I've invented a complete imaginary world. Am I insane?
March 30, 2007 3:25 PM   Subscribe

I've invented a complete imaginary world. Am I insane?

Since I was about 13 (I'm 24 now) I have, over time, constructed an imaginary story that I focus on whenever I'm alone - walking somewhere, doing the dishes, tidying my house, etc - but it's not just some little silly story, it's like I'm literally living another life, or other people's lives. To make this a little clearer:

The "story" consists of not one character, but a whole family of characters, who all have their own stories (I know their names, the names of their partners, the names of their ex-partners, their best friends, their best friends' stories), their own careers, I know what they look like, where they live, I play out scenes in my head of different people each time - talking to one another, them at work, I can do it for about an hour and almost script up pages of conversations that they'll have/experiences they'll have, imagine them in interviews (the central family are all famous - I've imagined a family where three of the kids are basically the biggest movie stars in the world, and link real life celebrities to this - guest stars have involved George Clooney and Johnny Knoxville.. wtf...)

Let me just state this has NEVER been a dream. It has always occurred when I am awake. Usually when I'm slightly down (I suffer from depression, I suppose that it could be a form of escapism - I imagine myself with this perfect Hollywood movie star life, instead of my own)

I'm just wondering... erm... I've never EVER told anyone about this. Not family, friends, anyone. This is the first time I've even written about it. Is it totally and utterly deranged? I mean it's a pretty big deal. I could tell you the birthdays and eye colour of every single 'character' in this imaginary world - that's got to be about 20 people I've invented. What the hell am I doing? And has anyone else ever done this?

I'm starting to wonder if I'm all there, upstairs. And yes, if anyone asks, I'm being totally serious. This isnt a joke question.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (81 answers total) 124 users marked this as a favorite
Dude. I do the same thing. I've got whole neighborhoods in my head. Mine is pretty fantasy-oriented in terms of setting and world physics, but many of the characters are down-to-earth. A lot of times I'll do it as I'm drifing off to sleep, or during a long drive, or when there's something I don't want to think about.

If there's something wrong with you, there's something wrong with me too. It seems harmless enough.

Email my profile if you want. Looks like I might be the first poster, so I don't know what others will think of this.
posted by hifiparasol at 3:33 PM on March 30, 2007

It sounds like you have a real gift for imagination. Write a novel! You're probably right that this is escapism, and probably obsessive as well. I sometimes dissociate from myself and pretend that I'm someone else or watching myself go about my life from above. It probably is linked to depression on some level, which can disconnect you in a way from your own real identity. I'm looking forward to reading other answers to this-- this may be more common that you realize.
posted by bonheur at 3:35 PM on March 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

I am not an anything but, in my uneducated opinion, if you can still distinguish between fantasy and reality then no, you aren't insane.
posted by Luddite at 3:35 PM on March 30, 2007

I thought I was the only one!
posted by rentalkarma at 3:36 PM on March 30, 2007

Is it totally and utterly deranged?
If you’re holding down a job, not killing anyone, not being unreasonably cruel to those close to you (or indeed to other people) not regularly scaring people off, then you’re not deranged. Thinking up a complete imaginary world is certainly atypical, but it’s only something negative if you make it into one.

(Interestingly enough, the psychiatrists and psychologists have abandoned the concept of sanity, which totally makes sense when you think in terms of potential markets. Not something I personally agree with, though.)
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 3:38 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I second the "write a novel" comment. Sorry I don't have anything constructive to add but I do think this is extremely fascinating and wish I had the same talent. Consider it a gift!

Hopefully some other people who do this will chime in.
posted by OpinioNate at 3:40 PM on March 30, 2007

That certainly doesn't strike me as insane, but I'm no, you know, doctor. It does remind me a lot of Henry Darger, though.
posted by buriedpaul at 3:40 PM on March 30, 2007

I've done this. Not as much any more as I used to.

