The Grail Literature Manifesto

By Dolores J. Nurss

but common property with Kay D. Sunstrom and David Arv Bragi

and all writers who agree.


1. The grail writer (hereafter referred to as "she" except in the last rule, although men can of course also be grail writers) unabashedly embraces the title of “Blockhead” that Samuel Johnson bestowed upon any writer who wrote for any reason other than money. She will happily accept money for stories, but does not write for that reason. She writes because she must, and tells whatever story must come through her, regardless of the consequences: good, bad or indifferent. If necessary, she'll get a day job that doesn't take too much time or thought away from writing.
2. However, such a writer never mistakes potency of inspiration for excellence of writing. One can have a great vision and let it down by sloppy storytelling—something she could not allow herself to do.
3. She believes in a quality of truth not defined by fact, although those among us who write non-fiction will stick earnestly to fact in addition to this other level of veracity. This truth exists on a soul level, and has the same nature as that superreality revealed in dreams. Readers and writers (and other artists, and their devotees) can instinctively feel when they come across it, although one cannot define it directly; one can only allude to it through art.
4. She does not rule out any source of inspiration—dreams, nature, fairy tales, religious experience, daily interactions, etc., all count as grist for the mill. However, when inspired by known persons, courtesy dictates disguising all details till only the writer and the inspirer recognize the source.
5. Grail literature freely blurs the lines between poetry and prose. Someone listening to a Grail tale, read aloud, might not immediately tell one sort from the other. Prose might use poetic techniques, such as rhythm or enriched metaphor, poetry might use prosaic techniques, such as serial segments or characterization. Both tell a story, and both do so as lyrically as possible. Additionally, the non-fiction writer will also freely employ poetic or fictional storytelling techniques, while sticking as faithfully as humanly possible to pure fact.
6. Grail Literature also blends genres and/or literary schools freely, putting foremost how the story itself needs told, rather than trying to adhere to a marketing niche. Any given Grail tale might fit into several categories at once, or a series using the same characters might fit at different times into different categories. It might even create its own category. One must never deform the gift to fit the box.
7. However, the ambiguity of Grail Literature must never come from lack, only from plenitude. Poetry bereft of any poetic device except for broken lines, and prose mistaken for poetry simply because it makes no prosaic sense, do not qualify. (We do embrace, if well done, wild streams of imagery that make more intuitive than linear sense, just not incoherence by accident, while trying to sound deep without actual depth.) Similarly, failing to meet the accuracy standards of a genre, or the eloquence standards of literary writing, does not add up to creative ambiguity.
8. Grail literature demands rich wordsmithing, sprung from an extravagant love of language--the feel of it, the sound of it, the sparkle of it. A Grail writer does not slide by with whatever the market will bear, but crafts each word as intently as someone creating an offering for God. (It falls to the writer's own personal convictions whether to take this metaphorically or literally.) For if one feels a true calling to write, the act of writing must become sacred.
9. In seeming contrast to this (and yet a higher form of fidelity) Grail literature does not count any topic as taboo, though it addresses much implicitly and artfully. Indeed, the more sensitive the topic, the more sensitive the writing must become to rise to the challenge. For she faces everything with courage and respect for self and others, not in an immature spirit of rebellion, nor out of crassness, but through devotion to to that truth which lies at the heart of even the most extravagant fantasy. She does not shock for the sake of shocking, neither does she try to avoid shocking. She tries to tell the tale, as honestly yet as lyrically as possible, whether that shocks people or not. This not only extends to topics taboo in society at large, but also and especially to topics considered unsuitable for serious literary attention by ossified schools of criticism.
10. Grail Literature combines gritty realism with high lyricism, flinching neither from ugliness nor from beauty, but telling the full spectrum of human experience, in vivid color. It balances the two, so that the story neither becomes too grueling nor too precious.
11. It freely blends earthy, prosaic, elements with spiritual, mythic, magical or mystical elements, considering these also a regular part of reality, acknowledged by almost all cultures throughout human history. The natural and the supernatural are one. Grail literature moves the reader with the numinism implicit in tangible things, and the tangibility of mysteries.
12. It similarly blends the exotic with the commonplace, finding common elements within the exotic and exotic elements within things known. Everything in a Grail tale becomes at once familiar and strange.
13. She does not choose whether to tell an action story, an emotional story, a mystical story or a cerebral story, at the expense of all other components of being human, but embraces and combines whatever it takes to tell the best tale possible.
14. Grail literature emphasizes character-driven story-arcs. She will bend the plot to fit the character rather than bend the character to fit the plot, for in the living heart lies the most authenticity. If the character turns out to have a different agenda from the writer, the writer will put her own agenda aside.
15. In Grail literature, the location also counts as a character. Everything lives in the story, as it does in life beyond the covers of books.
