Saturday, December 20, 2008

I Found Lincoln on My Couch

By Keith Fisher

I spent a lot of time as a child, lying on my back gazing at clouds. I’d imagine wild animals, odd shapes, and people’s faces. I’m sure you did also. It seems to be a childhood occupation on summer days. How many of you also spent hours making faces out of a floral print on furniture? How many of you looked at wallpaper and saw people staring back at you? I remember the old man with the long nose, and the elephant with square ears. My childhood was filled with images of this kind.

Recently, I caught myself staring at the floral print on our living room couch. There was a hole in my plot, and I sat there brainstorming, when it happened. The image of an old man grinned, and pointed out other images from the recesses of my mind. The experience reminded me of my childhood and the vivid imagination I once had.

I was delighted to see how many faces inhabited our couch, but then, my adult mind began to erase those shapes. The floral print returned and my mind went back to the task at hand. I discovered, however, that every time I used my imagination to solve the plot problem, the images returned.

A week or so later, I sat in the same place at a different time of day. The light had changed, and a different shape appeared. I looked at a representation of Abraham Lincoln, not the man, but the carving on Mount Rushmore. I realized the images change in relation to the environment, and my mindset. I recognized the need to exercise my imagination is essential to good writing.

So how do we tap the wonderful power that turns clouds into creatures? I thought of an exercise that works for me.

Look at the picture I attached here. What’s going on? Well of course, you say, it’s when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. But, look at the picture. Why is Jefferson standing? What’s in the clutter on the floor? I see crinkled and torn parchment, a discarded quill pen, and a book. One of those discarded parchments has a seal on it. Is it important?

Why would Jefferson discard an important paper with a seal on it? Books were expensive in those days. Why would these men toss one on the floor? What’s in the book?

Look at the faces. Adams looks distracted. Franklin looks displeased. Jefferson looks almost like he’s going to cry. And why is there a model of a ship on the shelf?

There isn’t much written about the actual writing of the declaration. We can make judgements based on what we know about these men, but if we examine other pictures. Wherever we find them and try to answer the questions, the foundation of a story will take shape. Our imagination will kick in.

It might be as simple as picking a path through difficult terrain in the forest, or finding the best fishing hole in a picture of a mountain stream. Whatever your imagination conjures, the story will be there. Write it down. If it’s really good, and the lighting is just right, you might be writing the next great American novel. Even if it isn’t, remember the satisfaction of spending the day making images out of clouds. That’s what writers do everyday. The satisfaction comes in using your imagination. Each one of the people in the picture below has their own story. What are those stories? Use your imagination.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week


Kim Thompson said...

Very cool, blog! I struggle to use my imagination and you constantly remind me by making up stories about the things you see. I can do it, but I really have to focus. They don't just come to my mind, like it does with you. That's why you're so good at plotting.

Heather Justesen said...

Keith, great post, and good point. There are stories everywhere. I like to watch random people on the street and make up situations for them. Sometimes bits of conversation end up giving me great ideas for plots for one of my many books in progress.

Tristi Pinkston said...

The book is on the floor because someone threw it at someone else (I'll let you decide who was who) and Jefferson looks upset because no one will believe him that the word in paragraph four shouldn't be hyphenated. Watch out - that ship on the shelf is going to be the next thing thrown.