Monday, June 11, 2012

Headless Imagination

Creative types tend to let their imaginations get away from them. For example, take the experience I had one evening when I was a wee lad.

The Case of the Galloping Hessian

My family had a pretty good sized property growing up and it was my job to feed the dogs tied up in the back of the lot. Our yard light lit up most of the back lawn, but couldn't quite reach into the back where the dogs were. Invariably I always left feeding the dogs until after dark, so I would have to trek into the quiet night.

In those lonely walks I often let my imagination get away from me. I was a young boy who liked to read books. Books about crooks and restless spirits, where the supernatural was always somewhere near. But I also liked to read about real life monsters like Bigfoot and Nessie (over in Loch Ness). Not to mention everyone knew those little grey men were just waiting to drop down in their UFOs and abduct me (thanks, Mr. Spielberg).

Once my payload of doggie kibble and liquid libations were suitable deposited, I would walk very courageously back to the house. About midpoint, I'd end up running like a bat-outta-hell before them stupid little aliens caught me in some kinda paralyzing ray (thanks again, Mr. Spielberg).

One night, I managed to maintain my stiff upper lip until I almost made it to the house.

And then I heard something...

It sounded, I kid you not, like a horse galloping right behind me. Instantly, I *knew* the Headless Horseman was gonna get me. Like a bolt of lightning, I lept up onto the back porch and swept the door open. As I rolled inside, I took a quick look... Naturally, there wasn't anything there. I stopped and stared, looking for the missing horse, but it just didn't exist.

Lets face it, it wasn't the Headless Horseman running roughshod over me that summer night, it was my imagination.

Imagination Unchained

I've wondered about that night every now and then. How had my imagination got so carried away that it created a sound for something that wasn't there? At the recent LDStorymakers writing conference, I think I found my answer (no, it wasn't schizophrenia).

Head shot for one of my characters.
When depicting something that isn't real, creative types force their minds to 'see' what they're writing/painting/portraying. One writer talked about how she creates characters while she's chauffeuring her kids around and imagines that they're actually sitting in the car. One time, she created a kid that was so real, she was upset when they got where they were going because that 'child' was missing.

It's that way with me too. I try to really see what I'm doing as I work. When I'm creating my characters, I use head shots and character interviews to make them 'real.' It's a fun process and I'm always willing to show my pics and written work for character creation, but let me explain the most private part of my process, the character interview.

Character Interviews
As an example, one of the tools I use for creating better characters is the character interview. When I do it, I feel like if someone hears me, I'll get a one way ticket to the funny farm (it's a lot less funny than you'd think). So I have a few rules to protect me.
  1. I make sure nobody can hear me. This usually mean waiting for the kids to be in school and the wife to be at work. Late at night... well... somebody might still hear and wonder who I'm talking to. I get laughed at when someone sees me write because I usually do 'interesting' facial expressions. It's all well and good, but the interviews are very personal for me so NOBODY gets to hear them.
  2. I talk in the speech patterns of the character. I'm an old thespian, so if the character is Russian, I try to do a Russian accent. Even a bad accent gets me in the character's head. I also include age appropriate dialog (or what I think is anyway).
  3. I let the characters say anything. Usually my protagonist just wants to tell me I'm an asshole (his words) and how much he hates me for making his life hell. Sometimes he's so mad he doesn't even want to talk to me, but when he calms down, I ask my questions. Letting your character say anything is probably the most important part for making lifelike characters.
  4. I record it for inspiration later. I'm a ham, but these soundtracks are for my ears only. I record them when nobody is home for a reason. But I do feel that I'm actually interviewing the characters, so listening to past interviews might give me inspiration for a current scene.
So how do you use your imagination? Do work outside your head, or is everything locked inside? What are some of your favorite ways to develope your imagination? Has your imagination ever got carried away?

1 comment:

  1. Oh, yes. When I was a kid, I convinced myself a local house was haunted and that I'd seen a ghost there.

    In my writing, I like to kind of "act out" scenes while I write them-- read them aloud, try out facial expressions/actions, etc. Good thing I do most of my writing in the privacy of my own home!


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