A warm welcome to Riley Carney! She is seventeen years old and has written eight novels, including a five-book fantasy adventure series for grades 4-8 and an urban fantasy trilogy for ages 12 and up. The first book of the five-book Reign of the Elements series, The Fire Stone, was released in January 2010, and the second book, The Water Stone, was released in July 2010. Riley is also passionate about promoting global literacy for children through her nonprofit corporation, Breaking the Chain, which she founded three years ago because she believes that the key to breaking the cycle of poverty is by increasing literacy. We're so happy to host Riley as our guest Creativity Blogger this week. Here she talks about that "most crucial element of storytelling" - imagination.
The Land of Our Imagination
by Riley Carney
"The woman stared, her face frozen in shock, as a man wearing a black and white striped shirt ran by the window of the café where she was sipping tea from a yellow mug. Police cars screeched to a halt, sirens blaring. The police officers leapt from their cars and raced after the escaped prisoner, tackling him to the ground so hard that his plastic skull cap popped off. Cars, trying to avoid the police cars blocking the street, skidded into the wall and exploded into a shower of white and black bricks."
The conclusion to this story might have come later that day or a week later, after my brother and I had spent hours on the floor, clutching the mini-figures of our sprawling LEGO town; mimicking the voices of our characters as they went about their lives and spewing spittle as we made the sound effects of racing cars and trucks colliding into plastic walls. A world of adventure and discovery was opened to us as we created and ruled the city of bricks.
Years later, I realize how important those imaginary adventures with LEGOs, or stuffed animals, or dress-up clothes and blankets have been in my creative development and growth. As a writer, there is much I can learn from my younger self. During those hours playing with LEGOs and stuffed animals, I discovered something that is now vital to my writing: unfiltered imagination. As we grow older, pure, uncensored imagination slowly abandons us. The magic of childhood games loses its appeal and gullible wonderment is replaced with a resigned acceptance of reality.
Yet, imagination is the most crucial element of storytelling.
No matter the genre, the ability to tell stories comes from the ability to create, and then transport the reader to, a world other than our own. It is true that stories come in all shapes and sizes; magical lands, family struggles, or the terrors of middle school. Some stories are firmly rooted in reality, others are not. But the act of writing is always about imagining and sharing someone else’s story, be it inside or outside the confines of reality. Perhaps there are some slight differences between the imaginary adventures of childhood and the process of creating a story, but at its essence, the idea is the same: to explore, to push our boundaries, to reach for new heights.
Only by staying connected to our inner child can we create a story that is as fully explored and constructed as it can be. With the exception of a biography or an autobiography, every book begins in our imaginations. Every genre, from children’s fantasy to realistic fiction dealing with difficult personal or social issues, depends on imagination to create plot, characters, and settings. Only through effective imagination and then vivid translation to the page can a story be told compellingly. A reader can instinctively sense when the imaginary world in the story does not feel real to the author, and the only way a story can feel real to the author is if they have fully tapped into their imagination.
Children love to imagine and pretend, no matter how outlandish or improbable their story. It is with that same love of creativity and thrill of adventure that we as authors must approach our writing. We cannot restrict ourselves because we are afraid that we will lack sophistication, or because we are too trapped in reality or in the rules of writing. The technicalities can be addressed later in the writing process. At the beginning, we must put that all aside. In a way, when we write, we must become small children again, reveling in the pretend world our words create and gleefully inventing the lives of our characters.
Writing is about stretching our imaginative capacity to the limit. Writers need to be intrepid adventures, just as my brother and I were years ago when we engineered events and shaped our characters’ lives in our LEGO town. The world of words is an unknown land for us to explore. Sometimes we need to pull on our kid shoes, leave the real world behind, and allow creativity to flourish as we enter the land of our imagination.