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One of the perks of writing fiction is you get to make up stuff. Better yet, if you’re any good, you get paid to make up stuff. True, you have to actually write down words in some semblance of order, they need to create a coherent and intriguing plot, they should flow, sometimes be witty, (mostly) grammatically correct, and—


Okay, fine, you get the idea. You can’t spout off just anything and call it writing.

But. . . you get to make it up! Yup, pretty much all of it. You, the writer, become an omnipresent force, the decider of fates and foibles and fortunes, the creator of a world and the people who live in it. Does the girl get the boy? You decide. Does the girl even want the boy? You decide. Does the asteroid hit Earth, does mankind survive, does Elle get into Harvard? You decide!


My grandmother used to tell my parents, “Oh my, John has such a vivid imagination.” I think that was code, her nice way of saying that I exaggerated or embellished, which was not a good thing . . . especially in the Midwest. So I learned to tone the stories down and tame them into more believable versions that adults would accept. But deep down, my imagination ran wild. My “little voice” and I shared and kept secrets as we imagined ever-twisting plots about dogs and baseball and cowboys. It was a heady thing deciding people’s futures, their lives, and I was a benevolent puppet master. Well, mostly. But now I realize my grandmother’s observation and declaration was, in fact, a profound compliment.


A vivid imagination! Yippee!


One of the perks of reading fiction is—okay, wait for it—you get to make up stuff! Granted, not as much as the writer who dictates the plot and develops the characters, but being immersed in a world where you, the reader, relate words and sentences and paragraphs to your own experience, where subtle images are hatched, where nuances, perhaps not even considered by the author, are noticed and add personal, private layers to the story. How you, as a reader, envision fictional people and places is different than every other reader because your imagination takes the story beyond the author’s words, and colors it with your human experience. There is a special relationship between writers and their readers. They’re partners; a writer’s unspoken promise to entertain relies on readers using their imagination.


I love watching (and rewatching) movies: the actors, the dialogue, the cinematography the popcorn. I find myself losing track of time and being completely immersed experiencing a good movie. The same time warp is true with a good book, but with two important differences. First, reading a novel is a slow burn, and the reader knows up front it’s more than a typical film’s two hour commitment. Second, with movies you experience someone else’s vision, his/her interpretation. Directors and actors can captivate and enthrall and excite you, and these people deservedly make gobs of money providing this form of entertainment. But, to use a cliché, what you see is what you get; there’s not a lot of room for your imagination.


So here’s a question for you: after watching a movie that was adapted from a book, how many times have you said, “The movie was good, but I liked the book better.”


Embrace and enjoy your imagination . . . especially while reading.

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