Ever since I was a child I would escape at every chance into the world of fantasy offered by authors such as Enid Blyton and later John Wyndham and then others such as Stephen King and James Herbert. As I have got older my tastes have changed but to me there is still nothing better than immersing myself in the pages of a good book and since I have become an author of fantasy fiction (The Ascension of the Whyte), I have felt the need to look even deeper into what makes a good storyteller.
When I was a child I was always accused of 'having my head in the clouds', partly this was due to my height at 5 ft 11 inches I was tall for a girl, but mainly it was because I was always off somewhere in a world of my own or 'away with the fairies' as my teacher once put it. However this I now believe was my way of coping with what was a somewhat traumatic childhood.
Our home was a constant battle ground, my mother and father constantly battled and often this was physical. I have a very clear memory of once hiding behind the sofa with my dog, both of us shivering with fear as the battle raged around us. What was even worse was that sometimes the battle came directly to me and my sister and we too were subjected to physical and emotional harm. I believe my withdrawing into a fantasy world was almost certainly my way of escaping reality and of protecting myself from the horrors of reality all around me.
Recently I began to wonder if this experience of childhood trauma, resulting in a fantasy prone personality, was common in authors of fiction and I decided to look into it further.
What is a fantasy prone personality?
According to Barber and Wilson a 'fantasy-prone personality' is where individuals are liable to blur the divide between imagination and reality, allowing the former to intrude into the latter in ways that made their imaginary experiences seem quite real.
The they put forward fourteen indicators which are:
(1) being an excellent hypnotic subject (2) having imaginary playmates as a child, (3) fantasising frequently as a child, (4) adopting a fantasy identity, (5) experiencing imagined sensations as real, (6) having vivid sensory perceptions, (7) reliving past experiences, (8) claiming psychic powers, (9) having out-of-body or floating experiences, (10) receiving poems, messages, etc., from spirits, higher intelligences, and the like, (11) being involved in “healing,” (12) encountering apparitions, (13) experiencing hipnogognic hallucinations (waking dreams), and (14) seeing classical hypnogognic imagery (such as spirits or monsters from outer space).
Emily Brontë , is an author known to have immersed herself totally in the fantasy worlds that she created. She was almost completely isolated and self-contained and appears to have had no friends whatsoever, nor the least interest in making any. Her needs seemingly entirely satisfied by her family and her imagination. Her chief recreation was solitary walking on the Yorkshire moors.
The Psychologist Harald Merckelbach found in these two studies that those people rated high in fantasy proneness were also rated by independant judges, to be able to create stories which were more emotional, more plausible, and richer in content than non-fantasy prone individuals.
Many people have had traumatic childhoods, and are drawn to creative expression as part of their way to deal with it, to heal and regain self-esteem.
Many talented actors also have suffered traumatic experiences. For example Ashley Judd, who was sexually abused, Charlize Theron who, as a teen, saw her mother shoot her father and James Dean who lost his mother to cancer when he was nine. Elizabeth Taylor reportedly once claimed that she had been sexually abused by a minister.
The actress Halle Berry has told of being terrified that her violent father, who physically abused her mother, would turn on her.
“I think I’ve spent my adult life dealing with the sense of low self-esteem that sort of implanted in me. Somehow I felt not worthy.”
She explained, “Before I’m ‘Halle Berry,’ I’m little Halle…a little girl growing in this environment that damaged me…I’ve spent my adult life trying to really heal from that.”
The evidence does seem to suggest a link between childhood trauma and fantasy proneness. Those who suffer from childhood trauma tend to have more highly developed imaginations, and it may be that developing this coping mechanism gives us damaged individuals the tools we need to create believable characters and stories, enabling us to shine as actors or writers. It would be nice to think that something good could come out of all the horror there is out there.
It appears that my traumatic childhood may have predestined me for the two career paths that I have taken, Psychology (to find out why people do the things they do) and story writing (using my well-developed imagination to create believable, new and fantastic worlds). Whether or not my fantasy proneness makes me a better than average story-teller remains to be seen. If you are interested in judging for yourself please read my book and give me some feedback in the form of a review.