I wouldn't say it's completely unrelated to my mental health-- looking back, it may well have been a way for me to deal with issues while projecting them on imaginary people-- but I've never experienced it as harmful or problematic.

I do write novels, incidentally, but my relationship with my imaginary-world characters is a different thing altogether from my relationship with my novel characters.
posted by Jeanne at 3:46 PM on March 30, 2007

I have a fairly complete imaginary world going on in my head too. I don't think I'm crazy, really, but I know I pay less attention to it when I'm happy with myself and my life. For me, it really is all about the escapism (so i'm a minimum wage cashier and i have no money and no friends and life sucks, but, hey!, when I close my eyes, I'm totally badass!). It might not be the healthiest way to deal with things, but it's not destructive and, hey, whatever gets me to sleep at night, right?
posted by rndm at 3:52 PM on March 30, 2007

I was thinking of Darger too! You should definitely see the documentary that was based on his life and his imagninary world.

I agree with others that the test of whether something is wrong with you is not the vividness of your imaginary world, but the degree to which you feel good about the life you live in your non-imaginary world, aka reality. If you have real dissatisfactions in your life (e.g., lonely, dead-end job/relationships, etc.), ask yourself if you're retreating from them into your imaginary world, rather than taking steps to change your situation for the better. If so, you might want to wonder about that - if not, I say enjoy yourself!
posted by jasper411 at 3:52 PM on March 30, 2007

This sounds to me like an elaborate, imaginative, super-awesome version of meditation.

"an imaginary story that I focus on whenever I'm alone - walking somewhere, doing the dishes, tidying my house, etc"

So, while you're doing somewhat mundane things, you're simultaneously keeping your mind sharp and keeping yourself entertained. Sounds like great multitasking, and worth writing down.

Now, if you imagine you're there to boost your mood when you're feeling down, that's great. But if you do it to the detriment of real life, that's less good-- as Burhanistan said.

I think my next AskMe question will be, "how do I construct an imaginary world while I'm working around the house?"
posted by ibmcginty at 3:53 PM on March 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Am I insane?

The clinical name for this is "unpublished author".
posted by anildash at 3:54 PM on March 30, 2007 [24 favorites]

Before I read this, I'd always thought everyone had at least one imaginary universe.
posted by Xere at 4:00 PM on March 30, 2007 [5 favorites]

As others have said, you have a wonderful opportunity to turn this into a great creative outlet. Write it as a series of stories, an opera, a screenplay, draw it all, make a claymation, make an interpretive dance, fart it onto paper for all I care. I make up lots of weird worlds in my mind and use them for my music and writing. It's tons of fun, and you've basically pre-screened yourself for writer's block.
posted by ORthey at 4:00 PM on March 30, 2007

Yeah I do this too, I’m also in my early twenties and I’ve been at it forever. Mine may have less to do with the real world, mine’s largely an alternate history of earth, but yeah you’re not alone in this at all.

Now if the people in that world start influencing the things you do in this world, like telling you to favorite all my comments (Clooney demands it!), then you have a problem. But as long as you KNOW that it’s imaginary than your fine, heck your better than fine you have an awesome imagination!
posted by French Fry at 4:01 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I had t-shirts printed and token coins pressed for a festival that takes place every year in a town that exists only in my head. (Not to mention the Chamber of Commerce website I created for said town, complete with profiles of the top 10 businesses, notable families, and the ferry schedule.) The way I see it, how is this any different from getting attached to the neighborhoods you create in The Sims? If we're crazy, it's functionally, so enjoy it.
posted by headspace at 4:02 PM on March 30, 2007 [8 favorites]

My experience is not exactly what you are describing, but I think is a little related. Several years ago... a therapist told me about a self awareness exercise called, "cast of characters". (The therapist and I never finished exploring the whole concept, however.) It has nothing to do with multiple personality disorder. The idea is that each character represents a different part of yourself and has an age, sex, and personality. Well, on my own, not really knowing the official way to finish the exercise, I've named all my characters and written a short description about him/her. Sometimes when I'm bored, I think about who wears what type of clothes; what type of mannerisms; does what actions. (Bill, the responsible one, washes the dishes.) I think of it as fanciful self amusement.

