Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
I spend a lot of time with writers as they’re trying to find the best way to word a phrase, the best way to frame a scene. But sometimes what’s needed is not a quest for that one perfect word that will make a passage sing. Sometimes the writer needs to take a broader look at a story and simply imagine.
When was the last time you let your thoughts and imagination run a dozen different directions as you were searching for a solution to a plot or character issue? Yeah, you probably let your imagination wander when the last story idea prodded at you, when you were looking for an idea to capture your own attention. But maybe you didn’t let imagination roam far. Maybe once you had an idea that sounded pretty good, you stopped imagining and started researching or writing.
Maybe you thought you were allowing your imagination to head in multiple directions when in fact you entertained only two truly fresh ideas with one variation for each.
Maybe you played it safe, worried about how your ideas would be received. Maybe you knew one idea would have made a stronger impact, but were afraid of repercussions.
Maybe those repercussions were solely in your mind.
I’d like to encourage you, especially if you’re stuck but not only if you’re stuck, to look for creative—and I mean truly creative—answers for your problems. Imagine your character out of his problem box by throwing at least five outlandish and totally unrelated possibilities at him. Imagine a solution that’s over the top and then push it even farther. Take it over the top and down the street and around the corner. Imagine something that could never happen and then see what you could do with such a scenario if it did happen. If the idea produces conflict and great opportunities for your characters, you can always go back to figure out a way to make it play out. Don’t get too caught up in the how—aim for the what-if first. The how might just be revealed as the what-if plays out.
Make the unbelievable believable. See if far-ranging and wacky ideas don’t give you a stronger solution, a more memorable solution, to your story needs.
This doesn’t mean you’ll actually use the wildest idea you think of. But maybe that idea leads you along a path that you never would have imagined without going wild with your imagination. If you don’t push beyond a certain threshold, you’ll never reach new possibilities. If you don’t push, you may never notice the fence you’ve placed around your imagination, the fence telling it that it can go only so far and no farther.
Writers are just like other people (in terms of certain characteristics, that is)—we can be satisfied in multiple ways. So if a writer finds something appealing, she may not look beyond that point for anything more, anything tougher or bolder or more potent. But there’s always more. There’s always better. There’s always different. Don’t quit too soon—push yourself.
I’d like to challenge you—whether you’re at the beginning of a project or in the rewriting stages—to engage in some dreaming and imaginative play.
Imagine scenarios for your protagonist beyond those you’ve already used. Push him harder and see what he does in response. See what your own mind does in response. Imagine new ways to get characters into trouble and out of trouble. Imagine a new dilemma for your lead character, something beyond the common and the tried and true.
Imagine a new setting for your next story, maybe a different world.
Imagine giving your lead character a true flaw that might jeopardize his career or his marriage or his life.
Imagine what a character could do with a physical limitation and how dealing with it could hinder him, maybe change his idea of who he thought he was.
Go beyond simple robberies or common crimes and allow your antagonist to be not just a mad genius but truly mad. Mad in ways that bring depth and emotional heartache to your stories.
Imagine a new world with physical and social laws different from our own.
Imagine a world that readers can get lost in, a world they can’t help but explore. A world they can’t help but remember.
Give readers a world that haunts them.
As you lie down tonight—notebook or computer or tape recorder at your bedside—guide your imagination into new vistas. Open the gates and let your dreams run free. Don’t censor, telling your mind even as it’s imagining new possibilities that a scenario is implausible or that a character couldn’t or wouldn’t do such a thing. Quiet the censors and let imagination take you where you’ve never been or where you’ve not been in a long while.
Dream as a child might, with no notions of what isn’t possible and what shouldn’t be. Play let’s pretend and see where you end up. I’m guessing you’ll find a solution not only fitting to your story problem, but one that just might be more memorable for your readers.
Don’t cut yourself off from imagination. Don’t play it safe to guarantee sales or acceptance with a publisher. There are times to rein in ideas that don’t fit your story or character or genre. But there’s also a time to be free and without restraint.
Make that time now. Toss in a little freedom for your imagination for your current story, no matter what stage it’s at. And then try it again with your next writing project. Let imagination lift you out of a rut and into possibility.
Pursuing the same types of solutions in the same manner yields sameness. To create something fresh, think in a different way. Challenge your imagination to produce something new. Kick it toward those new possibilities if you have to.
Write with imagination today.