Once we have a story going, we can SEE into it, visualize what is happening, but in the beginning, we can have difficulty imagining a character, a setting, or even a specific event. One of the more effective methods of breaking through these blocks is to work from images that pop to mind while contemplating the subject. These images are the cornerstone, the creative energy behind the storytelling process. Here’s what I say in Story Alchemy, Chapter 9 The Land of Story about imagining your narrator:
Activating the imagination [discussed extensively in Chapter 7] is much like that, an interrogation. The process of imagining is a dialogue between Consciousness and the Unconscious. I’d be willing to bet that you had an image when I first mentioned contacting your narrator. You had to. As Aristotle put it, “Without an image thinking is impossible.” [On Memory, Ref 450a1] You can’t think about the personification of a narrator without an image coming to mind. Your job is to capture that image and expand upon it.
This can apply to any element of your story and is particularly important to remember in the beginning before it becomes contaminated with associations from the outside world. During these all important initial stages, it’s imperative that you work as much as possible from your own imagination to ensure originality. All too frequently we want to immediately start research, pulling as much material from the outside world as possible to fluff up our story. This can suppress the really creative material buried in the unconscious part of our psyche.
How do you go about this?
I recommend that you isolate yourself to ensure you won’t be disturbed. This can be your bedroom, your sofa in the living room if you are alone, or even outside on a park bench with no one else around. Could be deep in the forest where you’ll be sure a bear won’t eat you. You should have with you your notebook computer or mobile device with a Bluetooth keyboard, anything you can type on with your eyes closed.
Then you bring this new idea for a story into your psychic space and start investigating images associated with it. Start with that initial image that came with the initial impulse and start describing what you saw. Write down everything you see until you have exhausted all you know about it. Then again using that initial idea, look for images of characters, settings, or actions that you know are a part of the story.
What is most important during this initial process is to identify any signs of conflict. Explore that conflict and the associated images. As soon as possible, identify the nature of the conflict, what it’s about. This may be the story’s central conflict or even a subplot conflict. You’ll know which later when you’ve learned more about your story. All of this should be done from images, the most basic form of thought.
One of the things to be careful about is to not let your thoughts/images drift too far from the initial idea. This isn’t brainstorming. Brainstorming is writing down whatever pops into your mind. You’re controlling the process by always keeping your story in mind. I realize that it’s really tricky to allow your psyche to form images on its own and at the same time control the subject that the images cluster about, but you’ll get better at it with experience. In doing this, you are preparing yourself for the expanded imaginative sessions you’ll use to develop your story.
To get the full story on these techniques, see Story Alchemy.