And, isn't being the Dungan Master in D&D… required to build a world? Your story & neighborhood sounds like a normal and common activity to me.
posted by chase at 4:04 PM on March 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

I chalk this up as just another mental technique to fill up the mind's dreaded "dead air". There are those, such as Buddhists monks, runners, and some Republicans, who excel at emptying their minds of conscious thought so as to achieve a Zen state of oneness. Others are not comfortable with this kind of housecleaning of the brain or escape from the cares of the world, but at the same time they need a way to keep their mind from prattling on about sundry worries and trivia. So these folk launch into their Walter Mitty fantasy worlds.

I myself do this when I'm on a long drive or I'm trapped in bed without any sign of impending sleep. I have several default scenarios to fall back upon (I particularly enjoy The Amazing Post-Alien-Invasion Scorched Earth scenario, where I'm Mad Maxing it), where, needless to say, I am quite the hero. Well, except to my mental valet. That goes without saying.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 4:07 PM on March 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Count me in as a member of the club. I never considered that there might be something dysfunctional about it, but then again I don't exactly go around telling other people about my imaginary universe, either.
posted by necessitas at 4:10 PM on March 30, 2007

I've been doing this since I was a kid. It doesn't interfere with my life, and I don't hear voices or anything, so I don't think it falls under the heading of "crazy." For the longest time I thought that everyone's mind worked this way and, I'll confess, it made me a little sad for other people when I found out that not everyone has this alternate universe playing out in their head. For me, it keeps a chunk of my brain occupied when I'm trying to focus on something else. Otherwise, that part of my brain would be bored. It's like giving half my brain a really good book and telling it, Now don't bug me for a bit. I need to concentrate.
posted by atropos at 4:17 PM on March 30, 2007

Another one here who does that, too. My little world is similar to yours in regards to famous people. In it, an alternate me is, well, a total Mary Sue, and I've got a whole alternate life history, with famous and non-famous friends and family. It's absolutely escapism for me, as I visit my little world less when real life is going very well. I'm glad, though, to see this thread and know that I'm not nearly as odd as I thought I was.
posted by Ruki at 4:19 PM on March 30, 2007

When I was in high school a close friend moved to Ireland for a year. She bore out her sentence (she hated the place) by starting a soap opera, and wrote scripts for it. It eventually turned into almost 800 pages, some scripts, some dialog, some elaborate back stories, and we kept the characters going all the way through high school. I still pull it out ocassionally to "update" their lives in my head. If she's doing it too, and the two story lines ever meet up again, I think it will mean total annihilation.

So basically, I think a lot of people do this. It never occured to me that I might be crazy (well, it never ocurred to me that this was a manifestation of my craziness.)
posted by nax at 4:22 PM on March 30, 2007

As someone currently writing a novel, who would rather do almost anything by way of procrastination than concentrate on developing my characters and their stories, I can only envy your focus.

If you're not inclined to write a book, you should at least make each character into a MetaFilter sockpuppet, and have them argue and answer each other's questions and stuff. Or maybe you already are!

Anyway, does this constitute a psychological problem? Only if it's impairing your ability to function, or making you unhappy (beyond the unhappiness occasioned by thinking "maybe there's something wrong with me").
posted by staggernation at 4:23 PM on March 30, 2007

I've made up stories before going to sleep since as long as I can remember. You aren't crazy, you just have excess imagination, so enjoy it.
posted by MadamM at 4:31 PM on March 30, 2007

I've done something very similar for most of my life, though never with quite as much detail as you have (I never considered birthdays or eye color, for example). I don't know if it's the same for you, but to me not only isn't it crazy, it's a way to stay sane.

I use it as a kind of escape, as a world I have complete control over. I find this very comforting, especially at those times when I feel like I have little to no control over my real life.

