Monday, December 04, 2006

Where does the creativity come from?

Hey kids,

Well, it's Monday, meaning it's my turn to blog. Given I'm hip-deep in deadlines for THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES and the final galleys just arrived on GAMES OF COMMAND and I'm leaving on a seven-day cruise'd think I'd be fresh out of brain power.

You're right. I am. I have no idea where this blog is going to come from or go, but it's just going to happen. So fly along with me...


How do we think up all this strange shhhhhtuff? (You all thought Iwas going to use another word, no?) Where is that dark room in an author's brain where characters and stories and plots reside, fermenting?

I was asked this question recently by a police detective who works outside Chicago. Not that I'm in any particular kind of trouble, mind you. I actually was asking him some questions about homicide detectives since the male protagonist in my current WIP has that career. And the detective--being by nature a question-asker or he'd not be in that biz--returned the favor and asked me: how do authors think of all this stuff?

What I told him was this: for every author it's different but I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that there's not an author out there who doesn't play with What If?.

What if...a character doesn't go to work that day but stays home and witnessess her neighbor doing [fill in the blank]? What if...Trilby brings an unknown injured pilot on board her starfreighter instead of (oh-so-more-wisely) leaving him to fend on his own? What if...a cop leaving a crime scene spills coffee on himself as he's pulling his car away from the curb and--instead of going back to the station with the computer he's taking into evidence--decides to make a quick stop home to change his clothes...

...and is kidnapped by outerspace aliens and 'beamed' on board a starship.

What if?

What each author does with their What Ifs is unique to that author's style (and deviousness!). But the fact that we all use the What If is a common denominator. It's the author's tool for looking at What Is and making it into What Could a hundred different variations.

Just look at the authors on this blog. We all write in pretty much the same genre. We write female protagonists. Male protagonists. Starships and space. Aliens and vampires (which are alien to mortal humans). We write fast-paced action. We write passionate romance. You'd think we'd all be writing the same story--and each other's stories--over and over.

We're not. Because each author takes that What If into herself and makes it uniquely her own.

But where does that ability to turn what's inside into a story come from?

Feelings. At least, that's where it is in me. And, if you use Dwight Swain as a writing guru as I do--that's where Swain say it comes from, too. Feelings. I know when I'm writing well because I get all fluttery inside. I know when I'm writing really well because my hands go cold and I've been known to jump out of my chair and pace around the office (trying not to step on the cat who've I've most likely dislodged from my desk in the process).

That's why although the technical craft of writing can be taught, what makes a book really good, what turns words into a best seller is much more difficult.

Where that creativity lives in me or in you can't be pinpointed on a chart or map. If you want to be a writer, all I can do is give you the pathway that leads to it. And it's under that sign over there that says What If?.

Enter at your own risk. You might come out being an author.



  1. Anonymous3:58 PM EST

    Ever ask a fish how it swims? You'll get the same dumb look from me if you ask me how I create stories. I just do. Stop me from writing and I'll flop around gasping for air until I die.

  2. Ah, Kimber, I hear you. But consider this--at some point you're going to have to understand how *you* create stories because you're going to have to create more. On demand. To contract. So you might want to start listening for what goes on just before that creativity starts. So you can do more of a good thing. :-)

    Some writers use triggers--a certain song, a scented candle, a photograph, whatever. They combine that with their 'what if' and they're off and running. Uh, typing.

    For others, the what if is enough.

    For me, once I get to that What If, it can be music. It runs behind the MTV video of my story in my mind. But other times it could be a phrase. I can hear one of the characters say a certain thing and whammo! The scene just unfolds.

    Other times I stare at the blank monitor for hours...

    Keep feeding that fish-flopping muse of yours. ;-)

    Hugs, ~Linnea

  3. Anonymous7:50 AM EST

    Alas, I have yet to have boundless stories pop into my head. I still don't know how others do that. I seem to still be focussed on a single story arc, though its backstory and the larger scope of consequences of the character's actions are still expanding. A symptom of world-building, I wonder? Maybe when that one's done (my first, btw) I'll be more mentally receptive to new story threads. Any of this sound familiar to you or anyone else?