Flux Capacitor

Spontaneous creativity is truly a wondrous thing.

The other day I was working on a bit of plumbing in my shower, when I slipped and fell from my stool. I awoke to discover I’d hit my head on the edge of the sink as I fell, but when I came to, I had in my head the ultimate idea that would tie together all the plot points and loose ends of my novel. Not long after that, a charismatic lad from twenty years in the future was knocking at my door and some hi jinks ensued involving a stylish car, a clock tower, and the slowest bolt of lightning in the history of recorded science.

Yeah. Subtle. Like a ninja.

Anyway, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown raises an interesting point. When he came up with the schematic for his flux capacitor, the piece needed to invent the DeLorean Time Machine was essentially already in his brain, locked away or hidden beneath layers of consciousness  The answer was likely made up of bits of information he already knew, but was connected in such a way as to form a complete thought. An idea.

Have you ever had a dream, where circumstances or events were utterly ridiculous? Simply impossible? Yet in the dream, they happen, they function, they work. I’d be willing to venture that this concept envelops Doc’s revelation. Now, let’s apply this to our lives. I’m talking about creativity; to narrow it down, art and imaginative writing.

One takes a brush, smears a stroke of pigment. With enough strokes and some variation of color, an image can be produced. One takes up a pen, scribbles a word. With the addition of more, in a certain order, one forms a sentence. One uses red colored paint as one uses the word for ‘red.’

Flux capacitors, paintings and novels have something in common: they were all created by arranging pre-existing elements that were already in the brain. I find this interesting because the idea seems to be a little at odds with the ‘something from nothing’ concept. Creativity comes from somewhere, and it very well could be as simple as arranging information in our brains in new ways.

Let’s say you know every word in your language. Let’s say you know every color, every type of brush stroke. With this theory, you possess in your head every painting and every novel.


Music Notes

All craftsmen and artists have their tricks of the trade. Today I’ll share one on mine.

Like any writer, I have something of an obligation to write things down, particularly random ideas or thoughts that come at an otherwise inconvenient time. Post-it notes work well enough when I’m at a desk, and I usualy carry some form of notebook or journal wherever I go. I tried a voice recorder for some time but could never really get into the habit.

One thing I developed, and have yet to hear others doing, is something I simply call taking ‘music notes.’
Basically, I’ll be listening to the soundtrack of some movie or video game (I do that a lot) and will let my thoughts wander. Occasionally I’ll come upon an idea, sometimes directly inspired by the music, sometimes with the music merely establishing the mood.

So the process is simple.
-listen to music
-if an idea comes, write it down
-then write the name of the MP3 and (often) the time during the track, especially if it’a long or complicated.

This way, I have an auditory as well as visual cue for the idea/event/scene. This especially helps for things with a lot of emotion, or description I can’t fit at the time. I have many folders on my PC devoted exclusively to music notes, as though I were compiling my own soundtrack to a story. I find that to be a fun hobby in and of itself, and it’s proven helpful.

No doubt you get the idea. When I re-listen to a labeled song, coupled with (short-hand) notes taken at the moment, I am able to visualize things much more clearly. Naturally, the more I see in my mind, the better I can describe it with words.

If you’re a self-described audiophile like me, or even if you aren’t, give it a shot. Maybe music notes of your own will help capture those sporadic sprites of inspiration like that have for me.

Experience: Riding

Not long ago, I had the pleasure of a calm trail ride atop a horse. I’ve ridden in the past, but admittedly it’s been some time since I sat in a saddle. That was no obstacle, though; the beast was quite amiable and the environment, though freezing cold, was bereft of stress. A very good experience for myself and the other person with whom I planned the excursion.

But I bring it up not merely so share the joys of equestrian company, but rather I wanted to simply point something out. Riding a horse is something you see often in fantasy settings and movies, and often they’re depicted as majestic, strong creatures – rightfully so. But no movie or book, I don’t care if the horse plays a prominent role like in Hidalgo, can replace the experience of actually being on one’s back.

I’ll tell you one thing though. Riding Maverick, the horse chosen for me, gave me a fresh perspective. An animal like this carried my weight as easily as a man might carry a schoolbag. Of course simple logic can tell you that horses allowed for long distance travel and the transport of heavy loads, but simply being there and appreciating the animal’s strength first hand allows you to really feel it.


My steed of the day, Maverick.

As a writer I’ve always believed that successful depiction of anything puts the reader there. I tend to do this to a fault, spending a lot of energy on describing a scene before or while things actually happen. But you can’t expect a reader to believe your character is familiar with horses if you yourself aren’t. You can’t write a convincing cross-country jaunt if you’ve never taken a walk. And my personal favorite, you ought not expect a detailed fight to feel real if you yourself have never seen a real sword, let alone held one. Movies help, but bear with me.

Now, obviously not all of us have access to horses, or an armory, or a mountain trail. I doubt I’ll have an opportunity to go jousting any time soon, so we have to make do with the written or spoken accounts of others. There is nothing wrong with that, but one could argue that the experience is lessened to a degree. You aren’t telling first-hand details you noticed after all, and unless your source is thorough, accurate, and patient enough for questions, you’re really better off making an attempt to it yourself – a horse ride, a sparring match, a trans-Atlantic cruise, a night spent outdoors (WITHOUT anything electronic) – whatever.

The best stories are based off of adventures and experiences you yourself have had. What do you write about? What sorts of things can you do to enrich your writing? And your life in the meantime?


NYCMidnight 2013 Submission

And so it was that I managed to complete my short story submission for the contest. It’s Round 1, and winners will obviously not be announced until later. Let me tell you about how it was I came about writing a 2500 word caper story about a telemarketer and a motorcycle gang, in less than a week. Boy, that was a mouthful.

Anyone who’s read my other posts or taken a gander at my repository blog might guess that this is something way out of my field. I spent the first few days after receiving the criteria thinking and distracting myself, then when I had a scratch of an idea, I did some research. Not that that solved any creative obstacles, but I did come across a few guidlelines for caper story archetypes. Funny how familiar character types, or titles, are when put into context.

The folks over at Writing Excuses, I cannot help but emphasize, were tremendously helpful. Not to mention a couple folks close to me whom I conned into reading the story in its draft stages. Anyway, I’m happy with the result. Not my best work, but not my worst either. I had a lot fun writing it and learned a few things in the process. That doesn’t always happen.

The finished product can be found here.