So long as you can distinguish between your fantasy world and the real one, I don't think you have anything to worry about.
posted by cerebus19 at 4:34 PM on March 30, 2007 [3 favorites]

I've been doing this since I was 7 or 8. On the bus ride to school I would completely tune out into my own world and forget the trip completely. My stories have changed every few years, but I still keep it up.

The best part is that it's almost impossible to get bored!
posted by piper4 at 4:38 PM on March 30, 2007

I'll third or fourth writing it all down. Write a screenplay, or a novel or a series of short stories. If they are interesting, maybe you can make a living from them.
posted by MythMaker at 4:38 PM on March 30, 2007

You might be interested in Gilles Trehin and his completely imaginary city of Urville, which he has created and written about for the past 20+ years.
posted by rhizome at 4:42 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don't worry. You're clearly not alone.

I do it too. My fantasy world used to include video game characters. Now it features characters I've created. There a lot of different influences in these characters.. including video games. I also do use real life people such as famous/semi-famous musicians and actors. And I'm always much more awesome in my fantasy world. But that's the whole point.. anything goes. You know.. I'm like a legendary musician and a kung fu master.

I always figured I was crazy too.. but I would never want to be rid of it. I cherish it. Without it.. I probably would be completely batshit insane. But hey now we both know we're not actually crazy.

As for the whole write a novel thing.. speaking as someone who actually wants to be a writer(amongst numerous other things).. I find it very hard to put my fantasy world on paper. I don't know why. I thought I saw someone mention something similar up thread.
posted by VegaValmont at 4:52 PM on March 30, 2007

We should all write our fantasy worlds into one novel that really only exists in the mind of a sick child in a hospital...

Mine ranges through time on the basis of a character who lives forever, and is forever having to move around and reinvent cover stories to hid the fact that she, you know, lives forever. Very inconvenient, immortality.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:12 PM on March 30, 2007

I do it too, and I'm glad to see as many people admitting it. I'm also one of those people who do it during my commute in the car, or as I'm drifting off to sleep, or in the shower in the morning. Instead of just one consistent scenario, I've got three or four I rotate through.

I believe that it's a coping mechanism on my part, since mine vary in their level of "Mary Sue-ness". I know I do it more often when I'm stressed at work, or during the winter when there's less sunlight, or when I'm depressed about something. I've never thought it was weird, just a waking form of an extended daydream.

I'm a believer that if you know it's a little off, and admit that to yourself, and can still cope through your daily life, then it's not a problem. Sort of a "better to be crazy and know it than be sane and have your doubts" attitude.

FWIW, I've tried writing mine down, since I think one of mine would be a nice novel, but it lost some of it's "special-ness" when I did - some of what made it an escape and a coping mechanism. So while others think you should write it down, if you would lose it by doing so, then tread carefully.
posted by librarianamy at 5:13 PM on March 30, 2007

This is my favorite ask.me thread of all time, so far.

I'm a screenwriter and my daily existence is doing almost exactly what you describe, for money.

It's always better in the mind than when written, though.
posted by unSane at 5:34 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wow! I've been doing something similar for years! I invented two countries, as well as their sports teams, an amusement park, and the top rock band from one country. Sometimes I catch myself doodling at work something about this world I created.

I don't think I could use the years of imagining all of this to my advantage though.
posted by Artnchicken at 5:40 PM on March 30, 2007

Doesn't everyone do this? Or, are we all insane?
posted by Elmore at 5:42 PM on March 30, 2007

Sounds like a nice bike ride, I'd enjoy it. Feel for the folks that don't have it.
posted by buzzman at 5:44 PM on March 30, 2007

Response by poster: I do it, too. No, you're not insane!
posted by Anonymous at 5:53 PM on March 30, 2007

C.S. Lewis talks all about his imaginary world he created called "animal land" or something similiar in his autobiography Surprised by Joy. Seems like he made good use of it later on when writing the Narnia series.
posted by meta87 at 6:00 PM on March 30, 2007

I do this to. I justify it by saying to myself that i'm 'plotting out a novel', but as I never actually getting down to writing very much, i basically just have a vivid fantasy life :)
posted by empath at 6:12 PM on March 30, 2007

I don't do this anymore, but I did up until I was about 14 or 15. I could have all kinds of stories going.
posted by shanevsevil at 6:20 PM on March 30, 2007

And I thought I did it because stretches (going to sleep, doing chores) of my life were unbelievably boring and I was creating my own internal television.

