Writing begins in the imagination. Where, though, does the imagination begin?
If you've ever stood before a large aquarium with a group of school kids, you'll know that each child sees something a little different inside the tank. While the teacher talks about the food chain, the shark circling a school of sardines, or the lifecycle of a sponge, the child sees another universe. "Do you think that shark has a mother in here, too?" "I think the sponge knows when fish swim by. I think it likes their company." "If I were in there, I'd hide inside the rock cave and wait for a crab to come by so we could be friends."
Why does the child's imagination reach further beyond this present reality than an adult's? Why does ours so often begin with what is real and move only inches from it? One might say we are bogged down with so much of this reality (bills, family, health, world crises) that we haven't the same capacity to stretch and dream.
So we must shift our awareness, make room for the unreal, the potential of reality. Once we step back into that child's way of seeing, we can tap more easily into our own vastness. Perhaps in order to do this, we must remember what tickled our imagination as that child. What stirred the dust of truth and raised the possibility of the unknown and unreal?
When I need to stir up my uninhibited child's imagination, I spend time where a kid might. The zoo. A swing on a playground. Watching cartoons. I talk to kids. I remember.
Then I sit down and write. Having stirred up my child's imagination, I've infused my own with a way of seeing and believing beyond what is real.
What stirs your imagination?
I sat down to talk about the grand influence King has had on my writing. His way with words. His ability to provoke introspection. His simple language that prods grand visions.
I realized two Kings have influenced my writing.
I began reading Stephen King's less scary works years ago when I discovered his phenomenal story writing skills. I thought, "there's a lot to learn here". He is my muse, my professor, my aspiration.
A writer needs a model, someone who can demonstrate how to place words just so, build plot and infuse intrigue, where to drop a comma, where not to. A writer needs a master. King is mine.
I have long held close to my heart the teachings and words of Martin Luther King, Jr. He is my other muse, my soul's guide, the sherpa of my heart.
A writer needs a role model, someone who exemplifies ideals and character traits that the writer wants to share with the world. Someone who is such a defined character he defies fictionalism. Someone who is larger than life, who inspires, who lives with heart. Dr. King is mine.
Who guides your pen, your heart, your soul? Will your art imitate life? Whose ideals will infuse your writing; whose style will guide your pen?
As a child, my first favorite literary characters were detectives. Child detectives. I wanted to be Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown. I didn’t love the books for the esteemed literary merits. I loved them because I wanted to be those characters. I wanted to be smarter than them. Nancy was so clever. And she was kind.
Encyclopedia also shared those characteristics. He always put friendship first. He wanted to get the bad guy, not to punish him but to rid the world of cruelty and dishonesty.
These two teenage sleuths shaped my reading habits first, but they also were the essential ingredients to my writing. I don’t write mysteries today. In fact, I don’t read them anymore. What I read and what I write are stories with real characters. Stories with people who want the world to tilt more toward the good. My characters sense injustice, but they really want is to simply add more goodness to this world.
Life is a mystery, and we are its most important detectives. We are the heroes who see what’s wrong and seek to make it right.
Thank you Donald Sobel and Carolyn Keene (all of you!). You infused me with a love for reading, but mostly you inspired me to write stories with characters who care.
Who inspires you? Who are your childhood favorites? Share them here.