Stoking the Fires of Imagination
Young children have incredible imaginations.
I’ve been spending quite a bit of time watching my two-year old daughter play. Her limitless ability to invent things out of thin air amazes me. She’ll place an invisible crown on her head and walk like a queen. She’s never actually seen a queen walk, but she has no problem deciding how it should be done.
She’ll balance a toy on her head and call it a bow. The bow will then transform into a yummy item to eat
Her imaginary phone conversations have grown longer and more detailed. She’ll call Elmo, or her Grandma or her Aunt Sissy in Wisconsin, and babble on about her day.
She will sit and read stories to her Teddy bear. Oh, she can’t actually read yet, but she certainly imagines she can.
Oh, to still have an imagination like that…
Ah…but we writers must.
Words are our toys. Our imaginary conversations need to be transcribed. The made up worlds we create must be detailed and filled with enough imagery for a reader to be able to imagine them, too.
Sometimes, I think back to the stories and plays I’ve written, and I am not entirely sure where they came from. Other times, I can pin point a moment, a feeling, a smell that sparked a little fire in my brain.
With Swimming Alone, (my debut YA mystery), that spark was the aroma of sea air. I immersed myself in the smell, the saltiness, the humidity…and then out of nowhere, sirens burst through. A dead body appeared. My imagination conjured up a serial killer that needed to get caught.
I had a similar experience while writing my graphic novel, Fake ID: Beyond Recognition. In this case, the spark was hangover. Sometimes I forget I’m not twenty-five anymore, and more than one glass of wine… well, let’s just say I wasn’t feeling so well one morning. That spark turned into a character. Next thing I knew, she was being chased by Russian mobsters, and on the run for her life. An entire world came to life. Back stories emerged. Characters popped onto the page
When the spark has been lit, and I am in the midst of writing a story, I feel like a child again. I feel like anything is possible on the page.
But here’s the thing. I’m not two years old. My daughter can spend all day playing in her imaginary world. But in the adult world, there are groceries that need to be bought and meals that need to get cooked. There are bills to get paid. There’s laundry.
And sometimes I am terribly afraid the sparks will sputter out before they light anything.
Or worse, there will be no sparks at all.
I wish I had a magic formula for retaining the imagination of a two-year old. Here are a few things that have helped me keep the sparks coming over the years:
- FINDING ANOTHER CREATIVE OUTLET: I mean something other than writing. Baking, scrapbooking, gardening. I have found that these activities free my mind. Suddenly, I’m not thinking about bills and those piles of laundry and how the heck am I going to do all those real life things I need to get done. I’m also not stressing about how to finish the story I’ve been writing. Instead, my mind is free to wander, to create. It becomes fertile ground for sparks to fly.
- LIVING A CREATIVE LIFE: Seeing theater, going to that book signing, spending time my fellow writers. Whenever I am around other creative people, I always get a burst of creative energy. It’s that energy that helps light those imaginative sparks, and keeps the fire burning.
- TRAVELING: The sights, sounds, smells of an unfamiliar location always inspire me. And I should note, travel does not have to be international, expensive or time consuming. I might visit a local park that I’ve never visited before. I might drive to that town with the cute shops I’ve been meaning to visit. And with a toddler, travel really just means leaving the house.
- LISTENING: Just the other day, I was sitting at the doctor’s office, waiting to be seen, and I overheard the most delightful conversation. Really, I WAS trying to read the book I’d brought with me…but this conversation was just so…an evil cat, a pet owner in denial…Oh, I know I’ll have to use that in a story some day.
And if all else fails, I place my imaginary crown on my head, and just pretend.
Nina Mansfield is a Connecticut based writer. Her graphic novel FAKE ID: BEYOND RECOGNITION, illustrated by Leyla Akdogan, will be out with Plume Snake (www.plumesnake.com) in 2016. Her debut novel, SWIMMING ALONE a YA mystery, was published by Fire & Ice YA in 2015. Nina has written numerous plays, which have been published and produced throughout United States and internationally. Nina’s short mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Mysterical-E. She is a member of ITW, MWA, SinC, SCBWI, The Short Mystery Fiction Society and the Dramatists Guild.
FAKE ID: BEYOND RECOGNITION
A Graphic Novel, Written by Nina Mansfield, Illustrated by Leyla Akdogan
Seventeen-year-old Minnie VanCutler suffers an identity crisis after using the wrong fake ID. Aside from waking up with the world’s worst hangover, and being chased down by Russian mobsters, Minnie must battle her over-active conscience and rescue her doppelganger from a human trafficking ring. (Out with https://plumesnake.com/ later this summer!)