Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Creative Spark

How many romance novels have you read that went a little something like this?

Boy meets girl. Boy and girl make stupid decisions. Boy and girl live happily ever after.

Or maybe romantic suspense?

Boy meets girl. Someone dies. Boy and girl make stupid decisions. Boy and girl live happily ever after.

Or literary fiction, as I am all-too-acquainted with:

A lot of weird things happen. Then on a tragic note, the story ends.

Kidding! I'm sorry literary fiction writers--I couldn't resist! Let me just be clear that as a literature instructor, I have a deep appreciation for literary fiction!


The question is, if so many of these stories are the same, how do you make yours stand out?

The answer, get creative! 

Think about your favorite characters and stories in books, movies, and even real life. Chances are, they stand out to you because they are unique and memorable. Strive for no less in your own stories.

So why don't we see more creative stories?

Because Creativity. Is. Hard. 

T.S. Eliot said, "Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity." And here's another great quote from Pablo Picasso: "The chief enemy of creativity is 'good' sense."

Sometimes, in the humdrum of loading the dishwasher and vacuuming the dog hair from the kitchen floor, we forget something very important.

We forget why we love to write.

Creativity ought to influence everything from the scene settings in our stories, to the tags we use, to the characters' quirks. Don't settle for a character who smiles a lot when she might really want to curl her pink-chalked hair and toss her kitten-heels across the room in fury!

So how do we stir the creative spark in the midst of every day life?

  • Find a way to break from the routine. Go to a coffee shop, people watch at the mall, or be a tourist in your own town by visiting a garden or a quaint restaurant. Even if it's only for fifteen minutes a day, break your routine and see what happens.
  • Stop listening to your anxiety. Ever been writing and heard this hovering voice in your mind... "That's not good enough." "Readers will think that's stupid." "A publisher would say this character is too quirky." When you're writing--and especially when you're writing that first draft--silence your inner critic. She can come and edit once you're done. Anxiety will kill the creative spark. Snuff it right out. All you'll be left with is the remnant of a smoky idea.
  • Act out your scene. Yes, I know this is weird. But it makes a difference! If you're wondering how gravel sounds underfoot, walk across it. If you're writing about a woman throwing fist-fulls of sand into the air, find a beach. You'll be surprised what you can come up with when you put yourself in the same physical surroundings as your characters. Even a scented candle or setting-themed screensaver can do the trick!
  • Always list multiple options. Whether you're brainstorming a scene setting or a plot point, don't always go with the first thing that comes to mind. Readers will expect the obvious. Instead, push yourself to come up with alternatives. Make a list of possible plot points, settings, quips, quirks, etc. You may stumble across an interesting twist for your story!
  • Recognize that creativity knows no bounds. You can always go back and edit something out of your story, so when you're writing, give yourself permission to think big!

Have you found that creativity makes a difference in making a memorable story? How do you stir your creative spark?


Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blogFacebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I have the hardest time letting go in the first draft. I guess because I don't want the hard work of editing, but I know I have to get over that at some point. Ha!

Pepper said...

Oh my goodness, I have the hardest time trying to come up with other possible solutions that would make sense in my story.
acting out the scene? Yeah, I do that :-) but the anxiety gets to me lots of times.
That pointing finger wagging a "it's not good enough" rhythm in my head. Yep.
This is so encouraging, Ash.

Lots of times my best creativity comes from nature or reading other people's work.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Loved this, Ashley. You have some great tips here. For my most recent WIP, I thought through various options before I wrote every scene. It really helped me figure out a few surprises for my story.

I haven't tried acting out any scenes yet. I think I'll try that next. :)

I'm with Pepper, creativity often strikes when I read someone else's work. :)

Pepper said...

And it's usually when I read FABULOUS heroes ;-) How about you?

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Hhhmm, I get creative when I read other people's works, but then I'm afraid I might take their stuff as my plagiarize. Do yall ever fear that kind of thing like me?

Julia M. Reffner said...

Yes, I'm like Sherrinda. Hard to let go in the first draft and the fears hold me probably more than anything else.

Having read a lit fiction where the protagonist kills herself in the end I can agree with your statement, although I must admit lit fiction is my favorite and I'm told that's what I actually write so I guess I might as well just let go with it.

I have many times made my husband do strange things such as opening and closing a door repeatedly so I can figure out the motions. I'm a very visual person but not a naturally observant one.

GREAT post, Ash!!!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Pepper, yes, HEROES definitely inspire creativity, but I also love seeing how settings are portrayed, how twists come about in stories. :)

Angie Dicken said...

Great post, Ashley! I find myself jumping too far off the creative deep end sometimes, or too cliche other times. It's a tough sweet spot to find, but oh so rewarding when you do!

Casey said...

I needed this reminder this week! Ash, I think you wrote this post for me this week. Sheesh, I've been having such a hard time with my inner critic lately! And I had to give a big AMEN to your description of romance. I love love stories that break the mold. :)

Ashley Clark said...

Sherrinda, YES! I am the SAME way! I have the hardest time with that first draft, because I always want to get it "right" the first time. But what I'm really doing is keeping myself from the creativity that could be springing up!

Pepper, I LOVE what you said about nature and others' work. I bet it's easier to do when you have glorious mountains practically in your own backyard! :)

Jeanne, I NEED to write down more options/alternatives when I'm coming up with scenes. I'm so bad about coming up with one thing, then sticking with it!

Ashley Clark said...

Julia, I LOVE literary fiction. I think it's so important to uphold literature as an art form. But yeah, you can definitely only take so much of it at once!

Ashley Clark said...

So true, Ang!

Casey, you are so sweet! Don't let that inner critic have more power than she deserves! :D

Mary Vee Writer said...

Literary fiction is also my favorite. I get trapped in words and find myself wondering what the shadow peeking through the midst of the story is.

My creativity is a springboard. I hears/see/feel something--then amazing ideas bounce in my mind as if Tigger and his whole family visited.

Great post, Ashley!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

oh, man... the more I learn the craft to more neurotic I get about the first draft. By the time I've made it through I've been so nit-picky it's almost finished. Definitely stunts the flow of the getting the story down. I really need to work on staying out of my head and just letting the creativity flow, as it were. Great stuff here, Ash!