By Karen Payton Holt
My grandson has just received a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome. Now, I’m not going to try and tell you what that means because, in all honesty, until I undertake further research, I have yet to get a handle on it myself. I’m sure there are some reading this who are better equipped to tell me what impact it will have on a six year old boy.
What I have learned, however, is that during the diagnostic process it was discovered that, in him at least, one aspect of the syndrome means that he has no imagination. He takes the world he sees around him in a purely literal sense. His questions require concrete concepts as answers, and any topics requiring hypothesising, or speculating make him anxious to the degree that he changes the subject to something which has a very definite correct or incorrect answer.
This led me to thinking about me and my writing. Could you imagine a world without imagination? I remember walking to school as a child and realizing, with dread, I would be late. On that walk, in Walter Mitty style, I would dream up a multitude of outlandish excuses to ward off the inevitable scolding.
None of them ever made it out of my mouth, of course, but, even though I inevitable opted for ‘a version of the truth’, I nonetheless had those flights of fancy.
Imagine a world where you have no concept of events except the unvarnished truth from your own perspective, and the stress to go with it.
I bet you all have stories where ‘the dog chewed your homework’, or you evaded the full consequences of your misdemeanours by telling a ‘white lie’. For me, constructing these imaginary scenarios was as natural as breathing.
Even now, my stories tend to surface without warning, from a speculative thought. Running with those thoughts is where my stories begin to take shape.
So, how important is imagination in writing? Okay, stupid question, perhaps. But my real question is, where does inspiration come from? Reading other writers is often said to be the most important thing for continued improvement, but is that fodder for imagination? Or more a case of appreciating how the mechanics of writing can create tension/suspense etc, and help you steer your own course?
After all, you can’t just regurgitate the plot points of others, can you?
To write a great story requires a great plot, and that is where the difficulties lie. Where do plot ideas come from? We talk about our muse, but our imagination requires fuel.
I think life experience, blended with the media — current affairs, stories of events others have lived through — are vital.
If you closet yourself away, eventually, imagination becomes like viewing a scene from afar, rather than being able to see yourself inside a scene, tasting it and feeling it.
Yes, craft is key to a great book, but imagination is the key to writing a dozen good books. There is a saying ‘everyone has one good book inside them’.
That, to me, illustrates how hard it is to go back to your childhood, and become that child who let their imagination take flight, and who made up stories which many adults would have labeled as lies.
I wonder, how many exponents of gripping fictional novels had the words ‘lacks imagination’ on their school report card?