In the first book of the Harry Potter series, The Philosopher’s Stone, our young protagonist lives the life of an unloved adopted child. That is, until magic literally bursts into his life through a heavy wooden door. When Harry meets Hagrid for the first time, Hagrid tells him, “You’re a wizard, Harry.” This marks the beginning of a new life for the youngster, one characterized by Harry’s discoveries of how, from then on, magic would shape his life. In the early days, he stands back in amazement and delight, observing his wizard schoolmates, their families and their magical ways. He, too, would soon become completely absorbed into this world and develop his own powers as a wizard.
I envy J. K. Rowling’s ability to create such a fantastical world. Whether this stemmed from a childhood in which her parents encouraged her imagination with stories and books, whether it came as a kind of flight from reality, or whether she was just born with this superpower, I don’t know. But what I do know is that a good dose of it is a real asset to a writer. And it is something that an aspiring scribe can learn.
As a child, I was neither born with a self-starting imagination, nor was I encouraged to dream dreams and let my creativity grow. Not until adulthood did I catch the virus that made me want to write stories; then I had to learn to let go. For what blocks creativity is nothing more than the self-limiting internal control of your thoughts that says: It’s dumb to read about wizards and giants. Give up dreaming about space travel across the universe. And time travel? Don’t be silly.
Now, I admit that all those things are not real in the everyday sense. But in the realm of fiction, they can be used to tell powerful stories that reveal human truths. In reality, all those strange and/or mythical characters are just humans in disguise, acting out the good and bad character traits we all recognize in ourselves.
But you don’t need to have the urge to write fantasy or science fiction in order to benefit from a functioning imagination. Even going back to the initial steps of writing a story completely anchored in our tangible world, you must have enough of it to conjure a protagonist with a mission to set out on, irreconcilable conflicts to resolve, and high hurdles to jump. He/she needs allies as well as enemies. Conjure them all up out of the thinnest air and, bingo, you’re a wizard. And a writer.