I recently finished reading, My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Stout. This Pulitzer-Prize-winning author created a compelling story in this new novel. I plan to review it next week. Meantime, I wanted to examine how writers write from their imagination.
Terry Gross on the nationally acclaimed radio program, Fresh Air, asked Stout if the mother in her book resembled her own mother. Stout said, no she really didn’t. Then, Gross asked the author if the themes of her stories, relating to loneliness and suicide reflect her own life. The author said, not really. Gross then asked about the places where the characters in her books come from. Are they similar to where the author grew up? Stout said, perhaps.
She creates very real characters with genuine stories, but they are not her stories. They are the characters’ stories. That’s what most people do not understand. Many writers do not have backstories that mirror what they write. The old adage, write what you know doesn’t fit.
Here are my tips for writing from your imagination:
- Allow all your senses to get into the head of your character. See with their eyes, hear with their ears, touch with their hands and smell with their noses. By doing this, you will lose yourself in their world.
- Don’t pull yourself out when your character takes over. If your character wants to tell you about an alcoholic mother in her past, let her. (You may or may not include that in your story). Her past is what makes her who she is in your story now.
- As you sense your character’s desires, allow yourself to “stream of consciousness” through her mind. Take a moment and just write what you imagine might be going on in her head. A stream of thought, feelings, emotions. Again, you may never write these in your story, but they add to your body of knowledge about that person.
- As you create secondary characters, feel their presence as well. Stout’s main character was Lucy. But, the author knew a lot about Lucy’s mom and dad. She developed these secondary characters with an extreme sensitivity. Again, this helped her and the reader understand Lucy better.
- Many writers create a bio for their characters. I suggest creating an emotional bio. Rather than a sterile description of what the character does, their education, their wants and needs, create an emotional bio with feelings, reactions, and interior dialogue. Remember feelings fuel our actions. The same is true for your characters.