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On Creativity

April 7, 2014

Creativity should be a prerequisite for story-telling.  While all readers look for books similar to ones they have enjoyed in the past, they don’t actually want to read the same story every time they crack a book — otherwise, they would simply re-read their favorites instead of seeking out new works.  Yet the writing community chases trends with an ironic zeal, peddling knockoff plots duplicated from the latest bestseller.  The uncharitable observer might question whether said authors actually possess the creativity to make something unique.

 

However, I am inclined to the opinion that the individuals writing rip-off stories did not go wrong because they stole too many ideas, but rather that they stole far too few.  Einstein once said the secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.  Similarly, Picasso is quoted as having said that good artists borrow while great artists steal.  The truth of the matter is that there are very few original ideas left in the world.  Humans have been telling stories for tens of thousands of years.  Over seven billion people inhabit this world at present, most of whom have probably spun a tale or two in their lives.

 

This makes coming up with a truly novel story idea a daunting proposition.  Fortunately, you don’t need to be original.  You just need to dig up some obscure ideas and meld them into a story that your target audience isn’t familiar with.  For example, my series The Participants has the concept of a Creator who sends immortal Observers into a universe constructed mid-motion.  For that idea and many others in my ‘creative’ series, I frequently receive feedback from my readers to the effect of ‘I have never read anything remotely similar to that before.  How did you come up with it?’  While I love having my ego stroked, the truth is I did not do anything particularly creative.  I simply spent far too much time reading about philosophy and eastern religions on Wikipedia.  Then I stole the coolest concepts from my research and injected them into a modern narrative structure.  The result?  A story 99% of my readers perceive as unique.  Woohoo!  Grand theft concept!

 

Two pieces of advice for anyone trying to write a creative story.  First, steal a lot of ideas from a lot of different places.  The more you mix things up, the harder it will be for readers to recognize your sources.  Second, get obscure in your research.  Look at cultures foreign to your own, investigate historical periods, or read in a genre completely foreign to the one you write in.  Happy stealing, my friends!

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