I have a rich inner world. A treasure chest of stories in my head. A personal copy of a “1001 Arabian Nights”-type book in which I write all the tales. No big deal, right? I’m a writer. All writers have thriving imaginations. It’s what makes us able to create the stories people want to read.
And I supposed that’s how everyone’s inner life worked. We create great works of fiction – sometimes contemporary, sometimes sci-fi or fantasy (mine are nearly all sci-fi and fantasy…) – in our heads. Everyone amuses themselves with reimagined movie plots, book retellings, and original stories when they have time to think aimlessly, right? I assumed as much, until I had a discussion about it with my husband one night.
I asked him if he ever made up whole movies in his mind, with specific dialogue and scenes and maybe even an accompanying soundtrack. He thought about it for a minute and said no. Had he ever done so, I asked? He replied that he’s sure he has in the past, but he couldn’t tell me when the last time was that he’d reimagined a favorite story or wrote his own internal entertainment.
I then asked him what normally occupies his mind? What does he think about when he has time to just reflect? His answer? “Dinner. Lunch. Food.”
I think he was only half-kidding.
Point being, any time my brain is not actively engaged in a project or a book or a conversation, I make up head movies to show myself. Sometimes, these are inspired from actual movies or shows or books. I think about how I might have handled a scene in a movie (as either the writer or the hero), and then do a complete rewrite in my head, often to the point where it only tangentially relates to the original. Often, my stories start with a piece of music, something that evokes a certain emotion or a potential character trait, and it all grows from that one little seed. Before I know it, it’s a full tree that begs to be converted into the paper pages of a novel. It comes in handy on long road trips.
I’ve always been this way, and I like to credit my childhood love for books and stories to my overactive imagination. I admit that hiding in my mom’s closet with one of her Harlequins was more about the thrill of “getting away with something.” And sneaking off to the rickety balcony of our Victorian (which no one in my family ever thought to check) with an Anne McCaffrey book in hand had as much to do with not wanting to be tagged to mow the lawn as it did with wanting to read. But still, it nurtured a love of compelling plots, engaging characters, and good story. And when I didn’t have a book handy – and often, even when I did – I converted the art of storytelling into a nourishing source of self-pacifying entertainment.
I don’t believe this is an “all or nothing” type of situation. I’d guess there are as many slots on the imagination spectrum as there are types of people. Maybe my neighbor across the way has absolutely no imagination at all – she thinks about the world only as it is, with practical matters taking up any down time in her minds. Perhaps my coworker – the quiet one who slips in and out of the work day like a ninja – has a special place in his brain where it’s always Storytelling Hour and Masterpiece Theater. And neither way to be is the “preferred way.” Whatever a person’s level of inner creativity may be, it’s a private world only they can value.
Unless you’re a writer, and then that private world – or parts of it anyway – has a good chance of being made public; brought to life through books, movies, shows, video games, and comics. Not all the head movies I write, direct and produce for an audience of one will make the leap from my mind into the pages of a book. I do have a fair amount of them logged in my “Writing Projects” folder on my computer, though, which means they are one step closer to being shared with a much less intimate audience. At least, that’s the hope.