Monday, March 4, 2013

The Building Blocks of Imagination

There's nothing quite like losing yourself in a good book.  Movies and television can do something similar, but I think they come up short in the "all engrossing" department; that degree of capture that makes you lose your sense of time and place in reality.  I think it's because books force you to engage the stories in them in ways visual media does not.  When you read a book or listen to a story on the radio (or over a campfire, for that matter) you must use your mind to conjure up the images being described.  YOU assign faces and hair colors to the characters as prescribed by the storyteller.  YOU decide how big that "monolithic mountain" is in the story.

I guess what I'm saying is that it is the reader or listener who fills in the gaps and creates the internal visuals that the story takes place in.  The storyteller is the guide, but the story reader or listener is the set designer and director of the movie that is taking place in their own mind.

When you watch a show on the big screen or the boob tube, however, 95% of your mind gets the day off.  You are presented with nearly every facet of the story without having to work for it.  You are given the landscape the director chooses to use as his/her preferred backdrop, and the characters are as they're played by the casted actors.  You as the viewer can neither add nor detract from what's presented.  It requires much less of your brain to process a story in this fashion.  It's kind of a lazy way to get the story and, what is more, we dull our creative muscles by not exercising them collaborating in the creative process.  By virtue of this, our imaginations are dying slow deaths.

Maybe this is why many of the great classics - those stories that have enduring qualities - occurred with greater frequency before movies and television became a mainstay of entertainment.  People's ability to envision, to imagine were greater.  They lived in a day and age when if you wanted a story to entertain yourself with, you either had to listen to it on the radio or read a book to get it.  And before that there were only the oral traditions of storytelling.  People developed their imaginations because they had to if they were to enjoy the full experience of the story.

Technology is great, and it's made for some pretty nifty presentations on the screen.  Stuff that might even seem magical if presented to earlier generations.  But for my money there's still no better way to get a story than by sharing in the creative experience of building that movie in our minds with the help of a good storyteller.