Tag Archive: ideas

“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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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.


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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Rival Ideas

di_fate_niven orbitsvillen370The Science Fiction and Fantasy genres are largely idea driven. A story can dangle on the end of a good idea and experience a sort of half-life without the need for full characterization and even a terrible plot – if the idea is good enough. There is then, a race for the best ideas – the most ambitious, the most interesting, the most realistic, the most prophetic. Most authors won’t readily admit to this, but it’s there all the same. Its a guilty pleasure to follow a nice new idea and mine out a seam of something related to it, perhaps spring boarding into another sub-genre entirely – space opera, steampunk, urban fantasy, victorian SF…

We are, of course, excited by ideas. If  the idea wasn’t there, it wouldn’t be science fiction of fantasy, it would just be… fiction: stories about people in a world we are familiar with. Even then, there needs to be an idea, right at the center of it all, driving the whole thing.

Author’s covet their own ideas, of course. An idea does more than just belong to an author, it is part of them, so they’ll always be special. But – what happens when someone else has the same idea?

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My Way and Hemingway

Standard Creative Writing headgear. Please exercise caution while using.

I’ve been very lucky to have the opportunity to write professionally for almost twenty years. Perhaps 80% of that writing was creative, in the form of game proposals, supporting stories, blog articles and dialog scripts/screenplays.  However, a much smaller fraction of that work wasn’t actually doing the article writing itself, but writing to merely to generate ideas and solutions to problems that arise.
Very rarely, an idea pops into one’s head fully formed – that is, ready to be put to paper without any further thinking or development. It is so rare, in fact, that you may as well assume it never happens. More often, an idea pops up that is much less than you thought – the words that describe it amount to a few sentences, or less. Panic sometimes ensues, but inevitably so does a sudden loss of enthusiasm for the idea. I believe this comes from the human mind’s ability to abstract concepts. Within your mind, the idea seems fully formed, even flawless, but once committed to some form, either writing, or drawing, or what have you, its issues are brought to light.

Within my own work process, this happens all the time.  The ideas flow thick and strong, but ultimately prove to be sketchy, with holes in their logic. These holes are problems, needing to be filled and threatening to literally undermine the rest of the idea. When writing a story especially, each idea usually needs to connect to another and a small discrepancy with one can derail the entire thought process.  To avoid loss of enthusiasm, I feel its important to keep up the momentum.

My solution for this sort of problem has always been, reluctantly – more writing! (or drawing…)  There are several methods I use, but they all share the same general principle.  Rather than sitting, scratching your head and trying to think the problem through, you should keep writing to maintain your thought process and manipulate that process to solve your problems.

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