I suppose every author relies heavily on imagination – I certainly do. If I didn’t, I would be writing autobiographical, non-fiction: pretty boring stuff. But I think there’s more to it than avoiding the mundane. It’s also about surprising the reader with something s/he hadn’t expected. Reading a novel should take the reader to a place unanticipated, so that it becomes something of an adventure. At the same time the unfolding scene has to be credible; if it’s just improbable, the reader will lose interest.
For me, there’s also an element of inspiration involved in the process of imagining. Sometimes I think of the word ‘muse’ when I feel inspired. Do I have a muse? There’s no other person involved inspiring me to create a scene or a situation. Yet it does feel very personal: as if someone whispered to me, “what about saying . . . . “ This often happens when I’m searching for just the right word or phrase. It will suddenly come into my head.
Similarly, when I’m trying to create an interesting new situation, a concept will spring to mind. Before calling on my imagination to develop the concept, I’ll examine it. Is it interesting? Occasionally not, and it gets discarded. But if it is interesting (at least to me), I’ll consider its credibility. Could this follow from what’s happened already? If ‘yes’, I’ll turn my imagination loose, fleshing out the detail, while keeping it both interesting and credible.
One example from Sin & Contrition: Ellen is making a lot of money as a designer of fashionable, expensive ladies evening wear. She challenges her husband, Gene, to think of a way for her to avoid paying taxes. He comes up with a scheme that will allow her to write off non-existent losses against her taxes every year. In brief, the scheme was that Ellen bought a business, including a package of dress designs, from Aldo, an Italian immigrant, for ten thousand dollars in cash. The business included goodwill valued at $2.2 million and a long term payable of $2.3 million as an earn-out. The dress designs were real: they were old pieces of work which Ellen had done and which had been re-labelled with the name of Aldo’s shell company (which Gene created). After signing the deal, Aldo returned to Italy with his ten thousand dollars. The accountant at Ellen’s business added the acquisition to Ellen’s business. Each year, a chunk of the good will was written off, and the write off reduced Ellen’s taxes. In my final interview with Gene, he admitted that the IRS suspected that it was not an arms-length transaction, and that they tried to contact Aldo for verification, but they were unable to find him. Gene told me it saved over four hundred thousand in taxes over eight years, but at the risk of a fine of five hundred thousand dollars and five years in prison. Gene liked to live dangerously.