One of the most common questions I receive about my writing is “how do you imagine all those things you capture in the novel?” Having these sorts of thoughts spinning in your head might feel otherworldly for people not dedicated to any artistic craft. But truth is, I believe we all are capable of this creative thinking but is ultimately up to us to decide what type of thoughts we feed.
“Creativity is… seeing something that doesn’t exist already. You need to find out how you can bring it into being and that way be a playmate with God,” writes Michele Shea when defining creativity. And I think the keyword is “seeing,” not restricted only the eyesight but to the broader aspect of “visualizing” things that are not obvious, or simply looking ordinary things from a different light to spark the artistic curiosity within us.
Many artists refer to this infusion of inspiration as “connecting with your muse” after the old renaissance masters. But attributing this inspiration to outside forces can really harm our creativity. I sincerely believe there is no better source of inspiration than the world that surrounds us.
Living our rushed lives, we hardly stop to wonder about the things that surround us, and neither grant us the time and permission to follow our trail of thoughts, asking multiple times “what if” for all those things of life that intrigue us.
Imagine how it would feel to live in a specific country, to live an unexpected change in fortune, surviving an accident or being someone else. Somebody from a different background, age, and sex. This could sound like something crazy to do, but there is an argument for everybody to try this exercise, even if you are not planning on becoming a writer yourself. One word… empathy.
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy is the capacity to put ourselves in the shoes of another. This might sound like a simple thing to do in the case you are close to that person, but when you fictionalize, you need to get in the shoes of somebody that doesn’t exist. For me, I craft my characters, taking traits of different people I might know, have read about, or simply I am interested in exploring their lives. I build my Frankensteins, endowing them with virtues and flaws, and simply ask myself, how would I feel being that person? What would I say if that situation occurs to me? How would I react? And by doing this, I bring these characters to life, simply because they are real to me, first in my head before living in the paper, but I can relate to these characters in the same way I relate to a friend, a relative or a lover.
Going back to Michele Shea’s quote, once you can bring your creation into being, is when this God-like process—even when it sounds presumptuous—begins. This is one thing I find more amazing about creating fiction, is that basically you become the God of your tiny world. You get to decide what will happen, to know what the characters think, to create the places where they live. But the most critical aspect of creating is that you need to experience your own creation. Not from a ten-thousand-feet view of the action, but emphatically, wearing the shoes of the characters.
For writing Maia, the seventeen-year-old protagonist of my novel Vandella, in a relatable way, I had to wear her skin. I had to become her. I had to immerse myself in experiencing life through her eyes. Imagining how it would feel experiencing her cancer, which fortunately I’ve never had, confront her insecurities as a teenager but more importantly, as a woman, suffering the absence of her parents, to understand her personality, moods, and quirkiness, just to mention a few. To transmit her feelings into the pages, I had to suffer along with her, to infatuate along with her for a man and confront her expectations about love, to hope for a better tomorrow and make her dreams mine. For the time I wrote the novel, I had to live a different life. I had to become someone else.
Few things are as fulfilling about fiction as the escapism created by experiencing someone else’s story. But contrary to the short-lived experience of a reader or viewer, as an author, the sensation can be expanded indefinitely. Because all those characters, despite finishing the manuscript, they keep living within you like tenants in your mind. I can close my eyes and form a clear image of their likeness and imagine the tone of their voices and gestures. In my mind, they are as real as anybody that I’ve met.
As you can see, I’ve not mentioned anything about connecting with a muse to receive divine inspiration on what to write about. But using my troubled experiences and of those around me to craft something that could be different, and such a difference could make it unique. As Mary Shelley once said, “Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos,” and I think there is chaos in all of us. Because nothing creates better fiction than that fueled by our own misfortunes and tribulations. So, since we all have suffered issues and downfalls, we all have stories to share.
I hope my journey sharing my stories could motivate you to share yours.
M. Ch. Landa
Oil Painting titled “Eve” by my friend Ernesto Barba.