I read a lot of fiction. I talk about it frequently. There are about four thousand benefits of doing so, from relaxation and self-care, to making me a better writer, to fostering my imagination.
And that last point is perhaps the biggest one. When’s the last time you let your imagination run wild as an adult?
I can say with near blanket assumption that we don’t use our imaginations nearly enough in adulthood. Sure, we marvel at our kiddos who do, but then we kind of laugh and go back to life and stop before we indulge ourselves in a little daydreaming.
Reading fiction books – stories – provides a fantastic place to do that with an assist. Someone else has done most of the imagining for us, but still, we get to invent most of the landscape for ourselves. We get to create our own picture of the environment, of the feel and energy of the story, of the characters within it.
And because many stories are an author’s reflection of their experiences, of aspects of real life, this is my favorite way to connect the dots between what we love about our favorite fiction stories and characters and our own realities. I’ll explain.
Who’s your favorite fiction character?
I bet you can tell me instantly. And if I were to ask you what your favorite book was, you’d probably pick something that includes a world and a character that you closely identify with – either because it’s close to who you already are, or close to who you want to be. There’s likely an essence that you connect with, but it’s amplified when this person, this world, is written with purpose.
One of my favorite books is The Night Circus. It’s magical and beautiful, and while the setting isn’t exactly real-life possible, guess what? The characters are, in their own unique ways. Competitiveness, dedication to knowledge, creativity, resourcefulness, love, defiance, self-sacrifice – all things I identify with and can indeed embody in my life in my own unique ways, even if I can’t do magic in a traveling night circus. (Which I really do wish that I could.)
Another, more recent, favorite is Dumplin’, followed by Puddin’. That small-town life is something I don’t have to imagine because I’ve lived it too. I can feel every single vibe of the environment, and every single feeling of the characters. Now, I’m no longer a high school girl, and I also can’t specifically connect with the experience of being fat. But I can wholeheartedly connect with the experience of not fitting in, of being ridiculed for it, of wanting to have friends and sometimes forcing it, of acting out and paying the consequences for it, of actually feeling confident in myself, of feeling a strong desire to go against the grain and do what’s right but still struggling to do it because we’re all insecure and unsure some of the time and when other people aren’t as confident, they’ll do anything to take someone else down a peg, but also we never really know the full story of what’s going on with them until we get to know them (and ourselves) better.
See? It’s just a story. Except it’s clearly not.
I can pretty much guarantee the characters in that story are pieces of the author and her experiences. They’re all the bits she wants to showcase, all the parts she wishes she would have in the past, and all the things she knows she can be now, and in the future. Yes, they’re jazzed up with some imagination, but it honestly doesn’t make them any less real.
Characters in stories are a good reminder – they’re always a reflection of reality. And they allow (sometimes force) us to reflect on our own reality.
Who do you want to be? And how does that relate to the characters you most strongly identify with, the most memorable ones that you can still picture in your mind’s eye? Now go a step further.
What are the qualities these characters have that you want to create in yourself? If you make some time to re-read your favorite book and reacquaint yourself with your favorite character – which you should totally do, what are the traits that draw you to them? What are the attributes of their personality or behavior that stand out to you, make you smile, get you excited, fill you with conviction, move you? List it! There’s a theme, I promise.
How about the setting? What’s your favorite story world? Is it current day? Futuristic? Somewhere that exists that you love? Some yet-to-be created place that feels like home? There will be a theme here too.
And there will probably even be a theme around the theme. What is it about the story itself that you love so much? Is it friendship? Realistic and thoughtful dealing with grief? A particular depiction of love? Or what about unexpected distribution of power or politics? And again, how do the characters play into it all?
Now, think about your current life story. Think about the stories and narratives you play on repeat, the ones you tell yourself over and over again. Think about the roles, the character you’re playing. Think about what you imagine is possible, and not possible. How does it connect to everything you just listed and imagined? Does it connect at all?
I think we tend to get caught up in thinking that stories are just stories. Characters are just characters, and none of it’s real. We could never have that happy ending! Unfortunately, our lives don’t always follow an established storyline. Our real-life character isn’t always an archetype. But it’s not about that, and that’s what I’m trying to encourage you to take a look at – it’s not about the literal interpretation, it’s the application of imagination to your situation.
(You like that rhyme? File it under other skillz I’ve learned from reading a lot.)
If you take these pieces and elements of stories and characters that excite you, make you feel happy or inspired or like the truest version of yourself, how can you take them and incorporate them into your daily actions? How can you embody this character? (Who, by the way, is actually, already you.) What can you do to paint your story’s setting?
How can you not only write, but be, your own real-life, everyday, character? The non-fiction version of your fiction self?
It’s not that you have to do magic, or enter a pageant, or quit your job, leave your family, and go on a bus trip across the country (that one’s from Lake Success). But you can practice your favorite creative hobby, be there for the people you love, put yourself out there for longshot opportunities (that might not even be longshots anyway – hello, more stories we tell), or go on an impromptu road trip.
The reality is that we’re always writing, and imagination and creativity and freedom to draft and re-write and publish – make it real – are always within our capabilities. Your world? Your character? They can be your life.
But you’ve got to write it with purpose, and then, bring life to your own story. It doesn’t have to be a daydream.
So, start by imagining – if you could write the perfect character and role for yourself, what would they look like? What story would they tell? How would they live? What future reader would they inspire? Now do just that – write the story, write the character. Give them a name (*ahem* trick question, their name is your name) and a location.
Then, write the story about how they get there and live it.
I wanna hear all about your character and your story and how we’re going to bring her to life. Schedule a call with me below, or send me an email anytime.