Creative mess

It’s all about ambiguity

Write about what?

DSCN0746Psychologists often study creativity like a kind of pathology, researching causes of creativity, methods to diagnosis it, and determining best practices. The creative person is often contradictory because the strongest drive in creative people is to not be like other people, even other creative people. During the 1950s, when creativity research was acknowledged as a legitimate scientific subject, Psychologist Frank Barron tested and conducted in-depth interviews with writers, architects, research scientists, and mathematicians  at University of California in Berkeley.

According to Barron the highly creative person is “both more primitive and more cultivated, more destructive, a lot madder and a lot saner than the average person.” Creative people could appear and actually be conventional in many ways. However, “they tend to rebel against conformity as they accompany their own private visions down lonely, untrod paths.” They also could appear highly neurotic on personality tests while having an ego strength that could…

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How do you end an never-ending story?

BinaryData50Stories do not always require a flesh and blood antagonist, or even a spectral one. They do not have to end with the discovery of who perpetrated the crime or the demise of the villain. A plot can trace the main character’s growth: from child to adult, from poverty to wealth, from anonymity to fame, or from one plane of existence to another. (Did you ever read Jonathon Livingston Seagull?)

The tale of transformation may not be the most common type, but when written well they have staying power which endears them to continuing generations of readers. This type of plot also has special challenges. Exactly how do you wrap up a story in which the main character engages on a path of progress that will continue after the book is finished? It’s necessary to include at least one signal that this part of the story is over to fulfill the reader’s desire for a conclusion.

So, how do you end a never-ending story?

The most common device is inclusio. Despite the literary sound of this word, this device is often demonstrated in a manner so simple that a child could comprehend it. Think back to the beginning and end of the animated Walt Disney movie The Lion King. You probably recall the new heir being presented to the pride on top of the dramatic jutting slice of hillside called Pride Rock. The lion cub is not the same, but the son of the first one. However, the image from the beginning is repeated at the end to tell you it’s over. (And if you didn’t catch this, a reprise of the song “Circle of Life” is blared as a backup to hammer the idea into your head.) If you watched the earlier movie Bambi, you will recall it also had a similar beginning and end. Although, it was delivered with more subtlety than in The Lion King.

This devise of inclusio, also called the bracketing or an envelope structure, has been used in writing for millennia. Scholars of the Bible will search the original language for similar phrases that mark the beginning and end of a passage on a subject. But, you do not have to be a scholar to pick up this signal. However, if you fear your reader may not remember the beginning phrase of your tale, reinforce the impact of inclusio by including a similar image or returning the major character to an environment that is the same as in the first scene.

Now, you have the beginning and ending for your story of character growth. The difficult part will be completing the middle.

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What is the bad guy really thinking?

Picture 036 antihero 2Do you recall the campy original Batman series in which the villain de jour always explained his detailed plan for the crime as Batman was slowly moving towards a not so sure death? Is there a problem with adding the villain’s point of view is this manner? Not as long as you are writing a farce.

Seriously, why should you show the antagonist’s POV in a book or screen play?

Scenes revealed from of the antagonist’s POV create a flesh and blood multi-dimensional character. The more internal motivation that you describe for the villain, the more the audience might begin to identify with this character. That is not necessarily wrong. However, your protagonist, must feel this same conflict, unless you want the hero to be an insensitive heel.

What are some of the pitfalls to avoid when included the antagonist’s POV?

Be wary of using this POV in scenes where your antagonist is in conflict with the protagonist. The villain may seem more interesting when confronting the hero, because the bad guy often has more to lose in these scenes. But, so do you if your reader starts rooting for the bad guy.

Avoid uncovering the secret that the hero is searching for when revealing the antagonist’s thoughts. Heroes must get their act together and sniff out secrets on their own. Occasionally, I have seen writers fall into the trap of assuming the protagonist knows everything the reader knows. When adding scenes from an antagonist’s viewpoint that is no longer true. Meticulously track who knows what. (See: The character who saw too much).

Readers may recoil from the horrific inner thoughts of an insanely vicious villain. But that horror is actually judgment coming from the author. Real vicious criminals do not perceive themselves in that light. If you portray an authentic twisted viewpoint both you and the reader might struggle with the sense of becoming insane while the reversing the concepts of good and bad. Keep these passages infrequent and brief.

C.S. Lewis spoke of The Screwtape Letters, which was written from the POV of a demon, in his last interview. “Of all my books, there was only one I did not take pleasure in writing.” This short novel became one of his more popular books, which spawned a whole new genre. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to write lengthy passages from the POV of the antagonist.

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Group IQ

How to make your group smarter

Write about what?

Picture 012a3One of the tricks in getting groups to be more creative is tohave a hand in determining who goes into the group. A number of gurus on increasing group creativity will mention the need for greater diversity in groups. How exactly does this work?

Wooley and Malone performed research on “group IQ.” Members of a group were tested for IQ individually and then randomly assigned to a team. Each team  was required to complete a number of complex tasks such as creative brainstorming, and solving puzzles. Interestingly enough the teams containing the people with higher IQs did not do any better. However, the teams that had women did. The more women there were on a team, the better they did at the tasks, unless the team was entirely female.

