Tag Archive: creative process


Pulse-stormwork_sm

Sketch for “Stormworks”
A Pulse class freight hauler unloads and undergoes routine maintenance, before inclement weather rolls in.

The last few weeks and months have been pretty crazy for me, so I’ve had to try and find creative outlets whenever, wherever, I can in between fits of depression, high anxiety and general aloofness. So what does that mean? Well, it means that I end up having “half an idea” and the need to do something with it.

So, what can you do with half an idea?

Before that, what the hell is “half an idea?”  To me, its defined as that idea that gets you really excited, but when you sit down to capitalize on it, you realize it was an only empty shell and work on it is stalled almost as soon as you put pen to paper.  In my imagination, ideas come thick and fast, but most of them are tenuous and useless. “Half an idea” is basically the minimum that can get you anywhere, but there’s a lot of work to do with it. Given time and effort, that idea can be transformed into something worth sharing, so long as you can get over the hump of impatience that awaits you.

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The original text-based adventure game, Adventure by Will Crowther.

Imagination is a key element in any kind of video game, movie, novel and indeed, any creative art. With advancing technology our creative arts have found support in many new tools, making it easier for an audience to experience our visions that much more easily, but even in this age of technology, the imagination is still a vital part of experiencing this art.

When I was a kid, video-games were in their infancy, yet they still attracted my interest and kept it there as long as the photo-realistic, fast moving and beautifully crafted games of today. Games then were spasmodic blocks of monotone colour, or not even that, just plain text, but they didn’t suffer from their graphical limitations, but very possibly gained something from them. That’s not to say there weren’t bad games and that my imagination would fill in the blanks or overlook pallid art or design – far from it: imagination has to be engaged or captured, before it can be exploited, and not every game has that level of craft.

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“I saw the angel in the marble, and carved until I set it free.”

what he was aiming for

The Vision. What he was aiming for…

Michelangelo believed that he could see his subject in the material that he’d use to sculpt. Taking his philosophy as creative people we might envision our art through the medium we work with. With regards to writing – and to some extent, the world building of many disciplines – the story might be contained in its themes, characters and ideas, but deeper still, in the very words we use to “sculpt” them. The selection of these would dictate what we can create with them.

When one begins to write, the creator must have that same vision that Michelangelo had for his statues – to see the story beyond the words they are about to use. The writer takes their themes, characters, action – their ideas – and begins to sculpt. But inevitably there is a time when the material, whether it be word or stone, leads to something that the writer/sculptor didn’t see. A fracture hidden deep in the marble, a character suddenly confronting a decision that needed to be made though wouldn’t make sense. The work ends up in a form the creator didn’t intend to shape.

What then? What does the creator do when their creation starts walking away from their vision of it?

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Upper deck detail of the Latent Pulse, showing crew related features.

Upper deck detail of the Latent Pulse, showing crew related features.

I find that designing deck plans for imaginary spaceships to be a meditation into pseudo-engineering. At its most basic level, it draws us further into the imaginary world of our creations, encouraging us to think about aspects of it we wouldn’t do otherwise. As a writer and game designer, I’m able to visualize the action of my stories, or the progress of a player, or the inhabitants of this imaginary environment. At the other end of the spectrum, it is an exercise of applying all kinds of reasoning to its imaginary function, strengthening a concept and bringing change to it to make it feel more… real, though it is unlikely any of these exercises will be made into real things.

There is no real methodology for the process of creating one – our approaches will be entirely different based on our purpose for hashing the design out from thin air. It may be about visualizing the environment, so one can describe a single room; it may be the act of arranging obstacles or furnishings to provoke game play strategies, it may be to stage an action sequence in a novel, or an encounter in a tabletop RPG.

Copyright Ken McCulloch 2012

Latent Pulse development Concept sketch

What is going to be put forward here is a collection of points for the Starship designer to consider while planning their decks, in the hopes of drawing about a deeper sense of accomplishment and rationality within the design. Regardless of the actual result of the process – whether a “realistic” design is achieved or not, since how can we prove it one way or another – the most rewarding aspect of it is the thoughts that arise from it. Just as in meditation.

These thoughts are what came to me as I designed the Latent Pulse, a medium sized FTL freight/trading vessel from my WIP novel, Pan Spectrum Analyzer. Each one forced me to move elements about, rethinking their placement, use and relevance both to the design and to the narrative of the novel.

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Karyss-shade3a-FX

Karyss, drawn in 2013

Karyss is the protagonist of “PSA”  the Science Fiction novel I’m currently writing for what seems like forever. Young and unassuming, she lives a life defined by the everyday, never questioning the world beyond that she sees, but a brave, yet foolish step toward her dreams casts her adrift amongst the stars, on a journey she could never imagine, let alone understand.

But my story of her is a little different than the novel’s.

Karyss entered my life back in 1997. She didn’t know it was going to happen and neither did I. I had logged onto an online text-based MUD (I was addicted to them at the time) and was spontaneously asked the odd question “Character Name?”   I knew this question was going to come up at some point while starting a new character on a new MUD, I just wasn’t ready for it then.  Really, without thinking, I typed the word “Caryss” and hit enter. I think I had thought of a strange version of “Chris,” then “future-ized” it. About 30 minutes later, I left that MUD never to return – but I took Caryss with me.

Caryss

Early version of Caryss from 1999.

Since then, she has bobbled to the surface of my imagination quite frequently. I found myself having to write glips and glops for this and that, and she kept stepping through the brain-idea barrier every time. Here, she is a bounty hunter, there an inadvertent terrorist, and over here, a co-pilot of a starship. These versions of Karyss were obvious nods to the pulpy SF I’ve absorbed and desired to write ever since I was six and seeing Star Wars that fateful summer. Then, she was lithe, sexy, full of attitude… In other words, a stereotype and not much else. She needed depth.

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