – because I, the reader, understood ‘what made them tick’. I might identify with their intentions or be horrified by them. Nevertheless, characters and motivation was what sold the story to me as a reader.


For instance, the theme of Aladdin might be that: Anything’s possible. But does knowing that make our enjoyment of the story any greater? We just identify with Aladdin and feel the power that three wishes could grant us – a bit like winning the lottery.

And the theme of Animal Farm has popularly become: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Yet George Orwell was writing a very political novel and commentary on class in western society. Most of my classmates read the book, shuddered, and moved onto a less depressing story.

Does knowing about the theme add or detract from the novel?

One easy to recognise theme is the popular ‘good triumphs over evil’.

Many stories interweave this theme through their pages and storyline. Despite having to resort to violence, the main character(s) restore order to the universe, their country, or someone else’s country. They suppress the natives, bring civilisation to savages, or make an errant woman/man realise the error of their ways.

Of course, ‘good’ in that sense definitely depends on your point-of-view, current status (or religion). Most ‘themes’ are less obvious.

Do authors recognise their story’s theme?

When I started writing More Than I could Bear I had no idea of the novel’s ‘theme’ –  it simply crept up on me. In fact, even when half way through writing the novel I was struggling to define its theme. I went through things like:

  • Friendships can be abusive – ugh!
  • We all need to be true to ourselves
  • When one child is disabled the whole family is disabled

Nothing quite fitted all the actions and motivations of the characters.

The theme emerged like a waking monster

Finally I realised that the underlying meaning of the story is: “Life is a series of compromises – we just have to work out which compromises we can live with”.

According to novelist, screenwriter, and game designer Chuck Wendig: “Every story’s trying to say something. It’s trying to beam an idea, a message, into the minds of the readers. In this way, every story is an argument. It’s the writer making a case.”

If I look at my novel through that lens I can see that in each scene, characters wrestled with their own compromises, some by trying to control others, some by allowing life to happen to them, some by searching for a new direction. Each of the main characters contributed to the climax of the novel by trying to find a compromise they could live with. It fitted with all the characters, even minor ones. It fitted with their reaction to circumstances and events. Even when the characters tried to change things around to fit their objectives, in the end they had to compromise.

In the end there was clarity

Chuck Wendig’s analysis gave me some clarity.


The theme of a story or novel has nothing to do with the reader and everything to do with the writer. It’s the author putting the stamp of their beliefs on their piece of writing.

It really could never have been any other way.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Register on www.writegear.co for Early Bird notification of when More Than I Could Bear is published.