16. Grail literature deals both with the personal concerns of individuals and the larger concerns of the greater society, eclipsing neither for the other, but rather reflecting each in both.
17. Grail literature employs rich sensory information. Ideally, each scene should touch on at least three senses, unless one has made a conscious literary decision not to do so, for a reason. A right time and place exists for spare storytelling, but she does not indulge it simply for the sake of fashion. Even the spareness must have the grace of bone or winter-bared trees—the fewer the words, the more carefully one must choose them.
18. Grail literature refuses to inhibit the cultural background on which the writer draws, mixing in whatever influences the story requires to tell itself in the richest, most layered way imaginable. For she believes in empathy. She does not accept the taboo that one must only write from the narrow perspective of one's own race, ethnicity, nationality, creed, gender, orientation, political party, neighborhood, hobby-group, online forum, family, gang, fraternity, or club. But she will exert herself to the utmost to try and understand others, and not deem the task impossible, lest we all be doomed to unending war. She will ask questions, make friends, study, feel, imagine, dream, and do whatever it takes to understand as much as falls to her capacity—and then strive to stretch that capacity. If she gets it wrong, she will listen humbly to correction, and get it closer to right the next time. The writer must, however, take into account that most of the lore of any culture cannot handily fit into a format which one can boil down to a written test. She opens herself up to true learning, a complete revision of perception wherever necessary, rather than expropriation, forcing things inappropriately into the context of her original culture.
19. She will never treat anyone's culture arrogantly. In addressing cultures beyond that which raised her, she resembles a humble artist who studies the Old Masters in a museum, learns from their techniques, and then goes home to paint something original inspired by their work. The arrogant writer, however, acts like a criminal who breaks into the museum, rips pieces out of other people's great works, and then goes home to make a collage of them without any regard to the grace of their original forms—and then, when caught, boasts, “Art belongs to all and I have a right to do as I please with it!” One should recognize the difference between a lack of taboos and a lack of respect.
20. The higher the level of research, of any kind, that goes into a story, the better. It is one thing to leave something a deliberate mystery as a literary choice, it's another thing to leave loose ends dangling out of laziness. Yet she will not lightly dismiss an idea for appearing impossible, but rather will put in the extra work to show its possibility, or envision a world which redefines possibility. Indeed, the research will lead to still more inspiration and possibilities. If she, for instance, dreams of a sailor and wants to write his story, she will not moan and whine that she knows nothing about sailing, nor will she make stuff up and hope nobody catches the discrepancies—she will learn! And in the process, side-discoveries, such as information about weather at sea, will in turn spark new ideas. She revels in curiosity.
21. She does not hesitate to overreach herself in an ambitious project, confident that if she does not yet have the skill to weave together all of the many threads in a story, she will learn how before she finishes—and in doing so she will grow till she fits the story. The writer and the story learn together how best to tell the tale. They eschew the safe, formulaic, easily classified literary paths.
22. And Grail literature always has multiple layers, and many threads to weave together. Even the spare work implies volumes beyond the written page.
23. Similarly, she has confidence in readers, that they, too, can grow to fit the story. She does not try too hard to pitch a tale to any specific audience, considering all others incapable of appreciating it. Nor does she ever dumb it down. Rather, if the story rings true, people will find themselves drawn to it even against their usual preferences.
24. Episodic storytelling predates all other literary forms in human consciousness, and has again come to prevail in modern television, bringing us full-circle. So, too, the written word need not shy from following episodic structure. Rather than asking, “Does this all hang together into one tight, marketable, self-contained package?” she asks, “Does every segment separately engage the reader, and yet contribute to the larger tale? And does the reader keep on wanting to hear more?”
25. Similarly, Grail stories recognize no more boundary than an episode in history, implying much that goes before, after and simultaneously to the action portrayed. The writer might choose later to follow up on some of those implied outside tales, or might not. But “self-containment” better suits an agoraphobe than an artist.
26. In Grail literature, Discipline serves Creativity, as a passionate and willing slave, working his hardest to bring life to whatever she commands. Creativity must never become the slave of Discipline, for Discipline alone does not know where to lead, and Creativity pines in the selfsame chains that Discipline delights to wear. But Creativity does need Discipline's services to accomplish her goals, and should not hesitate to make demands of him.
If you agree, if you want to write this sort of thing, and/or you want to read it, then copy this text and post it on your own website, or feel free to link to it. I, Dolores J. Nurss, AKA Dreamdeer, give permission for you to do this, so long as you do not modify the text, from "THE GRAIL LITERARY SCHOOL, CHARACTERISTICS" to this last line that I type right here, including the proviso that THIS DOES NOT IMPLY THAT I AGREE WITH OR EVEN HAVE ANY KNOWLEDGE OF ANYTHING ON WHATEVER WEBSITE WHERE IT MIGHT APPEAR.

(Don't copy this part.) I desire feedback. Contact me, if you wish, at Preface the subject line with "Grail Lit", so I'll know it's not spam.


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