Stories come in many forms. The biography of a celebrity, the bankruptcy of airplane companies after 9/11, the moment you first saw her, a forest in the Shire. However, not all stories are created equally. The first three examples above are based upon real events that happened. This is different from my last example, as the Shire is a part in the made-up world of Middle-Earth. We are all storytellers to the extent that we can all talk about an event that we went through or that we know about. Yet coming up with something that did not happen is considerably more difficult (even liars base their lie on credible scenarios). It requires something fascinating, something that has brought the human race to where we are now: imagination.
It is an incredibly difficult concept to understand and grasp. Imagination is something intangible in your head, something that does not exist and that is not perceivable with any sense. Where does it come from? Some people believe it doesn’t even come from the brain, but rather from an external force that sometimes floods them with imagination, right when you don’t have paper and pen nearby. However interesting, I still believe imagination comes from your brain, from thought.
The next question would be how much imagination someone has? Many people consider themselves without any imagination (or creativity) whatsoever. They were never good at it initially, so they deduce they never will be. God inserted the imagination needle into someone else’s brain at birth. Yet ironically, the first step towards more imagination is understanding the above idea is not true. I strongly believe imagination is a muscle, just like willpower, that you can exercise and improve. Practice your imagination every day, and you will become more imaginative and, subsequently, more creative, as both are closely linked.
But how? How do you come up with something seemingly out of the blue? Difficult question, but I believe it starts with taking in as much as you can. Read classic books, watch exceptional movies, listen to weird music and, perhaps most importantly, travel to meet people from different cultures. The “weirder” some things may seem to you, the more you challenge your mindset with its own implicit set of rules and regulations, which is certainly a good thing. To give an example, we started wearing clothes initially as a layer of protection, which was gradually replaced by us hiding our bodily parts to avoid a sense of shame. Yet go talk to some nudists. Visit Brazilian tribes in the Amazon. Figure out what makes them tick. It only sounds ridiculous because we’re stuck in our own framework and cannot quite cope with nudity, while they obviously can.
Above approach is a strong first step towards more imagination. It will make you understand that who you are, the implicit rules in your society that made you who you are, are not necessarily universal. Even a rule such as gravity as we know it is only true on Earth. You can look at everything in a new perspective, a new dimension. What if you could put your hand through your display and reach out to the person you’re Skyping with (an idea that has been toyed around with already, e.g. the Ring)? It might not be true/possible, but truth is irrelevant in imagination. And everything was imagination before it became real.
You should also make sure you know what the best have done in your field so far. If you intend to write a science fiction story, make sure you know what the best have written and what ideas are already out there. Then combine those ideas with each other and insert flavour or novelty by using new ideas from different fields, or with things you came up with yourself.
Yet how far can we go with imagination? Aren’t we bound by what has been achieved so far? Yes and no, I think. Yes, because obviously nothing is completely new and always has a foundation of influences. Yet also no, because once you have come up with a new concept, you can build on it. You become your own reference, and your imagination is based upon what only you and no one else have thought of. You stand on the shoulders of giants to see and go where no one has ever gone before. And then you go further. Imagine unlimited imagination.