1. ladyphilosophy
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    ladyphilosophy Member

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    Can imagination be learned?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by ladyphilosophy, Jan 5, 2015.

    I'm interested to know just how much of our imagination is innate and how much of it, if any, is learned. I've heard that writers are born storytellers, but learn to become better technical writers.

    I think I have honed some pretty good writing skills over the years and can write to a decent standard now, but I worry that I will never be able to publish a novel if I just don't have a knack for storytelling. I can never seem to come up with a brilliant story from my own imagination, and rely mostly on my own experiences for inspiration, as I have done ever since I used writing as a way of venting my emotions as a teenager. Before then, I would come up with some pretty cool stories as a kid, but I seem to have lost that ability, and am having difficulty tapping back into it.

    But is it something that can be tapped into, or is it just a case of, you either have it or you don't? Maybe I just cared less about what other people would think of my stories as a kid, and am too self-doubting now? Or did I just never have the ability to begin with?
     
  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    First, there's a difference between the imagination and the ability to tell a story. Everyone is born with imagination - environment determines whether it grows or rots. Not everyone is a born storyteller, but it can be learned and developed. Those with a talent for it get a head start, but it doesn't mean others can't "catch up" and even surpass those.
     
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  3. karmazon
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    karmazon Member

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    I agree with shadowwalker. Storytelling is a separate skill from "imagination." Whether imagination is something that can be learned is a question for scientist. But storytelling can be learned.
     
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  4. Ben414
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    It's possible that you are lacking the imagination to do so, but I would venture that it's more likely a story-designing problem.

    It might be that you don't understand how the full story design begins with a small part (e.g. the last act's climax) and then is reverse engineered from there. Nobody comes up with the full design of a story right away (especially not a well-done full design); it's an arduous process that's more similar to creative puzzle-solving than unadulterated creative freedom. Once you better understand how literally every aspect of a story is related to the central theme, it's much easier to come up with creative solutions because you know what you're looking for.

    Perhaps it is because you have not experienced enough stories in your preferred genre to know its tropes. If so, you need to digest books in your genre to see how they work and what kinds of story designs that are common to them. Then, you can use that knowledge as a base from which you can branch off with creative solutions because you will once again know how to direct your creativity--why you want specific design aspects and why you don't want specific design aspects.
     
  5. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm sorry. I have no idea what all that meant, but it sounds like you're making this all much more difficult than it really is. Yes, you have to read a lot, but otherwise, you just tell a story. The more you tell, the better you get.
     
  6. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The OP stated that the problem was basically "I can't come up with a story," not "I can't tell a story well." I don't see those as the same issue. Telling the OP to just write a story doesn't seem to solve the problem; hence, my response was a way in which to free up creativity. Instead of the OP not being able to write because she (I'm presuming female based on the name) doesn't know where the story is headed, she can see how story design is related. She could start with only imagining one aspect, like a climax. From there, she should more easily be able to come up with a theme than if she was just winging it. Then, the theme would help her imagine who the protagonist(s) is/are. Then, the protagonist(s) would help her imagine what antagonistic forces would be. It would go on in this process to whatever is necessary given the story's intended length, or whenever inspiration struck and she could start writing again.
     
  7. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think of it more as creativity rather than imagination, and yes, there are ways to get at your creativity.
     
  8. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am not a good story teller when it comes to telling or writing one. ( although if I could plug a USB cord to my mind that would be a different story itself) But I think everyone is capable of having a great imagination, it just depends on how suppressed it is and how willing you are to let it flow freely.
     
  9. ladyphilosophy
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    ladyphilosophy Member

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    This may be my main problem. I guess I just assumed that for other writers the stories sort of walk into their heads. I know for some of the great writers this does seem to be the case (J.K. Rowling said that the idea of Harry Potter just "walked into her head fully formed", after all) but maybe it's not as common as I thought. Maybe more systematic plot-engineering what is needed. Even so, I'm guessing other writers find this a lot easier than I do.
     
  10. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    If you want a rather scientific answer, then I wouldn't use "imagination" as a legitimate term--it's best understood as a result of human cognition than a feature of it in itself. Creativity is a kind of intelligence, and is thought to be genetically determined and influenced by subsequent environment, as is the case with any kind of intelligence. Many ways to put it colloquially--genetics loads the bullet, environment pulls the trigger; genetics deals your cards, and environment plays them, etc. So no, I wouldn't say you either have it or you don't, but you may need to make more or less effort than others depending on which cards you were dealt.

    Childlike imagination is actually quite unique because children do not construe situations the same way as adults do. We tend to suffer from functional fixedness (a pen is used to write, and nothing else) and have mental sets that keep us from viewing the same scenario in a myriad of ways. Children usually have not developed those fixations yet (ever see a toddler trying to eat a magazine, and write with a booger?) and tend to be more able to come up with unique ideas. Unfortunately, because they do not have adult cognitive abilities, they cannot come up with complex plots and storylines. Hence, one strategy to tap into your inner creative genius is to abandon presumptions. Let go of your preordained ideas about what's a girl or a boy, what's a robot, what's an alien. Look at seemingly ordinary ideas and situations in a new light and find an entirely new story in them.
     
