Some weeks ago, we started working on an exercise using our imaginations. I have been sharing with you the contents of a writing class I attended some years ago, run by a local author. If you have just joined up now, I urge you to go back four posts and follow the discovery of a story, working alongside until you get back here.
If you’ve read the previous four posts, you know that we started by locating a special place from our childhood. We then discovered a character standing nearby. In the following blog, we fast-forwarded to present day and looked to see what had become of that special place. In the last post, we came across the character of our childhood memory. I left you with the challenge of describing your character, particularly noticing lines and scars, anything that arouses your curiosity.
Now let’s move on:
See yourself sitting with your character as he is today, and draw him into conversation. Ask him about his life. Find out where he got those scars, what put those lines on his face. Don’t be satisfied with the superficial description. What has made him or her the person of today? Dig deep. And listen.
“But hey?” you ask. “This character’s in my imagination!”
That’s right. So have an imaginary conversation. Have fun. You’ll be surprised how your imagination can help you to create a character with a story to tell.
Let me share what I discovered. I found my character to be obviously well-off and well educated, despite growing up in Rhodesia. That set him apart. Almost all the people of his age and colour in Rhodesia (by this time Zimbabwe) that were well educated had completed their schooling out of the country. The ordinary African family in colonial Rhodesia, in which I grew up, were poorly educated, unless they came from an unusual home background. This intrigued me. As I studied his face, I could see this man had suffered much, yet he didn’t seem to be bitter.
I sat and day-dreamed about this character, who by now was becoming quite clear in my mind. I carried on a pretend conversation with him, allowing my imagination to run freely. I soon learned that although the child was the son of domestic workers, his grandparents lived on a mission station outside of Umtali (now Mutari). As a result, the little boy lived with his grandparents and attended the mission school where he received a good education from the local white missionaries.
Suddenly the story clicked into place. I knew what had brought tragedy into this young boy’s life. He had a story to tell—and I couldn’t wait to write it.
I challenge you to keep working on your imaginary character, and see if you can find out his or her story before the next post in this series. This will be in two weeks time, so you have time to do some work on it. Next week I’ve scheduled an interview with the prolific Christian writer, Cecil Murphey.