I had a wonderful opportunity today to appear on HuffPost Live and discuss a topics that I find fascinating: What is creativity, where does it come from, and what happens if someone has the same idea? While it was immensely fun to both contribute and listen to the other guests, it did cause me to break my personal rule against talking about Shia LaBeouf.
Oh well, we all make sacrifices, I guess.
Where does your creativity come from? Do you believe in a muse who touches your mind? It’s pretty easy to believe that our best ideas come straight out of the aether, especially the ones that seem to jump into our minds fully formed. The most creative people seem to have original ideas pop into their brains on a regular basis.
But that’s wrong.
I’ll make two very inflammatory remarks, and we’ll see if you stick around to hear the explanation.
#1 – There are no original ideas.
#2 – Every creator has stolen all their ideas.
In a fit of literary infidelity, I’ve written a few guest posts for other sites recently. Don’t think that means I’ve left you hanging, dear reader of Speculative Intent. I’ve got links to two of the most useful ones below. If you were looking for some other kind of link, I suggest you try Scroll Down to Riker. It changed my life in a way that only Jonathan Frakes can.
Now, back to the writing-related stuff.
A few days ago, renowned fantasy author Brandon Sanderson passed through town on a book tour, and I stopped in to hear him do a reading and get a fresh copy of Steelheart signed. He spoke of many things both interesting and mundane, but one thing in particular has been echoing through my head ever since.
One of the interesting things about reading through the slush pile at Fiction Vortex is that I get to see every kind of story in relatively quick succession. After doing this long enough, I started to see a pattern: Writers have awesome stories, but they frequently have no idea how to end them. They spend thousands of words creating great characters and worlds, and then completely flub the ending. Since so few people actually get to see consistent examples of how important a good ending is, I decided to write about it.
I’ve enjoyed being a columnist over at LitReactor, but I felt like I wasn’t making enough inflammatory remarks to really earn the title. So what did I do? I widened my aim. Normally, I focus on topics about books and writing, no surprise, but this time I said things with the potential to offend writers and gamers.
It’s time to air a small grievance I have with writers. Or rather, point out a crutch that seems far too common in fiction: using eye color as shorthand for personality.
It makes sense that this sort of thing pops up because eyes are the most important part of the face. It’s where we look to learn what someone is thinking and feeling. It was the first thing we thought about in English class when we were doing writing exercises about vivid descriptions. But too often writers are using eye color as a cheap way to tell you all about a character’s personality.
You’ve seen it a million times. Brown eyes = boring, excruciatingly normal, uninteresting. Blue eyes = pretty, intelligent, exciting, angelic, possibly ethereal. Green eyes = exotic, unusual, exceptional, feisty, sexy. Red eyes = craves destruction, mayhem, revenge, or your blood. Hazel eyes = Mary Sue.
That headline may sound like the title of my new Jane Austen-meets-James Bond novel, but it’s not. It refers, instead, to the recent outcry over a Discovery Channel “documentary,” which can teach us something about the author’s obligation to the reader.
That screeching you just heard is the sound of a thousand authors indignantly launching back in their chairs with a shrill cry of horror. “The author has absolutely no obligation to the reader,” they scream in disgust. Let me explain.
You’ve started up a conversation with a [friend/acquaintance/stranger/parole officer], and the [conversation/ice breaking/flirting/shouting] naturally develops to the point where you can mention you [wrote/published/dreamed/stole] a manuscript without sounding like a self-absorbed doof. Naturally, you spring at the opportunity, letting the title of your book roll off your tongue with just the right degree of nonchalance. It’s exhilarating.
And then the trouble starts.
“Oh,” this person says, “that’s [cool/exciting/nice/typical]. What kind of book is it?”
Today we have a lesson in economics, which is perhaps not what you expected when you arrived here. It could be worse, though. I could have written about the market pressures on ferret farmers as a result of tulip shortages in Denmark. Actually, no I couldn’t. But wouldn’t that have been surprising? Fear not, this is still about writing. In fact, it pertains specifically to all those who have self-published or are thinking about it.