Imagination in Character

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.

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62 Comments

  1. Interesting… I’ve written entire stories based on a character’s imagination – think Walter Mitty – but I don’t often include imagination sequences in my regular writing. You’ve given me something to think about.
    I’ve always wanted to read War and Peace, just to be able to say I read it. 😛

    Reply
  2. . . . I am suddenly all too aware of the lack of imaginative exercise my characters do. I feel I ought to amend this, some time when they are not too preoccupied with avoiding the manny nasty potential deaths I am flinging at them.

    Reply
    • Get them imagining more nasty potential deaths, then! It’s a great suspense builder.

      Reply
      • Ehehe, that is true – most of mine don’t need much encouragement to do that. I’d prefer not to drive them entirely into the Pit of Angst, though. They’re often a little hard to extricate.

      • Oh, yes, the dreaded Angst. Nothing I hate more. Besides penguins wearing flip flops.

      • I don’t mind angst, so long as the character has proper grounds to do so, and doesn’t spend ALL their time doing it.

      • I haven’t had all that much time to see it done that way, or else it’s been done subtly so I don’t notice it.

      • Heh, it’s pretty common – mostly done in film. The character will hit a HUUUUUGE low point, spend ten or twenty minutes being miserable, and then have a revelatory moment or something that makes them pick themselves up and carry on.

      • Ten or twenty minutes? That’s too long for a 90 minute movie. But I understand what you’re getting at now.

      • Whoops, okay, maybe I overestimated (though sometimes it IS that long, genuinely). But yeah, you get my drift.

  3. The most my character has imagined is tragic, guilt-driven dream sequence. Yes, I think imagination could help my story a lot.

    Reply
  4. magicandwriting583

     /  April 26, 2013

    I’ve never thought of this before….strange, since my imagination goes all over the place all the time. Hmm…..

    Reply
  5. Hmm. None of my characters really imagine anything…I wonder why that is, since I am in fact imagining their very existence.

    Reply
  6. Huh, ditto to what all the others said about not thinking about this and how weird that is since our characters are imaginings. I shall have to play with this. It may be almost time to pull Lizzie from the dungeon, as she would make a perfect lab rat be perfect to play with. *Cowers at the prospect of how much work that manuscript needs*

    Reply
  7. Did you know that there is no way to hit the reply button when you’re on an iPad? Tis very vexing.

    Yeah, I was thinking this afternoon of scraping that draft and completely starting over. I think that’d be best, and I’ve got a lot of all around changes in mind. Then of course it will have to stand in line with all the other stories waiting to be written and generally making studying hard.

    Reply
  8. Pure and utter genius. I’m subscribing to this blog. As soon as I’m done with this! Oh! I can do that as I comment with that handy little check box! Genius! I’m so not used to WordPress…

    Well done!

    Reply

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