I only once had a mishap with it and that was when my internal fantasy was using real life characters (including the boy next door + my brother's best friend) and I almost told my home-on-vacation brother of a conversation I'd had with him. Eep, my 16 yo self said, I'm going mad, I'd better stop doing this. At which point, I kept most of the characters either totally made up, or made-up with a celebrity shell and yes, I can tell you, sex with George Clooney, Hugh Grant and/or Patrick Dempsey is a hell of a lot better than you'd expect).
posted by b33j at 6:30 PM on March 30, 2007

I was kind of a bored kid, and I always had trouble sleeping. So I would lay there in the dark, wide awake, and do exactly what you're describing.

As I got older, I found books, and started reading to fall asleep -- and didn't need to do this any more. As with television, books did all the heavy lifting for me; I could concentrate on visualizing the author's world (and a new one with each book/series!) instead of my own.

I think fewer people do this sort of thing now, because of television and books and music so readily at hand. When you can consume the imaginations of other people, pre-packaged for your convenience, why spend time in the kitchen preparing your own?
posted by davejay at 6:31 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

ever heard of tolkien?
posted by Salvatorparadise at 6:34 PM on March 30, 2007

Another point worth mentioning:

A large percentage of people follow at least certain TV shows religiously, so much so that the characters exist outside of the show and in the mind. So we giggle with our friends over sly references, or write fanfic, or go to cons, or post to TWOP. Most folks don't (usually) literally believe that these people exist outside of the TV show, and know that these people are acted by actors and writen by writers. It can still be fun to imagine what the characters do after the camera stops rolling, or what they'll be like after a few years at a hometown made-up college.

You're doing the same thing...you've just done the extra work to make up the characters.
posted by desuetude at 6:42 PM on March 30, 2007

Me, too, except mine's in the future. In space!
posted by COBRA! at 7:06 PM on March 30, 2007

So am I crazy because I don't have an imaginary universe?
posted by user92371 at 7:06 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

The first thing I thought of was the Brontes. Charlotte and Branwell invented the imaginary and magic kingdom of Angria. Emily and Anne created the fictional land of Gondal and they filled hundreds of small notebooks with their adventures.

And, no, not everyone does this. I once asked my husband what he thought about when lying in bed about to fall asleep and he said he thought about the book he was reading or events of the day. I think we who imagine are very fortunate to have such a tremendous resource to fall back on. What else are you going to think about when folding laundry?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:15 PM on March 30, 2007

we who imagine

I like the way that sounds.
posted by empath at 7:28 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

No, you're not insane. I do this sort of thing all the time and my therapist would be happy to tell you that I'm perfectly sane. Hell, I've even created an odd world based on MetaFilter. However, the question you need to ask yourself is:

Is this a problem?

Do you refrain from dealing with the problems that come up in life by thinking about your created world? If so, then I'd recommend seeing a therapist. I have the bad habit of not dealing with difficult situations and drowning thoughts about them out of my head by obsessing on some fantastical thing. Examples would be: What would I say to the Devil if I met him? What three wishes would I make of a genie should I find Aladdin's lamp? Were I on a political chatshow, what would I say about the important matters of the day? Those kinds of things. And there's nothing wrong with these thoughts as long as I'm not using them to keep from dealing with problems I'm facing, whether they be psychological, financial, social, creative, medical or whatever. Unfortunately, I tend to use these thoughts to avoid thinking about tough choices or uncomfortable situations. I've gone to therapists during three different periods in my life (cognitive behavioralists all) and it's been a great help to me. It may not work for you, not everyone is receptive to therapy. A psychologist will not tell you to take drugs to fix your problems, but will equip you with the mental tools to solve the problems you face in life. And once you've dealt with the pesky annoyances of life, you can get back to the stuff that's happening in your brain.
posted by Kattullus at 7:55 PM on March 30, 2007

