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Vagueness as a Creative Tool

Vague phrases and sentences form a useful way of generating ideas. As you read the examples below, notice how the imagination fills in details automatically. Looking at the first statement, you are likely to visualise your hero in quite considerable detail, even if you aren't actively working on a short story or novel. The sentence also begs the question of why the hero is unhappy, which leads to further questions that can in time evolve into a more coherent plot.

  • The hero is unhappy.
  • The villain arranges a trap.
  • Two characters separate.
  • A surprise helps someone.
  • Her bravery is rewarded.
  • The path divides.
  • A disagreement leads to fear.
  • Sheltering here causes problems.

As an exercise, write out these statements (and others of your own if you wish) on to separate scraps of paper. Drop them into an envelope and pick them out one by one, having first decided what genre you want to explore. One feature of creative thinking is the mind's tendency to link ideas: you might be pleasantly surprised at how randomly selected statements allow a plot to 'grow organically'.

A variation of the technique above is the use of what I call 'fortune cookie language'. Here, cross matching two such statements might suggest an intriguing situation that could be your doorway into a story. Or you might select a fortune cookie statement to kick-start the creative flow if the plot begins to wane.

1 2 3 4 5
1 Consider your needs. Partnerships are likely. Look for signals. Time to separate. Be strong in a new way.
2 Go into new areas. Choose carefully. Treasures are all around. Look to your defences. Protect yourself.
3 Some object is important. Joy is arriving soon. Your plans bring rewards. Openings happen now. Fight for what you want.
4 Now is a time of growth. Remove an obstacle. Go with the flow. Plans are upset. Important messages due.
5 You are on a threshold. There is a breakthrough. All is still. Be patient. Consider the whole thing. A secret and the unknown.

As an exercise, use dice rolls (discarding 6) to select two or more statements from the grid and see what your imagination makes of them.

— Steve Bowkett

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Posted by: Kevin Machin Date: October 3, 2017 9:18 am
Categories: Resources Tags: exercises
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