Character as a Complexity of Images: Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

Like every writer, I use my imagination to bring characters to life, flesh them out, animate them. But I never considered how images are related to that process until I read these words by archetypal psychologist James Hillman:

"If the character of a person is a complexity of images, then to know you I must imagine you, absorb your images. To stay connected with you, I must stay imaginatively interested, not in the process of our relationship or in my feelings for you, but in my imaginings of you. The connection through imagination yields an extraordinary closeness. Where imagination focuses intently on the character of the other . . . love follows.”  —The Force of Character p185

Hillman wasn't writing about creating fictional characters, but certainly could have been. Because yes. Writers do love—with all the complexity of love—their characters. This quote also gives a clue to why readers often feel more connected to a book character than a living person. “The connection through imagination yields an extraordinary closeness.”

To look at your characters in a new way, try to consider them as a "complexity of images." Also, if you're having trouble developing one of your characters, consider this from the next page:

“Relationships fail not because we first stop loving but because we first stop imagining.” p186

 Hillman's ideas also speak to the current cultural crises of immigration and gun violence. Failure to connect with the unknown other is a failure of imagination. No imagination equals no love or empathy. Abominations follow.

Not only does The Force of Character offer insights into imagination and character, but the prose is gorgeous. I highly recommend it.


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