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Imagination Doesn’t Make Things Up – It Sees What is There

Let me put it this way—imagination to me is not the capacity to invent what is not there but the capacity to see and develop what is there.


To hell with the things you can think up. The world is oversupplied with people who can think up things. But looking at yourself, looking at people, getting a viewpoint on them that clarifies them, gives them meaning, and expressing that viewpoint in a form—that is the highest of arts.

-Samson Raphaelson, The Human Nature of Playwriting, Kindle loc. 318, 1473

I read an article on Vox the other day that highly recommended this book. It said that the book has been out of print for quite a while but has recently been released for Kindle. Raphaelson was a famous play-write and screenplay writer, maybe most famous for writing The Jazz Singer. He taught a workshop at a University years ago; the contents of this book are the transcripts from that workshop. It sounded too good to pass up. It’s been quite interesting.

In the above quotes, Raphaelson makes the point that imagination is not the ability to make things up. Rather, imagination is the ability to see what is already present, but to see in with a perception, a depth of insight, that others may lack.

If you buy this, then the key to developing your imagination is living with your eyes open; it’s not simply being able to visualize or invent. Look at the world, yourself, and your experiences, and turn them over and over in your mind. See what’s there. Don’t be content to make up new worlds; look at the old worlds and find what’s there. Hopefully I’ll post some examples of how this works, from the book, in the coming days.

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