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Fertilizing Imagination Article About Writing Better

William H. Coles

There is no science to guide a writer to strengthening his or her imagination.  But here are a few practical ways to hone what the writer has been genetically given as imaginative potential.

Live to experience and discover.

A rich life reliably stimulates imagination.

Learn to live actively, not passively.

Reading is active.  Watching TV is predominantly passive.  Listening to music is passive.  Creating original music by composing and/or playing an instrument is active.   Looking at travel photos of France is passive.  Two weeks of backpacking in the Loire Valley is active.

Learn as much about everything you possibly can.

Disparate ideas and unlike associations seem to sprout new images and ideas.

Examine metaphysical questions.

Who are we and why are we here?  Is there an afterlife?  Why do we suffer?  Who is God?  Is there an ultimate truth?  Why is there no justice?  What is beauty?

Musing on the unanswerable helps with character development and significant story meaning that intertwines plotting.

Know your own strengths and weaknesses.

Determine as truthfully as possible how you fit into a world with billions of other unique, vastly different human beings.  This may require painful self-examination.

Practice imaginative writing.

1. Study the great literary creations of the past, and carefully filter out any useless or harmful dogma of contemporary teaching.

2. Explore daily metaphors . . .  the timing of delivery, acceptability, and the logic and credibility.

3. Learn the use of clear and accurate language in all communication, and expand vocabulary with image provoking words and active verbs.

Learn to structure stories and create characters imaginatively.

Discover the reason for success of stories and characters in all forms of storytelling and all prose genres, and then imaginatively create your own new and immediate ideas for success in literary story fiction.

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6 Responses to “Fertilizing Imagination”

  1. julian wills Says:

    I have a question. Should I only read mostly "Literary Fiction'" or other fiction outside the genre?" I only have a limited amount of time in a day!

    What are some novels you would recommend?


  2. William Coles Says:

    Thanks for comment. You should read what you like. In a survey on site many readers don't finish books that don't interest them. Others feel an obligation to read on once started. If you have limited time, I'd suggest you never read anything that doesn't interest you. Then read in any genre you might like. Most people who read for enjoyment enjoy good writing in many genres. You need to find good writers, and that is not easy. Commercial publishing has flooded the prose fiction market with authors famous or infamous and promoted personalities over writers. But there are good writers out there in the crowd. You can find good literary writers too, but literature takes careful reading to mine the enjoyment, which some reject. You can find recommendations on web site for literarure here and examples of short stories here. If you like short stories, try Lorrie Moore or Richard Bausch. For memoir, check out Out of Africa (Isak Dinesen). For nonliterary plot oriented fiction, try Michael Connelly, P.D. James, or James Lee Burke. Check theri style to see if they engage you in their writing and then discover if content and genre are right for you. If you become a reader of prose for enjoyment, I would hope that you settle in literary fiction where the examination of the human soul provides intellectual and emotional discovery and satisfaction. Best wishes for success. Let me know what you like. WHC

  3. Philip Scott Wikel Says:

    While I admire your attempt to offer writers valuable excercises in writing, what do you have to say to the writer whose writing comes from what he or she feels is a connection to a higher or greater power; the type of writer who gets hit by lightning with an idea and can sit down and write an entire short story in half an hour and sell it with very little editing.

    This is not a brag. It's actually a complaint. I feel a great inability to relate to other writers because I don't have a "process" that I go through or a writing routine or formula. I'll never be a Michener or a Shaara, or a Carver for that matter because writing for me is more like channeling and only occurs when I'm randomly tuned in.
    The only way I managed to write a novel is that I was hit by lightning about 50 times on the same channel.
    My question is how does one make this happen on-demand?

