Creativity Challenge: The Starting Point, Part 1

It’s been a while since I posted a creativity game, so I am long overdue. This one has two parts, and you can choose to play both, either, or just enjoy what comes of it as you please.

This is not a skill contest. It is for fun and to explore what your brain comes up with. You have only to look at my effort to know the bar has been set low enough that everyone can play without concern, so don’t let embarrassment hold you back. It might be fun to play with your kids, even. We are far too critical of ourselves and forget to enjoy the simple things. Kids remind us of what we’re missing, because they haven’t been convinced of all the things “grown-ups” shouldn’t do anymore. If you can, borrowing kids from a friend or family works, too. You give parents an important break and you open your mind to creativity. Anyway, back to the exercise.

First, a little backstory:

My computer does not have a Blu-ray burner so I have to use my husband’s computer to run my monthly backups. (You do back up all critical files at least once a month, right?) He is quite happy with his solitaire scores and since they’re stored, I can’t just pop up a Free Cell window while I’m validating the burn. Some of those files are huge Zip files so take a while to open. (I don’t hang around for the burning. It’s too boring *grin*.)

I have to stay occupied, being a restless sort, and doodling is a good way to do that. With no paper or pen, this month I popped open a Paint window and just started doodling with the mouse to control the pen. If you’ve ever tried to sign your name with a mouse, you know it’s a skilled art…one I do not claim to have. However, it did serve to occupy me, and I enjoyed the doodle enough to “finish” it even though I’d managed to validate all the backup files before I had.

So, the challenge is, as I said above, twofold:

1) This one is quick and easy.

Click on my drawing above to see a bigger version and try to guess what shape started the doodle.

2) This one makes you work for it, but the creativity can lift your spirits and inspire wonder.

Get a blank piece of paper, open a Paint window, or use the tool of your choice. Start anywhere on the page with a simple shape and see where your imagination takes you. Have fun with it. When you’re done, with done being defined by gut level satisfaction, if you’d like to share, please post it somewhere and give the link in your comment so we can all enjoy. With or without a link to the result, I’d love to hear your reaction to the exercise in the comment section.

Next week, I’ll post the answer to the first challenge and some thoughts about process and writing my doodle inspired (part 2). I look forward to seeing what you all will come up with.

Posted in Art, Music, Crafts, etc., Creativity Exercises | 2 Comments

5 Interesting Links for 06-09-2017

Discovery (Archaeology)

The discovery of remains from a coastal village in British Colombia offers new information about when the first human migration occurred and substantiates the Heiltsuk Nation’s oral traditions.

Lighting (Environment)

The AMA is issuing guidelines for LED lighting to reduce the health and environmental consequences of too much blue light. Continue reading

Posted in Anthropology, Culture, Environment, Interesting Links, Interesting People, Writing | Leave a comment

Eagle and Empire by Alan Smale

Eagle and Empire by Alan SmaleOnce again, I have been captivated not just with the cultural elements new to me but the rocky coming together of different people. The misunderstandings, both deliberate and not, and the respect given when lies or manipulations are found out, give this story a complexity that makes it feel true to life. This book is similar to the two previous ones in bare summary, and yet, each time the scope is bigger and the risks higher. Not only that, but because we encounter new peoples, there is a need for constant growth in understanding and the opportunity for grave errors when the rules of one culture are imposed over another.

Like the whole of this series, Eagle and Empire offers an elaborate dance with lives, hopes, and nations on the line. It demonstrates the dangers of assumptions and expectation, of hypocrisy and double-dealing, but at the same time shows how honor can span cultures and school those who see only what they want to without valuing what is right in front of them. There will always be those like Agrippa who cannot learn, but also those like Tahtay, Marcellinus, and Hadrianus, who can see beyond assumptions and recognize foolishness among their own people and even in themselves. Continue reading

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Notes from World Building Techniques and Approaches at BayCon 2017

Panelists: Kevin Andrew Murphy, Ms. Jennifer L. Carson, Jon Chaisson, and Katharine Kerr

Moderated by me (Margaret McGaffey Fisk)

Note: I’ve tried to get the correct attributions, but sometimes multiple people spoke on the same concept so no guarantees I succeeded in every instance. I’ll happily entertain corrections or expansions along these lines in the comments. The notes in parentheses are mine.

Techniques from Jennifer

  • Explain it to someone else. (With the expansions of walking to get exercise and keep the blood to brain flowing.)
  • Use training (whether classes, writing books, etc.) as a jumping off point to develop your own style. (If your teacher’s voice is visible in your writing, you are writing in their voice not your own. The exception is when mimicking another style is crucial as when you take over someone else’s series or write in their world as Kevin mentioned.)
  • Stop and reassess. (This goes with the listen to your inner voice comment in that if your gut says something is wrong, don’t just keep plowing forward.)
  • Good naming is a gateway into your world for readers so take the time to choose great character and other names. (Though Kevin did remind people not to rename something that exists on Earth just to make the world seem more alien because if it acts like and fills the niche of an Earth-based creature, the translation would be the Earth name. When things are unique, though, a unique name can strengthen the reader experience.)
  • Read your manuscript aloud (because your eyes will gloss over things that jar your ears from uncomfortable rhymes, to words out of place or things that don’t make sense).

