Today on the train home from work, I did everything I could to avoid engaging with a young guy who was telling everyone who’d listen a long string of improbable anecdotes. If it weren’t for the desperate, almost involuntary, urge he had to share his fantasy life, I might have thought he was having a laugh. Instead it was clear he was somewhere along the path of a serious mental health problem and it got me thinking, again, about that line between imagination and ‘crazy thinking’.
As I walk down the streets and ride the trains of my day-to-day life I am constantly in a fantasy world, imagining things and places that don’t exist. In my mind’s eye I’m conducting thought experiments that put me or other people into extreme situations and make them heroes and villains. While I journey with my characters I live hundreds of fantastical lives and if I sat down and told complete strangers (or even people I know) all about them like that guy was, they’d worry for my mental health too.
It’s always struck me as a great blessing to have a big, uncontrollable imagination, but there is something a little scary about it too, and when I see someone who’s on the way to losing sight of the line between fantasy and reality, I marvel at how fluid that line is.
A few years back a friend of mine introduced me to Tim Urban and his Instant Gratification Monkey. Well, not his personal IGM of course (though you can catch a glimpse if you watch the TED talk) but the concept of why some of us procrastinate even to our detriment.
If you’ve never heard of the IGM or the Panic Monster, you should check it out because it’s hilarious. And scarily true. I’ve rarely met a creative person who doesn’t have a very active IGM.
I know I’ve talked about this before, but it’s been on my mind again after some of my bookclubbers asked me where the idea for the PAR came from. Considering my recent wordage was my excuse for not having read the book this time (!) I felt like I owed them a good answer. Luckily when it comes to the PAR the answer is easy…
I was watching a movie with a martial arts instructor who was a really interesting character, in love with a student, and I thought “that’s the kind of relationship I’d like to write”. This was partly his character in the movie, partly the idea of a relationship between two fighters and partly the extreme coolness of martial arts (I’m a teeny bit of a fan).
So my instructor became a sword fighter (because swords = cool). Then he needed something to be using the swords for (to fight beasties). Then he needed people to train (people surviving in a somewhat post-apocalyptic future earth). Then he needed a love interest I felt he’d fall crazy in love with (a highly experienced beastie fighter). Then I had to decide what kind of beasties and where they’d come from (accidental side effect of some research). Then I had to decide what the research was in aid of (finding a cure for a disease). Then I had to pick a disease and work out if it had caused the apocalypse or the beasties had (50/50). And then – the most fun part – I had to build an entire version of our Earth around the idea of an apocalypse with beasties.
Sounds simple when you lay it out like that, huh?
Funny thing is, Blurty had a similar start – a movie I was watching – but a totally different path and now it’s hard to see the origin point at all!
Today, I was strolling around the children’s area of a department store. It was all very shiny and they have an animatronic dinosaur I’d happily hire a crane to steal, but overall it was one of the most depressing places I’ve been in a while. Everything was the opposite of what childhood seems like it should be (to me).
I mean I grew up with a bunch of friends who had every brand name doll, every brand name truck and some toys that were book or TV inspired, but this place was literally wall-to-wall “you’ve seen the movie, now buy the toys”. There was almost nothing there that didn’t have its own TV show or movie.
What I wondered as I moved from branded shelf to branded shelf, was whether there were any toys there that inspired kids to use their own imaginations and not just piggy-back off something some adult wrote. Does that actually inhibit kids from developing their own stories? Or do they just use it as a jumping off point for their imaginations?
I don’t know. I think about my space-alien-necklaces and figure that you probably couldn’t dent the imagination of a kid like me, but I don’t worry about those like me. I worry about the kids who don’t have an over-abundance of story in them. I worry that, between all this pre-packaged stuff they’re fed and the way virtual is replacing real in their lives, they might be the poorer for it.
It actually disturbed me more than seeing a Harley Quinn costume for a pre-teen girl. (Who in their right mind thinks a tween should dress as a character who is a hyper-sexualised victim of domestic violence? There’s a role model for you. Though, in fairness, the costume itself wasn’t at all sexy.)
As a kid when I looked at these items, I didn’t see necklaces or beads, I saw aliens from a planet I can’t remember the name of now. They flew around the galaxy in a (heart-shaped jewellery box) spaceship. They used to go on adventures and had telekinetic powers. Which just goes to show, I think, that giving some kids highly gendered products doesn’t disrupt their natural tendencies to non-gendered play!
I was rarely bored as a child.
Writers are all different, as I’m sure you’ll know if you hang out with them. Different in interests, different in method and different in inspiration.
Despite knowing that, I am sometimes puzzled by what other authors say about their writing.
A great example was a writer who said he could never imagine a physical space like a house. I guess that has to sound odd to a speculative fiction writer, because we make up pretty much everything we can! But I suppose that is one of the things that determines what genre/s you end up in…
How your imagination functions.