You and Your Imagination!

"You and Your Imagination!" These were familiar words when I was growing up, and they weren't meant as a complement.

Yet a good imagination is vital for a writer.
Recently someone said to me, "I wish I could write like you, but I don't have any imagination." 

I looked at her for a moment, then asked, "When you cross the road, do you remember to look both ways?"

She looked baffled. "Of course. Why?"

I could see she just didn't get it. But you see, if she didn't have any imagination, she surely wouldn't check the road for other cars. Why would she? She looks out for the traffic because she imagines what would happen if she didn't.

I did a search of a number of online dictionaries for a definition of the word, "imagination" so I could quote it for you and found something interesting. They all used the identical wording.

1. the formation of a mental image of something that is not perceived as real and is not present to the senses
 2. the ability to form mental images of things or events
 3. the ability to deal resourcefully with unusual problems

The same words were used each time. This tells me two things:

1.  It is probably a good definition.

2.  The writers of the dictionaries are somewhat lacking in imagination.

Going back to my original illustration .  . . The lady concerned could imagine how a car might hit her if she stepped into the traffic. If I had spent longer with her and asked her more questions, I'm sure she could have described the sound of the brakes as the driver tried to stop the car before it hit her. She would tell me about the thud as the car slammed into her. She could have pictured the crowd gathering, heard the sound of the ambulance and felt the terror that came as she realised she had no identity with her.

That's imagination, friend. You see, hear and experience images that are not real. You form mental images of events that aren't really happening. You deal resourcefully with unusual problems. After all, you're not limited by your physical abilities! 

Interestingly, if you spend time imagining a scenario, it will start to feel real. So much so that it can increase your heartbeat or bring tears to your eyes. Try this right now. 

Read this through, then stop reading, and follow my suggestion. Imagine your favourite chocolate bar--or fruit if you're not able to eat chocolate. See yourself handling the object. Bring it to your nose and smell it.

Don't rush.

Mmmm. The smell of dark creamy chocolate. Nothing like it. Or the rich tingling fragrance of a ripe orange.

See yourself peeling off the paper or skin. Break off a piece. Slip it into your mouth and suck gently. . . okay. Stop reading, and spend a minute or two doing this exercise. 

Are you back? Did you try it? Now tell me honestly. Don't you long for some chocolate? Or an orange? Or whatever you imagined? Does your mouth perhaps have extra saliva from the anticipation? Are you heading for the store or the fridge as soon as you've finished reading?

Your writing will come alive when you use your imagination. Don't just write from your head—write from the heart. Put yourself in the scene you're describing and let yourself go. In no time, you'll find yourself experiencing the emotions of your characters, and you'll have a new ability to write what you're seeing . . . in your imagination. 

If your story is slowing down, throw a problem or a crisis at your characters, then put yourself in their skins. Now allow your imagination to react, not as you think they should, but as if you were them. As you capture your feelings on paper or screen, you will find you can't get the words down quickly enough. 

Are you struggling to describe a scene accurately? Stop writing. Close your eyes and create the picture in your mind. Place the people where you have them in your story. Now start the action--and see what your characters show you. Allow yourself to go with the flow. Then write it down.

Are you writing non-fiction? The same technique helps. Close your eyes for a moment and conjure up the scene or situation in your mind before you put your message into words.

Are you writing about bereavement? Let your imagination show you a situation where you were involved with the loss of a loved one. How did you feel? What do you have to share with your reader?

Writing without the use of your imagination is going to be stilted and sterile. Your characters will seem to be cut from cardboard, and your advice will lack empathy.

One more thing before you go. What are you having for supper tonight? Can you imagine it? What does it look like? How does it smell? Most important, can you taste it? Is it chewy? Tough? Juicy? Now tell us what you just had to eat.

SHIRLEY CORDER lives near the coast in South Africa with her husband Rob. She is author of Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer, available now for pre-order at or at Barnes & Noble (B&, and contributing author to nine other books. You can contact Shirley through her writing website, her Rise and Soar site for encouraging those on the cancer journey, or follow her on Twitter or Facebook. 


widdershins said...

Excellent point Shirley.

I'm a great believer in closing my eyes at the keyboard to 'walk through' a scene ... or for inspiration/imagination to strike!

Margaret Fieland said...

Shirley, this reminds me of the sense memory exercises we used to do in a drama class I took in high school. Good article.

Magdalena Ball said...

Fantastic exercises Shirley. I particularly like the one about throwing conflict at your character.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Great examples and exercises Shirley. Love the chocolate bar exercise, of course, I love anything to do with chocolate.

Shirley Corder said...

Thank you ladies for your comments. I love it that the characteristic which got me into so much trouble as a child is proving to be a most useful tool for me as a writer! I'd love to go back to all the people who got fed up with my imagination and say, "I told you so!" Trouble is, they're all dead!

Margaret Fieland said...

Shirley, put them into a story and make them eat their words.

Karen Cioffi said...

Shirl, great post and great exercises.

And, in response to your tweet to me about how to incorporate keywords in this type of article for the title, you need to take into account what the topic is about. In this case it's about writing, so 'writing' should be in your title. Maybe, Writing and Your Imagination OR You, Your Imagination, and Writing.

Having the keyword in your title makes it that much easier for readers and the search engines to know what your content is about. Quickly being able to identify a topic is important.

Shirley Corder said...

Thanks so much Karen. I chose a blog post I had published on my website the day before your webinar, and worked through it step-by-step, using your teaching. Within 24 hours the visitors to that page had quadrupled! I would have expected it to go up but not by anything like that amount. So from now on, I will be optimising my blogs.Thanks again.

Debbie A Byrne said...

Good advice. I've been having some problems myself this month.

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