Previously, we reported on a study by Marjorie Taylor and colleagues that found, in part, that published writers were more likely to have had imaginary companions as children. A study from a different research group has recently found corroborating evidence in a sample of 48 children who were 5 ½ years old (Trionfi & Reese, 2009). About half of the children in this sample were identified as having an imaginary friend, who ranged from “Batman” (described as being both a boy and a girl) to “Giant Strongman” (a 1 million-year-old wrestler who had no toenails). Those who had an imaginary friend tended to provide a richer narrative when asked to retell a story compared to those who did not. Specifically, their stories tended to include more descriptors, dialogue, character names, temporal-locative-causal details, and more verbatim recall. Interestingly enough, these two groups did not differ in their vocabulary ability, nor did they differ in their ability to comprehend stories. What seems to be the case is that highly imaginative children, the kind who are likely to conjure up imaginary friends with detailed and original characters, are also better storytellers despite equivalent language abilities to their peers who lack such imagination. It is this capacity for rich fantasy, then, that might make a child a good storyteller; the kind of child who might later grow up to become a successful fiction author. This has a certain resonance with a recent essay by Tim O’Brien, in The Atlantic’s 2009 Fiction issue. In Telling Tails, O’Brien, argues that writers are encouraged to increase verisimilitude in order to avoid writing a bad story, but the real harbinger of a bad (read: boring) story is a lack of imagination.
Image by Nikki McClure.
Trionfi, G., & Reese, E. (2009). A good story: Children with imaginary companions create richer narratives. Child Development, 80, 1301-1313.