Did you know you can get a degree in creativity? Oh yes, it exists. I’m not sure what the criteria for the degree includes, but you can probably google it. I want to talk about the guy I met at the Writers Institute who has this degree, a Masters in Creativity from Buffalo State College. His name is Doug Stevenson, and he has a passion for thinking outside the box. Well, actually, if you ask him, he’ll tell you to think outside the box, but don’t forget about the box. Doug started out in American Studies, then Advertising, and then got his masters in creativity. He spent years working in improv acting groups like Second City (a beginning point for most Saturday Night Live actors).
Doug led two sessions at the conference and it was clear they were going to be creative in theme based on the title alone. For instance, I went to a class called “Innovation is Like a Box of Chocolates: A Savory Study of what Everyone Suddenly Needs.” Doug highly recommended that writers take an improv class at some point. Now, now, before you all start slinking to the back of the room, hear his argument out!
- Improv requires no judgement, it’s about accepting invitations and rolling along with the story.
- It teaches you the power of “Yes, AND…” You build on ideas.
- You learn how to cooperate with discovery.
In the classes, Doug had us do several warm up activities from his improv days. I pushed myself and decided to volunteer for one. There were 7 of us lined up in the front of the room. Each of us was given an emotion to portray and the opening line of a story “It was a dark and stormy night…” (I know, a whole room full of writers, and that’s the best we could come up with!) So our emotions included sadness, anger, frightened, bitter, giddy, confused and I got the lovely assignment of pretending to be in love. The story took several interesting twists as each of us were allowed to spin our takes on it. It began on a stormy night, a couple was going on a date (yep, that’s me), my date was sad because he was a lot older than me and the night certainly wouldn’t bode well. Passersby were frightened by the storm and could only think of stripping in their fear, while others were bitter about them having the nerve to strip. A giddy thief was stealing from our car and a woman was angry she was stuck in a city with the likes of all of us, and I ended the story by changing my mind and hooking up with the car thief instead of the old man.
That’s all hysterical and wonderful, but what’s the point, Jess? The point was none of us could plan where the story was going, we had to continue from what we were given. We could change the direction but we were forced to be creative and open-minded when doing so. You constantly looked at the story with new eyes, and that’s what Doug wanted us to do with our own WIP when we were struggling. If something wasn’t working, he said to put it aside, step away, and come back to it later with new eyes. Or, use a story box of combinations and just go with it, maybe adding in an unknown will lead to something spectacular. Here are some examples of what we did.
The President Hypnotization Carnival
A Cartoonist Melting Apocalypse Underwater
A Cowboy Greek Mythology Underworld
A Bird Watcher Murder Mystery Boise, Idaho
Ok, so we’ve got this box with columns of character ideas, themes and places. You can randomly select from them and try to make a story. For example, The President and a cartoonist must go to Boise, Idaho where everyone is melting in the Apocalypse. Or, a lone bird watcher travels underwater to claim his true identity as a Greek God. Whatever, I’m just getting your gears grinding!
The other thing we did was use story cubes. Story cubes are a toy you can buy that lets you roll dice with pictures/actions on them and you can incorporate that into your story. It’s up to you how many cubes you use. We did a practice using just one roll with one di. So I rewrote the story of Mary Had a Little Lamb, to be Mary Had a Gala Apple. Again, do with it what you like. You could roll 6 dice and try to make a story using all 6 images.
Jess, you ask, I’m writing a story about a magic princess slaying a dragon and marrying the man of her dreams, who just happens to be a hobbit/wookie mix but through their love the people of the planet Condroidmilock find acceptance in intergalactical love. What do you want me to do with the canoe I just rolled?! Geez, you guys, do I have to do everything for you? Where’s your acceptance? Where’s your Yes AND…, where’s your cooperation with discovery? *Bangs head on laptop*
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Sorry, about that. I’m good now. Use this as a warm up. Use it as a way to hone your craft, pick objects that would never go together and try to make it work, just see where the writing process takes you. If you’re writing the next sci-fi romance that is going to change the way we think of social class or race, then maybe incorporating a canoe into your story wouldn’t make sense. But, what if while writing that side story, you discover in your protagonist a new strength or quirk you didn’t know they had. What if it makes you view them in a whole different light? Or more importantly, WHAT IF YOU HAVE FUN WRITING??
None of us would have chose to be writers if we didn’t love writing. I’m not saying that writing isn’t fun, but we know writing can be work sometimes too. When we’re stuck, feeling drained by the non-galactical chaos of normal life, wouldn’t it be nice to have a way to springboard our inner creativity into writing again? That was Doug’s point. And mine too. I’m not trying to sell you guys into taking an improv class if it terrifies you, but DO think about improv as a way to non-judgementally accept new ideas into your writing. We write because it’s our way of being creative, and who couldn’t use a few more skills in their arsenal of writing talents?
So, I’m challenging you, readers! Write me your best quick story using these items: a baby doll, a duck painting, a pillow shaped like a banana, and a remote control. (These are random items collected in my basement.) The winner of the contest gets: A postcard mailed to you from exotic Wisconsin and a feature interview by myself to be posted on my blog! Happy writing!