Posted by: jeannineatkins | March 9, 2010

Falling into New Worlds

Recently, my student Jennifer wrote in a paper about how both Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy begin their adventures by falling: one down a rabbit’s hole and another crashing via tornado into Oz. I hadn’t thought of that falling-into-the-story connection, and it made me wonder about other books that start off with a fall, and why.

A meadow splits open and Persephone descends into Hades. Mary Poppins drifts into London on an umbrella. Of course there are other below earth worlds: goblin homes among tree roots, Mole’s snug home, and the underground lair of the Lost Boys in Peter Pan.

But I was drawing a blank on others who fell when I happened to read an interview with Elizabeth Berg in the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest When asked what she’s still learning about writing, after nineteen novels, she said: “You have to trust the process. You just have to take a free fall into the unknown and let it happen. … You have to treat every book like it’s the first one, and let it be a little dangerous.”

Maybe the fall isn’t about girls landing in strange lands, but creativity itself. We have to be ready to go through some dark spaces before we’re going to notice, like Alice, maps and pictures hung from pegs and a shelf with an empty jar of orange marmalade, or like Dorothy, enter a strange new land where my familiar house killed someone by accident. If I want to be ready for something new, I have to turn off the music for a while, shut of the lovely internet, and let myself lean into darkness with my eyes open.



  1. I love Elizabeth Berg’s writing (DURABLE GOODS is one of my favorite books), and as I make my way through a revision, your post came at just the right time. Thank you for this. Hope you have a wonderful week!

  2. Excellent point. Especially the turning off the lovely Internet part. We get used to its company . . . maybe we’re a little afraid to be alone with ourselves? When I go to my b&b break to write, I have no phone, TV, or Net. I write 10 pages a day, or more. Every day.

  3. Love Elizabeth Berg, too!
    Happy Falling, Jeannine. Wishing you great adventures in writing :).

  4. I’m a huge Elizabeth Berg fan, too, even if, or maybe because, most of her novels have sort of run into each other for me at this point. Her book about writing, Escaping into the Open, is one I always recommend.
    Hope you are still walking on air through your week!

  5. I guess like so many things, the internet gives a lot but takes, too. Always trying to find that balance.
    How wonderful you have that Ten Page a Day B&B!

  6. Oh, Elizabeth Berg. She has some great pies as well as great conversations in her books.
    Okay, getting ready to dive…

  7. Not quite darkness? I’m pretty sure your new idea has sparkles glinting off the rocks in the mine. If you stand still for a few minutes & let your eyes adjust, you’ll be able to follow their path! Lovely thoughts!

  8. Have you tried her goulash recipe at the back of Berg’s book on writing? I made it a week ago (realllllly good). I’m still flying high from last week, though I also have moments of doubt. Pushing past the doubt, though. Working on the revision every day helps.

  9. Becky, you’re too sweet. I’ll keep an eye out for the sparkles.
    Best wishes in your 1913 cavern!

  10. Great quote! And I love the image of leaning into darkness to be open to whatever creativity brings. Happy writing to you, Jeannine. Maybe we can get back to our writing sessions when I get back in two weeks.

  11. What a great quote, about taking risks and going in new directions. Can’t wait to meet you, Jeannine!

  12. That’s interesting. But it seems to me that the “falling into” thing is really just a variant on the “passing through the portal” idea that is often used to take characters from one world to another — you could think of going though the wardrobe in the “Narnia” stories, for example, as falling SIDEWAYS. And in the case of “The Hobbit”, you could argue that Bilbo Baggins falls UPWARD, out of his comfortable Hobbit hole in the ground, when he moves from his quiet, unadventurous world in Hobbiton into the dangerous world of adventure with Gandalf and the dwarves. — PL

  13. Yes, I love all those portals. C.S.Lewis also has the children step through a painting in one of the books, as, and I think this is kind of genius, you can’t go the same way twice.
    And there’s J.K. Rowling’s swift run at the wall in the train station…

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