Completely Free Imagination

I do a plotting workshop at most conventions, as a way to help beginning writers — and sometimes published writers who have forgotten a thing or two — learn one way to develop the plot for a whole story, from beginning to end, starting with just an idea. It’s an interactive lecture, and I bring up sixteen points that every writer should think about, such as obstacles, strengths, helpers, beginnings and endings, and so on. The first thing I have people do is think of a character, because without a character, you can’t have a story. (Literature, maybe, or fiction somehow, but not Story.) I give plenty of suggestions about how to do that, and what I’m looking for, then I ask them to tell us about it. Not everybody does.

One of the participants at MystiCon this past February was an eleven year old girl. Her mother was with her, and supported her. I asked her if she had a character, and she said, “A little man who lives in the dog food.” She laughed. All those who could hear her couldn’t help but laugh along with her. Her enthusiasm, her pleasure, and her unhindered imagination and creativity, continued throughout the two-hour workshop. She was happy, enjoying herself, being silly in the best possible way.

She addressed every prompt I gave, and every response was weirder than the last. But they all hung together, and at the end she had enough for a complete and amazingly bizarre story. The last question I asked was, what has changed as a consequence of the story. She said, “The little man and the frog princess got married and had puppies.” And she laughed. It was wonderful. I thought about it a lot later, and told a lot of people about it. I told her mother that, if she finished the story, she should let me know. Somehow I think that the girl had said everything she wanted to say in that workshop, and I’ll never hear from her. And that’s okay.

There have been times when I couldn’t see where my story was going, or I felt that it was boring. One time last year I had cause to think about the unfettered imagination I had indulged in when I was young, and thought that, when I seemed to be running dry, I should just let myself go. I haven’t yet had an opportunity or a need to put it into practice, but thinking about that little girl makes me determined to try.

When we are young, we don’t worry about editors, or publishers, or readers. We just want to make stuff up, and the weirder the better. It’s a talent all children have. But as we grow older, we tend to lose our spontaneous creativity, while we focus on developing our skills as story tellers. We worry about what people will think, what editors will think, and will it find a publisher, and will it be at all successful in the marketplace.

But this little girl showed me, and the rest of us, what could be done, if we didn’t worry about all that stuff. At least, not for the first draft. I’m going to work harder at liberating my childhood imagination, and then apply my acquired skills to what I come up with, instead of focusing on those skills first, at the expense of the pleasure and wonder of pure creation. Looking back at my work, all my best ideas, scenes, and characters have come to me that way. I want to learn how to be able to do it again.