  4. William Coles Says:

    A truly (I mean it) great question and thanks for taking the time to submit it. You are successful, you obviously please readers, and you write the way the vast majority of writers write: inspiration, ideas and imagery, describing the story that comes to you. Honestly, I admire you. But there is a slightly different way of thinking about writing fictional stories. What if your goal entirely is to please, enlighten, engage (and enthrall) a reader, and not just tell an inspired lightening-bolt story? (Engagement is what many of the great writers have accomplished.) What if your goal to create emotional responses in the reader through dramatic (objective) settings with only minimally relying on telling, or asking them to feel. (Telling uses abstract descriptions of a feeling rather than creating circumstances that show the reader why a feeling occurs–and sentimentality is often a result). To do this requires a basic search that is individual for each writer. What is it about the craft of writing and the thought process of excellent story telling that gives great writers the ability to create through prose enjoyment in a select group of careful and dedicated readers, and how can I as a writer incorporate thses discoveries into my creative process? (For much of this, it is honing the thousands of decisions that go into a successful story creation so that each decision has a story purpose–as opposed to the need to get words on the page–and each decision is carefully considered for the effect created on the reader.)

    Two major skills to accomplish this are: 1) the creation (construction) of unique characters that the reader can care for, that have a touch of the hero, and whose strengths and weaknesses have a clear cause and effect relationship with the story plot, purpose, and meaning, 2) learning how to construct a story with conflict and suspense that presses forward with the momentum of a locomotive going down a mountain to bring the reader through plot resolution with an awareness of what it means to be human. That is the essence of great stories that are remembered for generations, and not just stories that solve a mystery, or complete a puzzle, or satisfy a love desire or a vengeful justice. These stories types are all part of writing, but the essence of a great story is the humanity. You may legitimately say you accomplish this with your "hit-by-lighting" approach, and you must for certain writers (even a majority). But even though you say you can't, you can be a Carver or a Chekhov. It is somewhat about learning process (and craft), but it has little to do with routine or formula. Instead it is about what you want to provide for the reader (not to write just for the need of writing something to be published) and to write something a reader will remember for life, will pass on to others, and will become a part of the collective consciousness of future generations. That requires upgrading the use of prose, learning the potential of great story telling, and, most importantly, thinking of yourself not as a writer, but as the means that a great idea imagined and presented, with meaning, can be delivered to a reader effectively for engagement and an emotional response (many readers thirst for this, actually). To be great implies the ability to be significant,too. I believe it's worth the effort . . that is to think about it, learn, practice.

    Ironically, most of us may never achieve greatness, and even those who do only achieve do so only in a small percentage of their overall work. Still, the process is trying, and that is what helps us to improve to be the best we possibly can be. I hasten to add, fiction writing is different than memoir or creative nonfiction. This is not a value judgment but it is said to emphasize that what is available to the fiction writer is not available to writers who describe reality or an imagined reality. Fiction comes from the imagination though, and the imagination is used to make right decisions about character development and plot construction. These decisions about character and plot are imagined for effectiveness, and not simply gleaned from thoughts to be described and revised through elevated prose. These imaginative story effects are delivered through action. That will provide the most for the reader to experience that all import desired purpose for the story that the writer has conjured.

    I fear I may miss the mark with my answer to your cogent question, but let me assure you that it is only because I have come to think of great story telling and great fictional stories in new ways for me ( I am aware that others, including Aristotle, seem to have known this for centuries), and I am impassioned about it because I see the modern education of writers, and the produce of contemporary publishers, oblivious to the potential fiction can provide for me and like readers.

    All the best on your future career. I hope this has been understandable and may be useful to you in the future.


  5. Evelyn Walsh Says:

    Dear WHC

    Many, many thanks for your clarity and passion. It is wonderful to know that there are kindred souls out there who bemoan the amount of babble one has to wade through to find the pure voice. But oh what a joy when it's found! My latest 'find' is Rose Tremaine – particularly 'The Road Home'. Keep up the good work and eventually people will write beautiful prose while telling marvelous stories that show the depth and breadth of the possibilities of man.

  6. William Coles Says:

    I greatly appreciate the comment. Thanks also for the tip. I'll look forward to reading The Road Home. WHC

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