One of the things that struck me most about War and Peace was the style of characters. None of them were the same, but they were portrayed so elegantly and truly that I couldn’t help but love them. Even though it was written in third person omniscient, War and Peace seemed to go inside the minds of every character, helping me know them exactly and completely.
One day, when I was halfway through the book for the first time, it struck me that the characters were imagining things. I stopped. “Hey,” I thought, “I do that too!” I imagine sequences of conversation between my friends and I, what I’m going to do when I grow up, and what it would be like to enter a whale rodeo. Some things are fictional, sure, but that’s what catapulted me into writing fiction. Other things might come to pass… under very lucky circumstances.
I assume you’re the same way. Humans have imaginations– it’s one things that makes us different from animals. But of most things I read and write, how many have characters with imaginations?
Of things I read? A lot. Many published novels include characters with imaginations. However, things I write do not, and it’s obvious. They think, yes; they plan, yes; but do they imagine?
This is actually an interesting way to include hilarious ideas for where your story can go. One tip for conquering writer’s block is to list all the possible ways the story could go. (“The characters could die in painful ways” is usually high on my lists.) By giving your characters imaginations, you can include your own ideas as well as theirs.
It is also a good way to show mood. If the characters are at the low point, chances are they’ve lost all hope. Perhaps that’s the wrong time for them to say, “I wondered what Mother would do if I died;” but that sentence lends so much to the character’s mood. They obviously don’t expect to live until nightfall.
Everyone says to give your characters a dream, an as-yet-unconquerable goal they have set for themselves. Whether to become a ballerina, to get a new car, or to go to the supermarket without being attacked by cannibals in the dairy aisle, they ought to have a dream. What better way to introduce and strengthen that dream than by actually having them imagine it?
Ta-da! Instant show-don’t-tell technique. Why should you have all the fun? Make your characters imagine.