This blog is the third and final instalment in a short series on the three personal qualities you need as a writer to keep going and retain the determination to achieve the best you can. The first quality was perseverance, the second, was humility, and the final one is imagination.
It might be that perseverance keeps us writing, and humility keeps us open to the lessons we need to learn to improve. But there is one more thing we need to add the magic to what we do, to entrance our readers: we need to keep using our imagination. And our imagination needs to operate across a range of dimensions so that we can do a number of things all at once:
Create an absorbing plot
Create intriguing characters
Conjure up compelling and believable settings
Capture the reader in the moment of the story
Combat the terrible plague of subjective, summarised, dull writing that we can so easily plague us.
All of this takes imagination.
To give you a slightly exaggerated example of what I am talking about, consider these two passages, essentially describing the same thing. The scene is a damaged space ship, where the captain is thinking about an emergency landing:
Here’s the first version:
Captain Mullen listened to the noise of the engine. The engines were damaged, and the ship was starting to lose power.
“What’s our status,” she said
“The engine is damaged, we are going to fall out of orbit” said her engineer
“We’d better land,” said Mullen, “have you ever been down to the planet?”
“No, I haven’t” said the engineer.
“How’s your inoculations?” said Captain Mullen
“I’ve had some of them, I’m okay for emergencies.” said the engineer.
“Well this is an emergency,” said Mullen.
This is as flat a piece of writing as you’ll ever want to read.
Now compare it with this:
“Captain Jessica Mullen closed her eyes and listened to the wheeze and thrum of her ship.
The glyphs of the control console throbbed beneath her fingertips; she imagined the white and scarlet glyphs scattered before her.
And there was that smell again. An ether, and just a hint of warm rubber. The portside Xenon engine shuddered, rattling her console. The deterioration would eventually force them to land, or at least spin ragged until one of the enemy corvettes picked them off.
“Status, please, Mr Han.”
“Thirty-eight percent capacity,” said her XO, “orbital degradation in just over twenty eight minutes.”
“Okay, we are going down whether we want to or not. Have you even been planet side, Lieutenant?”
“I’ve seen the video.”
“Really. How’s your inoculation schedule?”
“I’m graded competent for emergency land activity.” The XO looked across to her captain.
“Well,” said Captain Mullen, “I think this counts as an emergency. Take her in.”
Which may or may not be great writing, but there’s a bit of imagination in it. In this exaggerated example I hope that I’ve shown you how important it is to keep thinking, imagining, and dreaming. Your storyline, your characters, and your writing voice depend on this.
You might not think you’d ever write like my first example, but it’s all too easy for us as writers to slip into flat prose. It happens when we are tired, or fed up, or we just want to get our word quote done.
But we can’t get away with faking it. We have to do more than phone it in. We have to place ourselves in the body and mind of our characters, in their environment. We have to know that space well enough to take our readers there as well. Stephen King said this:
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”
So let your imagination take flight, and take your readers on the ride of their lives.
© 2015 Andrew J Chamberlain
Andrew J Chamberlain is a writer, speaker, and creative writing tutor. He is the presenter of The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt a podcast that offers practical, accessible advice on the craft. Andrew has worked on a number of ghost-writing collaborations for Authentic Media, including the bestselling ‘Once an Addict’ with Barry Woodward. He has also self-published a number of science fiction short stories. Andrew will be speaking at the First Page Writing Course this November in Cumbria, England.