Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Realness of Our Imaginary Worlds

Last year I sat with a group of people who were talking about those they knew with cancer. One spoke up that a good friend of hers had a son just diagnosed with leukemia and they were getting medical treatment at Johns Hopkins University.

Without thinking, I nearly jumped into the conversation with: "I know a fantastic doctor there."

Then I realized, Oh yeah. I made him up. He only exists in my head, in my book.

The thing is, this wasn't the last time that's happened to me. There have been other conversations where I've told someone how great Johns Hopkins is, as if I personally had experience with the doctors and treatment there. I have nearly told people that there is a cure for diabetes with adult stem cells that is in stage two trials.

Perhaps it's normal, after spending so much time researching and writing, to feel that what we have created is in fact real instead of imaginary. I have walked parts of the Johns Hopkins campus, but I have never been in or around their medical facilities. I do not know anyone who has gone through diabetes treatment trials of any kind. I do not know a boy with a turquoise Mohawk.

And yet, I feel like I do.

There are moments when I channel the bitterness of my newest protagonist, as though I have taken on her abusive history and angry persona. I wake up thinking I might start the day with coffee from the coffee-shop one of my characters owns before I realize that it, too, is just part of my imagination.

But I can tell you the color of the wood of the round tables, the pattern of the overstuffed chairs, the smell of coffee and mocha and baking bread all blended into a perfect atmosphere. Those details aren't even in my book, but I know them.

The short story I most recently wrote is the closest I've ever gotten to real life. The characters are blends of people I actually know, the situation one similar to one I saw a friend go through. Though the story is fictional, I have blurred the lines enough that even I have to stop and think about what is true and what is not. The characters are as real to me as the people that live in the real world on whom they were based.

Am I alone in this... this momentary forgetfulness of what is true and what is made up? I like to think that if it feels that real to me, it will feel that real to readers. One can hope, right? :) Or should I just be waiting for the crazy train to pick me up?


  1. I'm driving the crazy train. All aboooooarrd hahahaha

    No I'm exactly like that. It's like they are actual friends of mine. Or people I knew years ago. Sometimes I wonder what they'd be doing now as adults ... I have to remind myself they're not really in my yearbook.

    And I don't really find it to be a strange feeling... Maybe because I've had imaginary friends my whole life. ??

  2. You're not alone. :-) I think of my characters as real friends, too. That's a good thing. (I hope!)

  3. You already said it best: blur the line. The truly crazy people are the ones at either extreme.

  4. I'm with you on this one. I'm often found talking to myself (by others at least). Great post. Now I feel better!

  5. I would say you are boarding the same train as the late greats such as Dickens who, I have heard, walked the streets avoiding Miss. Havisham. And that's good train to be on. I'm on the platform, often looking behind, as falling into my imaginary mind scares the dickens out of me while I earn a living holding onto the iron fence in a rather concrete world. Enjoy the ride my friend!!

  6. You are NOT alone! As I mentioned in your post above (I'm reading backwards in time!), I've done this as well. Although I haven't reached a point yet where I've done it with my own writing. But I think that's just another sign of what a wonderful, vivid writer you are, Heidi! ;o)