Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Journeying Inside

Writing Road Trip: Journey InsideI once sat next to a young Pak­istani woman for a long red-eye flight. She had been liv­ing in the U.S. for a cou­ple of years, and had many inter­est­ing insights on the differ­ences between our two cul­tures.

I was espe­cial­ly intrigued by the details of how her arranged mar­riage had come about, and her belief that this prac­tice was so much more suc­cess­ful than our cur­rent U.S. tra­di­tion of love match­es. I was able to gain a new under­stand­ing of a cus­tom that had always seemed unfath­omable to me — some­one else being allowed to choose one’s life part­ner — by shar­ing an insider’s view of that life path.

And the whole dis­cus­sion gave me many intrigu­ing insights not only into her cul­ture, but into my own as well. Writ­ing also allows us this kind of insider’s peek into anoth­er life. Every time we cre­ate a char­ac­ter, we do our best to imag­ine what it would be like to trav­el inside that exis­tence. We immerse our­selves as deeply as we can into a bor­rowed con­scious­ness, hop­ing to make the char­ac­ter seem authen­tic to read­ers.

One of my writ­ing prompts helps young writ­ers prac­tice this abil­i­ty to step inside anoth­er exis­tence. First I ask stu­dents: “If you could be trans­formed into any ani­mal, what ani­mal would you choose?” Then I ask them to write about what they imag­ine life would be like as that ani­mal. How would it feel to be able to fly? To swim on the ocean bot­tom? To run with the pack, or to slith­er on desert sands?

I ask them to imag­ine that they have expe­ri­enced a kind of meta­mor­pho­sis; that they are liv­ing inside anoth­er creature’s exis­tence.

Very often I find that when they return from this jour­ney of the imag­i­na­tion, they bring back new insights into their own lives as well.

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