Began doing this when I was 6 or so, shortly after I learned to read, and many of my original characters and settings were based on things from books and tv. I still do it, over 30 years later. My current alternate universe has remnants of what I created in childhood, but it's much more extensive. My creation (or discovery, which is what it really feels like) now involves a cast of literally thousands, with notebooks full of maps, genealogies, a calendar, a language with a fairly extensive vocabulary, grammatical structure, and alphabet, and a numerical system, among many other things.

Although I've tried, I've never been able to finish more than a couple short stories from it, even though the stories run in my head just about any time I'm not focusing on something else. I know that I've used this to get through large parts of my life; I came out of a severely abusive family, and I think the other world in my head kept me alive for years. The flip side has been that I've been unable to generate the stories in my head during the years when I was most depressed, since any attempt to do so wound up feeling like the depression was somehow ... tainting ... my created world.

I've had therapists and psychiatrists who thought I needed to completely pull myself out of that world, or put it away somewhere, and I've also had ones who saw it as a benefit, and even a necessity to my mental health. Those are the ones I've paid attention to, of course. For years now, the world of my day-to-day life hasn't seemed any more real than the other world, and I frankly am not convinced that one is more or less "real" than the other. I just act as if the world I seemingly share with people around me is real, since that's the best I could do anyway. As long as I can at least act sane, I don't worry about it. ;)
posted by worldswalker at 8:04 PM on March 30, 2007

Have you ever tried to harm yourself or others over these worlds?

No? Then you're beautiful and we need more people like you. Stop worrying and continue doing what you do. Maybe write it down one day, for the rest of us.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:53 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

A kid in my middle/high school had a whole galaxy in his head. From what he told me of it, it was very military and warlike (I think he and his family were Revolutionary War re-enactors) and rather scarily misogynistic. Considering that he never actually hurt anyone (through the end of HS, at least), perhaps it was a useful safety valve for his more unpleasant emotions/thoughts.

For all of you world-builders with authorial tendencies, check out the book Monster Blood Tattoo by D.M. Cornish (in the Young Adult section of your local bookery). It is far and away the most unique and enchanting fantasy world I've ever experienced.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:10 PM on March 30, 2007

J K Rowling is now a billionaire because of this 'insanity'.. so enjoy it ;-)
posted by wackybrit at 9:31 PM on March 30, 2007

We have a word for this. It is called art. Time to write this down, Hemmingway.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:47 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

You're not insane. You're a writer.

That may or may not be the same thing, though.

And I have to agree with Rock Steady about Monster Blood Tattoo. Kick ass story. Great world.
posted by geekhorde at 9:58 PM on March 30, 2007

This is so funny. It seems, from this thread, that there are three types of fantasy universes:

1. Totally imaginary, containing only imaginary people, with the occasional celebrity guest star (and celebrities are pretty much imaginary anyway)

2. Mostly imaginary, containing mostly imaginary people, but starring YOU!

3. Starring YOU! and other real people (and celebrities), with perhaps the occasional imaginary person.

Mine's option 3 - mental solipsism. I wonder if that means I'm uncreative. It used to be a lot worse when I was younger and lonelier and had fewer friends - I'd have pretend conversations with crushes, friend-crushes, famous people. I would literally act out conversations and interactions alone in my room. I think I spent the vast majority of my freshman year of high school immersed in my imaginary life. The mortifying thought that someone might see me didn't dawn on me until I was a teenager.

