Add a Character

We’re spending a few weeks looking at a way to come up with a fresh story or a plot for your next novel.

So, did you do the challenge I gave you in my previous post? If so, you now have a setting to work with, based on a memory from your childhood.

The first time I did this, under the direction of a S.African writer, I ended up perched on a tree above a rock, at the top of a kopje. This was in my imagination of course. As I peered out from the foliage, I could see for miles. The leaves sheltered me from the fierce Central African wind, and the occasional breeze rustled the pages of my books. Now came the next step. read more

Explore your Memory Bank

Through the next few posts I’m going to introduce you to an exercise that another writer showed me some years ago. I admit I was somewhat sceptical, but it really worked, and I’ve used it a few times to come up with a convincing short story. It would work just as well for a novel.

The first step is to sit quietly with your pen and paper. (Yes, I said pen and paper!) Let your mind run back to your childhood, to a favourite spot you used to go to. Allow yourself to visualise the scene, breathe in the smells, look around and notice everything you see in your “mind’s eye”.
When I first did this exercise, I remembered a kopje (a hill covered in rocks and bush) across the road from my home in Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe). There were no buildings on the kopje, just a partial road that the owner had blasted out of the rocks before running out of money.
I have always marvelled at the short-sightedness of a man who buys an expensive plot of land, and then finds he doesn’t have enough money to build a road to the top–never mind build a house. It reminds me of the story Jesus told about the man who ran out of funds when he wanted to build a house. But at least the guy in Jesus’ story got started! The man across the road from my home didn’t make it to the top of the hill.
This kopje was my favourite haunt as a young teenager. I used to climb to the top, scrambling through the bush that scraped my bare legs. Once I reached the summit and took a few further steps, I couldn’t be seen from the house. I rejoiced in the sense of freedom. No one could see me. No one could hear me. (And of course, if I’d hurt myself, no one would have known. But that was far from this teenager’s mind.)
A few more steps brought me to a great rock with a flat top. I knew exactly where to stick my toes and grip with my fingers, and in no time I was on top of the rock. A large, old tree grew alongside the boulder, its trunk leaning heavily against the rock. I would swing myself onto a broad branch and step over onto a neighbouring bough, where I could sit hidden from human view, surrounded by thick foliage. I could peer through the leaves at the land on the other side of my home. I could see for miles.
I sat up there and did my homework. I read books. Sometimes I climbed higher in the tree and imagined myself to be king of this beautiful country. (Yes, I said King. I never saw myself as Queen. I was the ultimate tomboy.)
When I tackled this writing exercise, I covered a couple of pages, jotting down what I could see, feel and smell in my imagination. By the time I’d finished, I felt so good. It was as if I’d spent some time at the top of that familiar kopje. I was ready for the next step.

That’s enough for today. Before reading the next post, try doing this exercise for yourself. Think of a favourite haunt of yours when you were young, and jot down all you can remember. See you again on Thursday for the next step.

You Don’t Have an Imagination?

“I wish I could write like you, but I don’t have any imagination.” I listened to this familiar comment and shook my head.

“When you cross the road, do you remember to look both ways?”

She looked baffled. “Of course.”

“Why?”

If she didn’t have any imagination, she surely wouldn’t check the road for other cars? She does this because she imagines what could happen if she didn’t.

I did a search of a number of online dictionaries for a definitionon of the word, “Imagination” so I could quote it for you and found something interesting. They all used the idential wording!

1. the formation of a mental image of something that is not perceived as real and is not present to the senses

2. the ability to form mental images of things or events

3. the ability to deal resourcefully with unusual problems

Hmm. This tells me two things.

1. It’s probably a good definition.
2. The writers of the dictionaries are somewhat lacking in imagination.

Going back to my original illustration. The lady concerned could imagine how a car might hit her if she stepped into the traffic. If I had spent longer with her and asked her more questions, I’m sure she could have described the sound of the brakes as the driver tried to stop the car before it hit her. She would tell me about the thud as the car slammed into her. She could have pictured the crowd gathering, heard the sound of the ambulance and felt the terror that came as she realised she had no identity with her.

That’s imagination, friend. You see, hear and experience images that are not real. But they often feel real enough. So much so that they can increase your heartbeat or give you a craving for your favourite chocolate bar.

Your writing will come alive when you use your imagination. Don’t just write from your head—write from the heart. Put yourself in the scene you’re describing and let yourself go. In no time, you’ll find yourself experiencing the emotions of your characters, and you’ll have a new ability to write what you’re seeing . . . in your imagination.