Creator and Creating

Writers are creators. We create characters, families, communities, worlds, and conflict. Sometimes all elements magically come together to create a story, but often we complain about being blocked (Writers Block) or that our characters are two-dimensional . . .or the story simply isn’t exciting or interesting enough. Too mundane. Too clichéd. Or, too predictable.

It’s happened to me. Sometimes I manage to come up with the elements that create a story that is different and memorable. But not always.

Last week I was cleaning out some old files and found notes I’d made when I taught a class in creativity. Here are a few points I made back then (that are still true).

  1. Creativity occurs whenever we have to find a new solution.
  2. You might fail.
  3. Be willing to fail.
  4. Creative people have a lot of bad ideas. We learn from them.
  5. Edison didn’t consider the 9,000 tries before he created the light bulb failures. For him, those 9,000 were learning experiences.

One thing I learned when I first started writing is that our subconscious often has the answer. I would run into a problem in a story and just couldn’t think of a new, original solution. But then I’d go do something different (wash the dishes, take a walk, take a shower or bath) or simply go to bed (and hopefully to sleep). To my surprise, while I was doing something unrelated to writing or while I was sleeping, the solution to the problem would arrive.

Creative people learn to trust serendipity and their subconscious.

There are multiple ways to trigger creative ideas. In fact, over the years I’ve written several blogs that address this topic. (You can use “Search” in the upper right hand corner of this blog to find those past blogs.) Last Saturday, however, I learned a new method.

The Mid-Michigan RWA Chapter’s monthly meeting included a program involving Tarot cards. Via a two-way video session, Arwen Lynch (see note below) presented how to use Tarot cards to develop characters and plot ideas. Ms Lynch didn’t use the cards in the traditional “We will do a reading” way. She had various members of the group take a card and then she gave examples of different ways the writer could interpret the card (or any number of cards) in order to stimulate ideas.

Take for instance (and this is my idea, not Ms. Lynch’s) the death card. This card could represent:

  1. Someone is going to die in the story. (That’s probably what I would pick for one of my mysteries.)
  2. Or, something my character hoped for or was trying to achieve is not going to happen.
  3. Or maybe the death of someone in a character’s past is influencing how he/she now views the present situation.
    Or . . .
  1. This plot stinks, I need to kill it.

Lynch’s point was the writer simply views the message of the card through his/her personal interpretation, so the same card could trigger multiple ideas for different people or different stories.

I liked this idea, but I doubt I’ll go out and buy a deck of Tarot cards. What I like to do is simply start writing down different ideas of either why a character would act a certain way or what might happen in the story. I give myself permission to write anything and everything, logical or totally stupid. (And I don’t worry about spelling.)

I can write these ideas down in a linear fashion, one after another (I think either Donald Maass or Evan Marshall said somewhere around the 15th idea you’re starting to come up with creative ideas) or spiraling out from a central question. The more possibilities I list, the more I have to work with. (However, I’m not going to try for Edison’s 9,000.)

What do you do to trigger ideas?

*Check out Arwen Lynch on YouTube. She has several videos. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LN6wExgNs4

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16 Responses to Creator and Creating

  1. I am starting over with Artist Way morning pages. So far took a 40 minute walk and I plan to visit Zingerman’s bakery for my artist date.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Rohn, I’ve always found Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages an excellent way to stimulate my imagination and get me into the right mood to write. Thanks for reminding me. I think I’ll start them again, too.

  2. I have hundreds of “story ideas” written down, and a 4-drawer file cabinet full of research info. plus my own library of research books. I often forget about all of this and struggle in my own head for ideas. Then I remember how much material I have that I can refer to and I get off my butt and go to my various “libraries” of research and start looking through it all. I inevitably come up with something to resolve the problem for my current work, and I usually come up with other ideas for future books. It’s called – “Quit trying to do this the lazy way. Go refresh your brain with your own research that you spent years building.”

    • Maris Soule says:

      Rosanne, my problem is I’ve made two big moves and have cut way back as far as storage space. Also, I write contemporary, so idea files I had have either been lost or are too out-of-date to use.

  3. Maris, I’ve learned to let my mind wander and make lists of ideas or fragments of scenes. Sometimes when I’m stuck, I put the story away for a while and wonder what will come later. And something always does come. I trust the unconscious thoroughly to supply what I need.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Susan, I’m with you as far as trusting my subconscious. Also, there’s an energy in the universe that often comes to my aid. It’s exciting when it happens.

  4. When Five Star still did women’s fiction, they published a Regency romance I wrote entitled TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS. It has a paranormal edge, needless to say. The novel was endorsed by Jayne Ann Krentz and sold well in hardcover and large print. The use of tarot figured into the plot line.

  5. Marilyn Clay says:

    Interestingly, I only just used the Tarot in a mystery plot, and the Death card in particular. Book 5 in my Juliette Abbott Regency Mystery Series titled Murder In Middlewych was released this month. And here I thought I was being original. The book also features a kitten, who does nothing towards helping the heroine solve the crime. Okay, so that’s an original spin, right?

    • Maris Soule says:

      Marilyn, I hope the kitten is cute and lovable. I’ve never used Tarot cards in any of my stories, but I liked the way we were shown last Saturday how to use them to trigger ideas. As for original? They say there’s nothing new, it’s how you tell it, so I’m sure your story has an original slant.

  6. Merrily Boone says:

    Interesting. I took a class from a Tarot Reader that incorporated the Tarot into the stages of The Hero’s Journey. It helped me develop a story.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Merrily, Arwen Lynch does a youtube (I believe) incorporating Tarot cards and the Heroes Journey. I wonder if she taught the class you took. Glad to hear it helped.

  7. Carole Price says:

    Some of my ideas have come during the night or the resolution of a problem. I must remember to have pen and paper nearby or it’s lost. Something on TV have triggered ideas. One time I was thinking about a deck of cards and came up with a name for my navy SEAL–Royal Tanner. The name is perfect for hm.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Carole, I find if an idea comes just before I go to sleep, I’d better get up and write it down (at least enough to trigger my memory in the morning) otherwise I keep running the idea through my head (in a loop) and can’t get to sleep. And yes, Royal Tanner sounds like the name a navy SEAL would have.