I think some of the best novelists are probably immersive daydreamers. Crafting intricate stories in our heads comes naturally to us. It wouldn’t be hard to write them down. But being a great novelist takes more than just creating a compelling story in your own mind. You have to put that story into words so that it can be equally compelling in the minds of your readers. That’s a different skill, and it’s one I don’t have. But there’s more to it than that. Because I don’t wish that I had the skill to write down my daydreams. I don’t feel that my plot is a story that needs to be told. It’s a story that needs to stay exactly where it is – in my imagination.
I first came up with the idea for my current plot nearly 20 years ago. I’ve dabbled in other paracosms since then, but I always come back to this one. The level of detail in it is mind-blowing. Not only do I know almost everything that happens during the 79 years of the plot itself, but I’ve invented plausible physics for the fantasy elements, I’ve sketched out the backstories of the characters, I understand the events that lead up to the story beginning. Some people might wonder how I hold all that in my head; but this is my alternate life – the people and events stick in my memory just as firmly as do the people and events in my real life. A memory of something you imagine is just as real as the memory of something that actually happened.
So, if I had the skills, why wouldn’t I turn it into a novel? Firstly, because that would mean it would have to end. I don’t mean that the plot would end – I know how the story finishes; I’ve daydreamed the final scene a few times. Rather, I mean that the constant development and experimentation that makes the daydreaming so much fun would have to end. My plot isn’t static. I’m constantly investigating alternative options. What if this event happened before that one? What if that character doesn’t die in that scene but lives an extra ten years? What if those two characters don’t meet in the way I’d originally imagined? I need novelty in my daydream life just as much as in my real life. If the plot had to play out the same way every time, it would get boring. And I’m too emotionally involved with it now to let it get boring. Writing it down would mean that one sequence of events would become “right”. In bringing one version to life, I’d be denying the validity of all the alternative versions. And I don’t want to do that.
But there’s another, deeper, reason that I won’t write it down. When I enter my daydream, I’m entering a parallel universe in my imagination. A whole world that exists just for me. It’s a vibrant, exciting, beautiful world. And it feels so special to know that it’s all mine. Every week I write in this blog about what it’s like to be a daydreamer. And if people ask me what I daydream about, I don’t mind saying that I have a sci-fi paracosm, with aliens and superpowers and space-travel. But that’s as specific as I get. I’ve never introduced anyone to my characters, and I’ve never gone into detail about any part of the plot. It’s too personal. I’ve poured every aspect of who I am into that plot. Everything that matters to me, everything that I am, the good and the bad, the rational and the crazy, is in there somewhere. My paracosm is my safe space where I learn what it means to be me. I don’t need to turn it into someone else’s entertainment.
Have you ever gone out to watch the sunrise before anyone else is awake? Or been the first person to leave footprints in freshly fallen snow? Or lifted a curtain just enough to get a glimpse of something that made you smile? Those are special moments when it feels as though the world was made just for you. And in real life, they’re rare. But my daydream world was made just for me. Every time I step into my daydream world, I feel a little burst of excitement, of anticipation, of pure joy. And if I wrote my plot down in a novel and shared it with the world, I’d lose that. I’d lose the magic. And I think it’s OK to want to keep that complex, beautiful, romantic, exciting place all to myself, because, after all, isn’t that why we have the ability to imagine in the first place?