I've created characters in my head, but they've never fascinated me so much as my own self. I wish they did.
posted by granted at 10:06 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, that kind of imagination is what made J.K. Rowlings the richest woman in Britain. I say: work it! Not kidding. You obviously have a great imagination... find a way to hone it & create something tangible and unique.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:42 PM on March 30, 2007

Thank you for speaking out on this subject. You have probably made many, many people feel much more comfortable with themselves.

Maybe it is these internal worlds within that makes some people's eyes sparkle with life.
I can say, with almost absolute certainty, that some of the people I saw tonight were imaginatively dead - their eyes were a dull flat hue while they let their lives drip away - they had no hope, no dreams. My hope comes from my imagination.

As Brandon Blatcher said - you are beautiful.

Forget all those movie stars. This is why I have such a crush on JK Rowling.
posted by niccolo at 10:49 PM on March 30, 2007

The creation of elaborate fantasy worlds also happens to be one of the oldest and still most powerful mnemonic techniques ("the method of loci"). It's traditionally done by constructing imaginary houses or journeys, rather than people, though. I haven't actually used this to memorize significant amounts of info yet, but if you already have an elaborate, very familiar fantasy environment to work with, you might be able to put it to use.

You'll be dissapointed to know that I first learned about this because Hannibal Lecter uses it in Thomas Harris's novel Hannibal. But the book is godawful, so don't read anything into that.
posted by gsteff at 10:50 PM on March 30, 2007

You're not insane, you're a freaking genius. I hope you write a book or ten, if you want to, and make a trillion dollars.
posted by susiepie at 11:03 PM on March 30, 2007

Chiming in late, but like many others, I do this too. I remember first developing my little world when I was about 12 or so. I used to take walks at night in my neighbourhood and just immerse myself. I started writing it down, and then my Mom found it, and I was horrified.

But I still do it. Some of the people are "original" characters, some are authors characters. I solidly know that it's not real, but it's been with me for over half my life, and frankly, it's soothing.
posted by aclevername at 11:21 PM on March 30, 2007

There's a lot to be said of the Freudian idea that artistic creativity is a sublimation (a sort of coping mechanism) for one's own issues in life. You don't have to subscribe to Freudianism to simply see the creative impulse, particularly fiction, as both being driven by the attempt to make sense of one's experience of life, and also as a sort of benign escapism. As others have said, only if it's a problem is it a problem. And as others have so well demonstrated, for most people it's not a problem. And for some, it's a real virtue.

That said, I have to say that I'm a little taken aback at how many people have spoken up here saying they do this. I would never have guessed. My fictional impulses don't manifest this way—my narratives and world-building are always more intermittent and focused and utilitarian, specifically in terms of a novelization or screeplay or whatever. However—and I don't know if this is "better" or "worse" than what people describe here—my dream life is composed of, oh, I'd say about 25% of dreams that are a sort of persistent world-building. Since this isn't something I do willfully and consciously, it confuses me a bit. For example, I've constructed a completely different version of the town I grew up in (which, incidentally, I hate). I understand my unconscious need to go back there (I was there my entire childhood), what I don't understand is the need to transform it into someplace weirdly different with consistent fictional details! Maybe we all have some need for such worldbuilding, whether conscious or unconscious.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:24 AM on March 31, 2007

I've had a variety of these. The characters tend to overhaul completely every time I hit an age milestone and realize how totally immature and lame those other kids were.

So, no, not insane. Just about right.
posted by crayolarabbit at 12:26 AM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you are insane, every creative person is insane.
posted by speicus at 12:46 AM on March 31, 2007

Tolkien dit it. Marten Toonder did it. Don't worry about it.
posted by rjs at 1:10 AM on March 31, 2007

did, not dit
posted by rjs at 1:11 AM on March 31, 2007

Sounds like you're trying to write a novel. Get it down, it might be worth reading.
posted by 6am at 4:28 AM on March 31, 2007

it is indeed more than a bit creepy, but there's an easy way out: just write that stuff down, even if no one will publish it, so you'lll be able to call yourself a writer -- and instead of batshit insane you'll be just eccentric then. an eccentric writer. good luck.
posted by matteo at 4:32 AM on March 31, 2007

"...it is indeed more than a bit creepy...[write that stuff down], instead of batshit insane you'll be just eccentric

Anon imagines a detailed fictional universe because he/she is very creative and feels like it -- good for him/her. Someone doesn't agree? Tough shit.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:00 AM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Me, too, except mine's in the future. In space!
[posted by COBRA! at 7:06 PM on March 30.]