  11. ladyphilosophy
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    ladyphilosophy Member

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    I hoped this was the case, but what are the best ways to tap into one's creativity? I never seem to know how to get at it, though I feel that, somehow, there is SOMETHING in there...waiting to come out. Maybe.

    That makes a lot of sense, thanks!
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2015
  12. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    'Enhancing creativity' got me 40,000,000 hits on Google. I'll bet 39,999,842 of those aren't much use. There is a good book on writing by Dorothea Brande, Becoming a Writer, first published in 1934 and still in print. She talks a lot about how to get your creative mind working along side your practical mind. I know that for myself I tend to be quite analytical and this detracts from creative story telling.
     
  13. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    I think so! If you spend a lot of time reading, writing, traveling, etc, it definitely expands your borders and thus your imagination. I've known people I went to middle school with who wrote terribly who ended up writing very well in high school - imagination isn't inherent. Some people might come to it easier, but it's not a trait you can never learn.
     
  14. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Or ask a kid for an idea and then just build on that. :p
     
  15. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Or she could think of a character and ask "Where is this person? What are they doing? Why?" etc etc. The old tried and true 5 W's. If she can't come up with a story, she can't come up with a climax or design or theme. But to tell a story, she just needs to look out the window and pick one person on the street. Then it's the 5 W's and boom - story.
     
  16. HelloImRex
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    HelloImRex Contributing Member

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    No.
     
  17. BlackRaven
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    The best way to learn how to use your imagination - and yes, everyone is born with it, some just have better ability to use it than others - is to read. Read, read, read, read, read.

    As a kid I devoured books left, right and center. Everything from David Copperfield to LOTR to Wuthering Heights to 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and everything in between. Short stories, long crime novels, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, etc. You name it, I probably read it at some point.

    If you read any of the interviews of successful authors - they read or read like crazy as kids and young adults.



    The reason why? Because it gets the brain working on "fantasy" and "fiction".

    Myself for example:
    By 14, I'd published my first book. Little short story novelette.

    By 15 I could tell ghost stories - verbally - that even adults thought were real. I loved creeping out friends & family.

    And so forth.


    However, because I read so much I can nowadays spin out a story with little effort. As can most people who read a lot.
     
  18. Glasswindows
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    Glasswindows Member

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    ^I don't think you can learn to use your imagination by reading. You just already had it and liked rather to read for that very reason.

    Not all writers are born storytellers. Most of them can neither write or tell a story. You don't need to come up with a brilliant story. I wonder if anyone ever has just for the want of it. Don't everyone rely on their experiences for inspiration? Experiences can be real or imaginary. It doesn't need to be anything concrete. But you can't make inspiration. Mostly it tends to be so that the more you try the less you succeed. Need to learn how to try and yet let it go at the same time. But no, imagination can't be learned. But you could say, it can be freed.
     
  19. BlackRaven
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    I disagree. Most professional & successful authors specifically say they read & they read a lot. Even drivel writers like James [50 Shades of Abuse] says that she read a lot.

    Hence the not all writers are born storytellers. Yet if you train your brain to work on a creative aspect, you can write. It's the same as an engineer studying complex math - he learns it and he copies it in his work.

    You read fiction - you learn how to write fiction.
     
  20. Glasswindows
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    But how can you make a distinction between people who are good at writing because of reading and simply people who happen to read a lot and are good writers. Since Most people who like to write like to also read. You can assume a lot, but can anyone really say which is a cause to which? Or if it's all just by chance? Because it would certainly be impossible to prove. Not everybody learns to write no matter how much they read. Because to read, all you need is to know is how to read. Well of course everyone can write things down, but to write something well comes out of something more complicated.
     
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  21. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that you're making a distinction out of nothing...i.e. there is a strong correlation between being a good writer and reading a lot, it is a working hypothesis that reading helps your writing. Since we don't understand the mechanism that connects lots of reading with good writing, it's possible that both are affected by an unexplained third factor. However, using Occam's razor, we can state that:

    It's not that reading will automatically make you a good writer, but that NOT reading will NOT make you a good writer. The cause and effect is a negative.
     
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  22. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would say that reading will make you a better writer.
     
  23. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Apparently the egg came before the chicken; if you think of it, it couldn't be any other way. Your last statement is a bit of a non sequator, yes, it's part of the process, but I believe only a small part.
     
  24. HelloImRex
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    Okay, I admit I was trying to give the most unimaginative answer possible, but I think its true. When I think about someone who has the most developed imagination possible, boundless and far-reaching, I think of a Schizophrenic. After a certain point imagination is a hindrance in learning how to write. Its very easy to imagine your work is better than it is and intensive feedback is required to be taken at face value before improvement is possible. Someone with an imagination might as well think they are the best and be content because it is the most comforting thing to think. Developing a good story is about building refined patterns and characters that really work, not just spouting out the imagination and hoping it is innately good enough.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2015
  25. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't DISAGREE with that - it's just that the firm evidence we have is pretty flabby, and goes something like. "Good writers say they read lots."
    From a scientific perspective, there are so many flaws in the design of this experiment! 1/ How good is a good writer - can you rank them (other than one man's opinion)? 2/ This is self-reported - how many people admit to committing a motoring offence? 3/ What is lots? And does slowly and analytically dissecting everything you read count as "more" reading than blasting through and just guessing the meaning of anything that's a little obscure?
     
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