We’ve all seen paintings like the one above. Soft edges, puffy snow, amber light through homey windows. Chimney smoke trickling into the sky. Don’t you assume that all is well behind those beautiful windows? I used to.
Until I became a writer, and learned how to use my imagination to create real unreality. I see a scene like this and my mind wonders…what is it really like behind all that beauty? Is there a happy family, with a Christmas tree, and presents, and food gracing a laden table?
Or, is there a family at odds, with tensions that pull and twist at them, love and hate intertwined and ribboned tightly through their lives until it all snaps like an overstretched rubber band? Are there children who smile in public and weep in private, hiding bruises that their friends wouldn’t understand? Loving their family, but hating it at the same time? Wondering if this year they will have a Christmas without pain, fear, and worry?
Suppose there is a young boy in this house, a boy who is planning to leave, to run away from the pain and terror of his family. Suppose he manages to disappear from the house, and go somewhere that he feels safe. What happens to the ones left behind? How do they react to the empty place in the room?
Does the mother ever stop wondering about the boy who left? Does the father even give a damn? Or is it the other way around? Is the family dynamic forever altered because of the one who got away? Or does the empty space fill in as if the boy had never been there?
What realities can you put into an unreal imaginary world so that the reader is pulled into the tension and the hate and the anger and ends up right in the middle of the final explosion?
Let your imagination soar, and write the story as it comes onto the keyboard. Write it as it is, not how you wish it to be. Be real, and remember that even unreality can have a measure of truth. Truth that teaches a lesson, takes the reader by the hand and leads them through to the final ending, the unraveling of memory, so that the once-young boy, now grown, finally understands what happened after he left.
Write that story.
And know that it is reality as you create your new fictional world in which this family lived and died, and the boy grew up, and figured out that you can never really go home again.
Except in your imagination. That world is always inside you.