MINE TOO! See, we got to space by Open Source spaceflight, primarily in a sub-$500,000, home-built orbiter/re-entry vehicle called the Lark. Everybody's up there, dude.

I sometimes call up up friends in other disciplines for consults on problems that exist only in my imagination. I don't tell them that, of course.

I swear, though, really, one of these years, I'm actually going to write all this into, like, a novel or something. Seriously. (I've been saying that for four years.)
posted by Netzapper at 6:20 AM on March 31, 2007

I'm surprised no one's mentioned Heavenly Creatures yet...
posted by ostranenie at 7:14 AM on March 31, 2007

Seconding everyone who says that as long as it doesn't interfere with your normal daily life, you're fine.

And if it makes you feel better, I don't do this, and I wish I could. I have absolutely no talent for creating fiction of any sort. Even my dreams, for the past 10 years or so, have become mundane. Know how dreams are usually quite surreal? Mine aren't, with rare exception. My dreams are as uninteresting as my waking life.

Start writing, put it on a website, and post to Projects. Because people like me have to rely on the fantasies of people like you for our escapism.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:01 AM on March 31, 2007

Gee, and I thought I was the only one...I started doing this at around 8 or 9, probably in response to some sleep issues that likely resulted from some interpersonal trauma. At one time I had about 3 rather complex storylines going on in my head at the same time. It didn't stop until I graduated from high school went away to college. I never wrote any of it down but bits and pieces of it did come out later in completely unrelated writing. It seems sort of silly now, it was very soap opera-ish. I'd like to think it came from my having seen so many movies and read so many novels beginning at a relatively young age.
posted by fuse theorem at 9:48 AM on March 31, 2007

I'm a Trekkie (and now a BSG fan).. need I say more?
posted by Harry at 10:00 AM on March 31, 2007

If you're nuts, then Tolkien was a raving lunatic.

Now if this starts intruding on your real life-or you start having trouble differentiating the two-then that might be a cause for concern. But it doesn't sound as if that is the case here.
posted by konolia at 11:08 AM on March 31, 2007

I do this too; it only impacts my real life when it comes out in what I've drawn or written as a story.
posted by dazed_one at 2:34 PM on March 31, 2007

I did this through high school but stopped in college and haven't been able to start again. Nothing like going to a therapist to complain that you can't get your imaginary friends to show up anymore to feel really pathetic.

I think they'll come back if I need them. I hope so, anyway.
posted by crinklebat at 4:18 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Mine was in space too. (And very Mary Sue-ish.) It was something that kept my mind busy when I was younger and had more free time to fill. I don't think about it much anymore, but I still pop into that world every once in a while to revisit some of my old favorite scenarios.

I don't think it necessarily means you're a writer, cause that's a whole 'nother skill altogether, but I do think there are plenty of writers whose books start out with building a universe and populating it in immense detail -- Tolkein being the prime example.
posted by MsMolly at 6:55 PM on March 31, 2007

Wow. I have nothing helpful to add, 'cept it seems obvious that you are hanging with the right crowd. And, boy do I feel boring! What an amazing thread...
posted by metasav at 10:06 AM on April 1, 2007

At least you're making up stories about wholly imaginary characters.

The usual practice is for people to make up stories about people they actually know.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:40 PM on April 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Why should we believe you? Prove it!
posted by pwiener at 4:34 PM on April 4, 2007

I'm reminded of Kirk Allen (expect he confused his creation with reality and was definitely other than sane.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:31 PM on April 5, 2007

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