Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chaotic Creativity

At World Fantasy Con this past weekend, I had my fortune told by Esther Friesner using the art of Cheeblemancy. 'Cheeble!' I am told, is the enraged call of the bull hamster and, as Cheeblemancy is divination by tumbling hamsters, there is probably ample opportunity for upset rodents. Since Ms Friesner had to fly in, miniature hamster icons were substituted for actual hamsters and the hamster wheel (one can only imagine explaining the latter to airport security). A more detailed description of the ritual for those interested can be found at Betsy Mitchell's blog (she paid the extra for Esther to wear the hamster ears while divining). My toss of the hamster icon ended with it landing upright mostly in a stylized ocean and looking toward the center of the chart which was filled with representations of sunflower seeds and other hamster treats. My eyes are on the prize, so to speak, according to the interpretation of the placement, but I am within the sea of chaotic creativity. Discipline (one paw was on the dividing line between the sea and homey images of water such as water bottles and bowls) would help me prevail to my goal.

Which got me thinking. How do we as authors chose among all the various choices our subconscious (the ocean of creative chaos) throws at us?

My closest older sister is a free-lance artist and so is my youngest sister (I'm right between them so in me the creativity ends up in word pictures rather than picture pictures). In high school and college I got very accustomed to hearing my younger sister's wails of "I can't decide!" in regard to color, placement, background, how many trees... you get the idea. Being a typical older sister and, after learning the hard way that any suggestions from me were wrong, wrong, and are you kidding?!, my reaction was usually the unhelpful "I don't know. What works for the picture?"

The same applies to writing. There are so many choices when writing a story. What do the characters look like? What is the planet/city like? What are the important parts of the culture (if one has to be created rather than using the default)?

And then there's what person do you write in?

It’s all Aunt Paige’s fault. At least, that’s what my Dad says. He’s her younger brother, though, and brothers always blame their sisters. I should know; my younger brother is an absolute pest.

I suppose you could say that exploring is in our blood. Grams was a Survey Scout. She found this planetary system and later signed up as a colonist. Her daughter, my aunt, is an explorer. She started off exploring this planet for the colony, looking for minerals or following up stories about odd animals. Nowadays she’s exploring the other planets of the system. Dad says it won’t be long before she heads out system, but I’m hoping she waits until I’m out of school and can go along. Aunt Paige always asks how I’m doing in school, so maybe she will wait.

First person is popular nowadays, especially in YA. But third person can be a fun choice, too.
“I’ve decided to study the meteor for my science fair project,” Akela announced at breakfast. She smiled brightly as she glanced around the room.

Her mother had her fork and eyebrows raised. Her father finished scooping the last of the eggs from the skillet onto his plate and moved to the table. “This is all Paige’s fault,” he sighed.

But first person has possibilities.

My dad has the most fantastic rock collection. Well, he would, seeing as how he’s the geologist for Caellora – the whole colony planet, not just the main settlement. But the part I love looking at the most are the rocks he got from Grams, the ones she kept from her Scout days, before she found Caellora and decided to settle down. There is dust from a moon of Strawberry II, obsidian from a volcano on Whoneedsyou, a bit of meteorite from a crater near a long-dead city on Lostdreams, and even a chunk of limestone from Earth. The limestone has a fossil fern in it.

Caellora has no limestone. It never had life before Grams found it. Then the prospectors and miners came out and after them the big terraforming ships.

Decisions, decisions. What works best? Will more than one point of view be needed for this story? If yes, then third person would be better. If no, then first person.

How to restrain and discipline (back to that one little hamster paw on the dividing line between the chaotic sea and water bottles) an overactive imagination or, even better, filter the choices down to "yes, that's it" or "nope, save that for another story"?

Deadlines are one big help. When I don't have time to indulge little sidetracks, I can focus on the main story very well. Beta readers are another valued aid. But sometimes all I can do is write that little sidetrack and see where it takes me. Perhaps it dwindles down into a tiny path that vanishes into a cliff face. But maybe it might instead open out into a bigger and better story.

What technique works for you?


  1. I'm very familiar with chaos. :) When my characters decide to take off on their own, I usually let them. Many times it's the wrong choice, so we backtrack and follow a different path. Sometimes they're right and I'm glad I listened to them.

    Some of my stories are in 1st person; others are in 3rd person. The first sentence that comes to me usually determines which it is.

    Choices are hard for me to make though, and I sometimes wonder if I made the best one. Guess that's why I'm such a slow writer.

  2. I tend to go for multiple POVs (3rd person, close to the character). I like viewing events from different angles. Four is the max. If I find myself wanting to include more, it's a sign the book is getting out of control. I write a ten-novel saga rich in characters, so it's challenging. A POV character in one book may not get a POV in the next one.

  3. What a fun piece here. Chaos is with us always and we must learn to make order from it. I'm also a word person. Where others see pictures I see words. This helps when you are a writer. I do both first person and third, depending on the story. Sometimes the number of viewpoint characters grows as the series lengthens. I started with five, moved to six, then to seven and now eight in the same series. Eight is enough.