Choi and Thompson found that rotating new members into already existing groups improved their performance in creative tasks. It was the…

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Stuck in a group

How do you get people working in groups to actually be creative?

Write about what?

1024px-Allegorie_op_visserij (2)_edited-2The concept of group synergy, the belief that combined abilities of people in groups produces better ideas than individuals  is often praised. However, most research points in the opposite direction. Suppose your assignment is to work with a group to come up with new solutions to age old problems, or maybe create a plot for a new movie. What can you do to improve your chances of at least some modicum of success?

First, it helps to understand human characteristic that prevent people from effectively sharing knowledge with others.  It is almost impossible to grasp what others know, or deduce what they need to know from us. Sharing of information takes time. It helps to have initial sessions that are simply for the purpose of  describing what each person knows without the pressure to come up new ideas or commit to any new plan of action.

Clearly defining why we know…

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Sweet solitude

Does working in a group increase innovation? Or do too many cooks make a boring broth?

Write about what?

switzerland1Does group work encourage creativity? Not according to the art and writing instructors that I surveyed determine which classroom environments induced creativity. Encouraging students to work in groups is suppose to improve creativity, but most instructors observed the opposite result.

More unique ideas surfaced when the learners worked on projects individually. Students collaborating in groups did not seem able to piggyback on each others’ ideas to produce elaborate and sophisticated products. Sometimes everyone followed a leader’s instruction, but the leader rarely was the most creative person. Others spent time in long discussions. Then, under time pressures they put together something that had already been done before and therefore was already familiar to the group. In a few cases, the  disagreement between members caused the end product to appear piecemeal and shoddy.

Brainstorming has been touted as the way for groups to multiply innovative thinking in the workplace. Groups sessions produce more…

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Mentors and money

How do you attract a mentor as a writer?

Write about what?

Telemachus_and_Mentor_cropIn the epic poem the Iliad, Telemachus father Odysseus was absent twenty years; first at war and then wandering on his long route home. Meanwhile his Telemachus grew to an adulthood without a father. Having pity on the youth, the goddess Athena disguised herself as an old man, took on the pseudonym “Mentor”  and became his guide. For the novice in writing finding an appropriate mentor with seems almost essential, but most of us are not as lucky as Telemachus.

Often an aspiring author seeks to further their experience and searches for someone of standing to help them. But, mentors are real people, not deities with immortality and powers.  A voluntary mentorship takes time away from an author’s own productive work. Why would they want to enter into this kind of relationship? One obvious answer is for the ego boost. It is a great self-esteem builder to have someone select…

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Wanted mentors: Dead or Alive

What can you learn from dead people?

Write about what?

Old_Man_with_Water_StudiesIn the city of Florence, Italy stands the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore with a massive brick dome, a masterpiece in its day, built without the wooden framework required to hold up a dome while the mortar dried. Yet, it took centuries before anyone could build a larger one. The architect, Filippo Brunelleschi, was a goldsmith by trade who learned the secrets of architecture by examining  the work of Roman builders who died centuries before him.

In the sketch book of Leonardo da Vinci is the diagram of a unique machine for lifting heavy weights to great heights. He didn’t invent it. Filippo Brunelleschi did. However, da Vinci observed and recorded this machine in use long after its real inventor died and so he is often credited with inventing it (King 2000).

“Describe the person who influenced you the most.” That is a generic writing prompts that students (and the…

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What kind of childhood?

What influences in childhood lead to creativity?

Write about what?

Club_03_VorbereitungenAccording to a review on the childhood of exceptionally creative individuals–“The growth of creativity in a young person suggests the effects of powerful nurturing and support” (Piers 2000).  But this research suggests does not occur most of the time.  Contrary to the view of  psychologists, like Maslow, who see creativity resulting from an enriched environment, that is not what many creative people record.  Rather than recalling a caring and supportive situation in childhood, their own recollections indicate a harsh, far less than ideal environment.

Many creative individuals recall stern, and almost cruel parenting in which acceptance was not unconditional, but based on performance. Their talent was not encouraged but demanded by another family member (usually the father). They described their upbringing as “more correct than warm” (Gardner 1993). Often childhood experiences of actors and writers appear in their creative works. Conflicts in the home actual contribute to the ability to…

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Beyond Self-Confidence

What do others not like about creative people?

Write about what?

800px-2445_-_Milano_-_Università_statale_-_Adolfo_Wildt_(1868-1931)_-_Sant'Ambrogio_-_Foto_Giovanni_Dall'Orto,_22-Feb--2008Now that innovation is essential to business, the educational institutions are attempting to encourage rather than quash creativity. With the revival of creativity as a money-making traits comes the recurring discussion of the how difficult creative people are. So what exactly makes creative people unlikeable for much of the population? Recent research at the University of North Carolina (Silvia et al, 2011) pinpointed the offensive characteristic–arrogance.

Similar to other research, Silvia’s study used college students who self-reported their creative abilities and personality traits. A lot of the traits measured using the five factor model did not seem to matter. Creative people described themselves as both extroverted and introverted, emotional and rational, conscientious and unconcerned.  The agreeableness did not seem to have a bearing on creativity either, except for one aspect.

Highly creative students scored lower than average on the honesty-humility scale. They were simply more arrogant.  According to the study “This…

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