Want To Be A Writer? Let Your Imagination Run Wild.

be a writer

Read weird books, explore wordplay, and venture into genre combinations that don’t make intuitive sense. There are lots of ways to let your imagination take your writing in new directions.

Writers have an incredible advantage over storytellers in other branches of the untrammeled tree of creativity. Moviemakers, Broadway producers, animators, comic book artists, television producers, and other creatives are generally part of a team. Though the story itself often originates from a book, script, or storyboard — created initially by one individual — transforming it to film, stage, or the pages of a graphic novel generally requires dozens or even hundreds of team members.

In comparison, as a writer you have full, god-like control of worlds, characters, and events. You can deliver stories realistically or you can tweak, bend, stretch, or completely abandon the boundaries of reality. With a few well-crafted words, you can introduce beings into your story that have only a fleeting resemblance to any organic life forms on earth, invent entirely new planets with habitats that bristle with strangeness, venture into other parallel dimensions through a window, elevator, or a portal at the bottom of a lake, and imagine histories that may have existed in the past or will possibly exist in the future.

Of course, other creators can do all these things, but the amount of work to make a film, animation, TV series, or graphic novel is intense, time-consuming, and usually expensive to render.

Now that you realize you have this power, will you use it wisely?

Get serious about being playful

As Jeff Vandermeer points out in Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, many writer’s guides and advice on the craft of writing focus on the realistic presentation of characters and worlds. Not so many concentrate their attention on the far-flung offspring of realistic fiction. As Vandermeer points out, the challenge is to combine serious work (writing) with an inherent childishness and imagination.

Creative play and the imagination are at the core of a writer’s life. How we nurture the imagination affects all aspects of what we write, and how we write it. As Jung said, “The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, which belongs also to the child, and as such it appears to be inconsistent with the principles of serious work. But without this playing, no creative work has ever yet come to birth.”

Use your imagination

The categories of fiction have followed a similar path for generations, but beyond romance, science fiction, mysteries, thrillers, historical fiction, and fantasies, new categories are springing up in various forms that sometimes combine one or more of the main categories into a heady, hybrid mixture.

Diane Gabaldon’s wildly successful Outlander series combines historical fiction, romance, time travel, ghost stories, magic, and other elements into a complex, satisfying hybrid. Her PhD in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology appears to be an unlikely starting point for a novelist.

Free guide offer for Promote Then PublishGabaldon strongly disagrees with the axiom that writers should “write what they know.” In an interview, she says, “It’s just that stupid ‘Write what you know’ axiom has been propagated so much that people don’t stop to question it, and thus don’t realize that it’s backward. It’s not that you should limit yourself to using your own life as material; it’s that you shouldn’t write what you don’t know — but you can find out anything you need to know.”

“There’s also this little thing called imagination, which I think is given remarkably short shrift these days. As a novelist, I can be Anybody. Any time, any place, in any condition of body or mind. Why should I just be me? How boring.”

Build on a foundation

Over the long history of fiction, writers have drawn inspiration from other writers and have built on the foundation they’ve created. Haruki Murakami, who lists Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan as inspiration, has elevated magical reality to critical respectability in the mainstream literary world, demonstrating that literature and fanciful tales can be merged into effective storytelling.

Murakami’s worlds and characters often seem quite ordinary, but as his stories progress, you meet talking cats, people and creatures that disappear into thin air, dreams that dance freely on the dividing line separating sleep and wakefulness, body parts that morph in peculiar ways, and ancient elevators that come to a stop in other worlds.

Curiously, Murakami achieved initial large-scale success with his traditional novel, Norwegian Wood, but that represented a turning point for him, after which a shift to magical realism took place.

“I’m not really interested in writing novels about realism,” Murakami says, “but Norwegian Wood is a novel of 100 percent realism. I wanted to experiment. I thought it was time to try another genre. And the result was that it sold. I started writing it on a whim, and I didn’t expect it to become a bestseller, so I was surprised.”

“I personally love this work,” he continued, “but looking at it objectively, I think it is an anomaly among my works. After Norwegian Wood, I have not written any purely realistic novels and have no intention of writing any more at this time.”

Think like a musician

Magical realism has roots in South and Central American literary traditions, leaning on folk tales and utopian visions as penned by authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende, among others. In an article for writers.com, Sean Glatch defines the elements that separate magical realism from other forms of fantasy:

1) Magical exposition
2) Storytelling through the conventions of literary fiction, and
3) The use of fantasy as an extended metaphor

Genre-busting fictional tales often run far afield of the three basic elements defining magical realism; it’s all part of the natural evolution and dynamic liveliness of 21st century storytelling. In the same way that musicians draw on varied musical forms borrowed from centuries of music making from every culture in the world, writers can freely adopt different frameworks and inventive narrative styles to shape their works.

Write your own rules

After you throw out the rulebook and venture into the experimental realm of writing, you quickly get to a point where the carefully tended path veers into wild underbrush, leering tree spiders, and ominous caves, leaving you skirting prickly berry vines, muddy bogs, and tangled roots to get to your destination. Be bold and enjoy the journey.

About what she calls the New Weird genre, Mya Nunnally wrote, “After growing tired of the same archetypes, overdone plots, and types of characters, I found the antidote. New Weird exists to overturn clichés and twist the traditional. Robin Anne Reid once described it as fictions that ‘subvert clichés of the fantastic in order to put them to discomfiting, rather than consoling ends.’” Nunnally lists several titles and authors who qualify for this billing (several of my favorite authors made the list, including China Mieville, David Mitchell, and Octavia Butler).

Let your imagination take control

Writers love to examine different processes others use to create stories, seeking a formula through which the imagination is let loose and the muse is given the steering wheel and pointed toward a steep, winding, downhill road. During the plummeting journey, in theory at least, a story arises, unbidden, from some mysterious place in the subconscious. In Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury describes the process he used for much of his writing career.

In my early twenties, I floundered into a word-association process in which I simply got out of bed each morning, walked to my desk, and put down any word or series of words that happened into my head. I would then take arms against the word, or for it, and bring on an assortment of characters to weigh the word and show me its meaning in my own life. An hour or two hours later, to my amazement, a new story would be finished and done. The surprise was total and lovely. I soon found that I would have to work this way for the rest of my life.

Whatever style of fiction you favor in your work, it’s worth considering the elements of emerging hybrid forms of storytelling and consider where the structures, style, points-of-view, and techniques that are used might fit into your own storytelling toolbox.

Read diverse books

You’ve heard the adage: If you want to be a good writer, read more. Becoming familiar with the approaches different writers have used to tell stories will increase your sensitivity to your own writing possibilities. J.K. Rowling said it this way: “You can’t be a good writer without being a devoted reader.”

I’d expand that general idea to say, “Expand your writing potential and expertise by exploring the diverse boundaries of the literary world.” There are lessons at both ends of the spectrum. The hard-boiled, matter-of-fact style of Raymond Chandler in The Big Sleep bears scant resemblance to Sam Shepard’s sketchy, surreal, cinematic storytelling in Day Out of Days,, but both authors shape wordsmithing in their own way to dangle new ideas and nudge the human psyche in unexpected directions.

A lover of weird books, Liberty Hardy offers a list of oddball novels to get you well out of the mainstream course in a Book Riot article, “I Got Your Weird Right Here: 100 Must-Read Strange and Unusual Novels.” The eclectic selections chart a course ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime.

If anything in this article sparked a flicker or two of inspiration, grab a pen or a keyboard and write something using an approach you’ve never tried before. The results might surprise you.

In a post titled “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?” Neil Gaiman says:

The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

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