Techniques from Jon

  • Listen to the inner voice when it tells you to move on. People become attached to broken stories and can’t let them go. (If you find yourself doing this often, go back and force yourself to finish those stories even if you’re sure they’re not salvageable. The instinct for a broken story can sometimes be overtaken by fear of failure…or success, both of which can often be diagnosed by a stack of abandoned stories.)
  • Pay attention to what inspired you and think about why it was cool.

Techniques from Katharine

  • Analyze other books to learn how they do it. Focus on the techniques used rather than letting yourself be absorbed in the story. (I did a deconstruction class using the Iron Man 2 novelization and can recommend movie novels as a good place to learn to deconstruct. The plot is constrained by the script, and you can explore the different choices made in the movie versus the novel, especially when, like Iron Man 2, they were produced simultaneously rather than one based on the other.)
  • Read out of genre and not just by watching movies. Romance is especially good for teaching character description. (This is useful both for research and to learn by experiencing what other authors do as a reader.)
  • Expand your horizons. (The more you experience, the more you can bring to your writing.)

Techniques from Kevin

  • Research the history or similar history when not based in actual history to get rich details to make it feel real.
  • Put yourself into the character to make your story richer rather than writing it as an outside observer.
  • Write the story using stream of consciousness with eyes closed to throw yourself out of the familiar and push past a block.
  • When your writing is condemned by the internal editor, go to your bookshelf and read one of your favorite books/writers. If the internal editor is running rampant rather than being useful, you will see it question the same things in the published work and know it’s not your writing at fault. (I tend to take a break at this point because pushing on is more likely to break the story than improve it.)
  • Cut to the important details rather than describing everything when painting your seen. Use the point-of-view character as a guide, but focus on the moment in the story. (Kevin’s example was something like if your character is an antique dealer in an antique store, the age and condition of things might stand out, but not when ninjas are hunting them through the displays.)

Techniques from Kevin and Katharine

  • Identify if the story is flat by re-reading & looking at it as a reader. This ability can come with writing experience but reading extensively, that counts. (Flat can be anything from pretty words but no plot, a main character that doesn’t act but only reacts, writing that lacks description, and many other flaws. Seeing the text as a reader helps make those problems stand out. I use my Kindle to do this reading pass because it’s near impossible to get caught up in editing because I can only put comments rather than change the text.)

Techniques from Margaret McGaffey Fisk

  • Retype the manuscript if you’re stuck or need to convert the voice rather than editing. (Especially for older manuscripts, retyping the whole thing can bring it up to your current skill easier than editing because you are not distracted by trying to keep anything and can fix things by instinct.)
  • Writing and writers are all different, but it doesn’t mean that any technique is wrong. Try out various techniques, take what works for you, and recognize that what clicks with another writer may not with you. (I know many talented writers, both published and unpublished, who use techniques that would stop my creativity dead, and there are many more successful writers who write their first draft without any world building or outline than most people realize. Case in point, both Kevin and Kitt thought their process rare, but they use similar techniques, as do I.)
  • It’s a dangerous assumption that you need to “correct” all the illogical aspects of history when you should use them to inform your world building. A world without illogical beliefs or traditions will read as programmed rather than real. (Response to a comment of why do fantasy novels have regimented infantry going up against wizards with fireballs. It’s illogical, but look into the battle plans for the American Revolution and you’ll find the same illogical patterns still in place because logical patterns were considered dishonorable even though chances of survival with guerrilla tactics were much higher (as some did learn later in that same war.)

Jennifer also offered a game to teach you to expand your thinking: Gather a group of people and have one draw a shape on the board (or paper). Then use that shape as a world and posit the environmental, economic, etc. impact of its shape including the possibility of a designed rather than organic world. This is not a world-building game designed to build a working world for a specific project but rather a way to get you thinking of the consequences of decisions so they result in a more complex world. Some authors successfully use a variant of this by drawing random lines on a paper and using that as the basis of their world map, working again from the intersections to design the commerce, political, and social connections.

I want to thank my panelists who did a lovely job of showing as well as telling the different ways a writer can approach a project with the goal of making it strong. And a special thanks to Amber (last name hidden to protect the innocent) who did the first pass of typing up my notes at BayCon and did an amazing job (if you’ve ever seen my handwriting, you’ll understand just how difficult it was).

Posted in Appearances/Interviews, Conventions, Learning, News, Writing Process | Tagged | 2 Comments

5 Interesting Links for 06-02-2017

Note: Videos may auto start with sound so be prepared.

Faults (Geology)

A case made for the possibility that before the tectonic plates were formed, Earth had a solid surface.

Society (Animals)

A look at the impact octopuses have had on society in different eras based on the human imagination. Continue reading

Posted in Interesting Links, Psychology, Research, Science, Space, Technology | Leave a comment