The Imagination Of Story

Yesterday, as I sat down to write some brilliant words in my WIP, I did what any writer does before starting. I got onto Facebook.

For research. I swear.

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Okay, maybe not, but I did see a couple of posts that inspired the words you’re reading now, so it wasn’t all a waste of time. The posts were about imagination, one from a writer (which I can’t find now, grrr) about how he likes to create stories from looking into windows (which is a little creepy but I’ll come back to the idea). The other was from one of my favorite introvert-oriented pages, Introvert, Dear. It’s where people who don’t like to interact with people gather to . . . interact with people.


This was the meme.


I don’t think it’s a mystery that many writers are also introverts, so I figured this ecard could be generalized into that population as well. If you’re a writer, feel free to agree with me and then answer this question – has your imagination ever run away with you?

I’ve had sleepless nights where I constructed elaborate “stories” based on a worry or on impending good news. When I was a kid, I imagined joining the Ninja Turtles and sang backup for Ariel (of course, I was also a mermaid in that one). In a more “awake” example, if I’m bored on a road trip (as a passenger, geez) I gaze at the passing buildings, and if it’s nighttime and I can see through the windows (told you I’d come back to that), I imagine what it looks like in there. Maybe I’m the janitor in an office building or the desk clerk at a hotel. Maybe the entire floor of that building is empty and I’m a squatter sitting in the corner with my dog, contemplating my next move. Or maybe I’m a journalist about to make a big break.

Of course, odds are nothing remotely interesting is going on in those buildings, but it’s no fun to dwell on that possibility.

Stories exist because we have imaginations. That’s true for both readers and writers.


One of the skills I teach my young readers at school is visualization – picturing what they read in their heads. If you’re a lifelong reader, you might think this skill is automatic, but for some, it isn’t. And to be honest, I’m not 100% sure it’s something that can be taught in a way that will be truly internalized (this post suggests imagination and creativity can be cultivated). The general agreement among teachers and psychologists is some people have very vivid imaginations, a rare few have no imagination at all, and everyone else falls somewhere in between.

I’ve wondered if people who don’t enjoy reading really have less vivid imaginations than book lovers. Remember this famous Stephen King quote?


What if the writer’s imagination is much more vivid than the reader’s? I would imagine (ha) that “transporting” yourself into a story, seeing what the characters sees and feeling what he feels, would be harder/less fun if imagination is limited. Writing is “showing” what’s in my head so you can see it in yours, and I’d argue “bad writing” happens when the words get in the way of the imagery. Imagination is where the story comes to life.

How do you experience imagination as a writer or reader? 

12 thoughts on “The Imagination Of Story

  1. I love this article, Allison. I agree that some people have imagination and some have much less. As a multi coloured chartered accountant who works with a lot of pin-stripes, I think I can say that based on knowledge [smile]. I have finished Project Liberatio. I loved this one. More that the first book. My review will go out on Tuesday.

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  2. Although we write in present time recall brings the past back. This becomes the present and writing re-imagines past experience for me into the present or future. It’s difficult to describe how this happens but it does. Sometimes at a tangent and seemingly unrelated, but imagination is that tearaway horse. There is this emphasis on showing rather than telling which can be good for building character image for the reader and I’ve heard writers and poets state that they like to make the reader work! Possibly this might win you the Booker prize, but otherwise unless you are writing for a specialized audience-scientists for scientists then you risk not getting read. It’s a fine balance. I’m reading the Dalai Lama’s -Joy of Living, just now. It flows with a simplicity that is compelling in itself-although with very profound views on living and life. I like to read novels and as a writer you are always on the look out and often admiring of how other writers imaginatively portray their characters in dialogue and often a very short descriptive sentence. With non fiction I can be a slow reader, because I need to digest before moving on. My fourth novel is due out next week. When I read there is now the writers perspective which I need to rein in at times and just enjoy the joy of the read ride.

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  3. Sometimes in the most routine and ordinary moments like when I’m drinking a cup of coffee or eating breakfast while sitting at a cafe on the moon.

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  4. everything I write comes first as a movie in my head. And if the book I’m reading is particularly well done, it’s a movie playing in my brain – that I’m starring in. LOL
    I have been known to hold my breath to the point of losing consciousness because a particular scene was so life like in my head.


  5. Oh yes! I think that my wandering imagination came from the hours and hours that I spent reading as a child. A lot of influence came from those authors, and I imagined myself being strong an impressing people with my intelligence and physical prowess, even if “in real life” I was shy and insecure. Of course, sometimes the mind will still wander to the dark side (“That car has made the same turns as I have 3 times… they’re going to follow me, and stop when I do, and confront me….”), but I think that can be a case of imagining the worst thing that can happen as an insurance policy that it WON’T.


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