Sunday, November 16, 2014

Imaginary worlds

Reading this interview with Martin Wilson at One Teen Story, I was struck by this part of his answers: "I had binders full of these [imaginary] movies—plot descriptions, casting choices ... But it didn’t stop at movies. I played (and still play) tennis, so back then I created an entirely fake professional tennis circuit, with hundreds of tennis players, complete with tournaments, rankings, matches, all of which I kept meticulous track of. I know that might sound crazy, but these things kept me sane and happy, I guess, and sowed the seeds for my future creative endeavors."

And I thought: Oh, no, Martin Wilson, it doesn't sound crazy at all. I know whereof you speak.

I've seen this sort of thing described in fiction: the game called "Town" that Harriet the Spy plays, in which she invents a town and lists all its imaginary residents and then gives them stories to play out. There are also the imaginary baseball games played by Jack Kerouac's characters (and, I have heard, by Kerouac himself).

I wonder how many other writers have done this: create worlds that are not quite stories, not in the traditional narrative sense, but which may be seen either as play, or as exercises along the way to becoming a storyteller.

Like Martin Wilson, I created an imaginary tennis tournament with fictional players and results. I also had imaginary schools full of fictional students (for which I even created yearbooks), imaginary towns (for which I drew maps and created directories), and my own imaginary soap opera for which I outlined ten years' worth of episodes. I created my own Scholastic-style book catalog with book covers drawn by me, and wrote my own synopses for these non-existent books. Similarly, I wrote my own version of TV Guide with shows I invented myself. I created magazines complete with ads for fictional products, drew album covers for imaginary musicians, and created an employee roster and bulletin board for a fictional company. I invented summer camps and competitions. (And once again, I must thank my grandfather for supplying a vast quantity of discount notebooks to feed all this imaginative output!)

Not only were these endeavors highly enjoyable, but I think they also served as a springboard for my writing. They taught me about world-building and character development; they were creative outlets and sparked further creativity. I thought of them as "games," and much later as "writing exercises."

And now I'm curious as to how many other writers out there have ever done something similar.


  1. As I read this post I found that I kept nodding. I can totally relate to creating made up worlds bases on the familiar. I hadn't thought of it before- but I bet this is common among writers. We have a deep need to create stories. It is definitely part of working on our storytelling skills. Thanks for sharing this post!

    1. We're all just sitting around this campfire together, telling stories ... :-)