Asimov on Creativity

This has been making the circles this week, but just in case your circles don’t include some of my circles, I thought I’d share. An article Asimov was hired to write on creativity for Allied Research Associates¬†back in the late 50’s has recently surfaced. Reminiscent of other Asimov essays, I thought you all might enjoy. ¬†Speaking from personal experience, it’s true that sometimes the best new ideas come as a result of sharing what’s already known with a small likeminded group. I’d just hate to think that means meetings are worth it.

A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.

via Published for the First Time: a 1959 Essay by Isaac Asimov on Creativity | MIT Technology Review.

I know I reference Asimov occasionally on here, and I’d like to (briefly) explain. It’s not that I think he is the penultimate in writers – he was as flawed as the rest of us. No, I admire both his proclivity as well as the breadth of his written works, combined with his simple, straightforward writing style. While a fantastic science fiction author, he didn’t let genre – or fiction – limit his writing. The article on creativity doesn’t bring much new to the subject, although it predates some of the group meeting styles I’m familiar with.

Putting it all together at last

Over the course of the last ten years, I’ve written close to 400,000 words that all take place in the same space opera universe. What truly boggles my mind is that I’ve never tried to collate it all so that it was at least internally consistent.

Until now.

I’ve heard other folks say that the secret to a consistent milieu is to make a wiki, but all my past attempts ended quickly and dismally. I’d get a few pages deep, then find myself floundering about until the project was sidelined for something more constructive. So what’s different this time?

Click to embiggen

I’m not creating the wiki empty handed. Using all of those novel drafts, wannabe novels, and short stories I’ve written, I’m indexing and organizing the major characters, factions, events, and places in each story. To do this I’m using tiddlywiki with the Firefox extension for in-place saves, but you don’t need to use Firefox, and you don’t even need to use tiddlywiki. Google is your friend when it comes to finding personal wiki projects that can work for you.

Of course, it’s only useful if you do it consistently, so I’ve come with a simple template for each of my stories that captures the Synopsis, Cast, Factions, Races (it is space opera after all ūüôā ), Places, and Ships. Tiddlywiki lets me tag each page, so I’ve been using a combination of tags (+Place +SOMESTORY) so that on the story pages, I can just use a simple line of code to display all of the stories that combine the two (places that appear in multiple stories will get +Place +SOMESTORY +SOMEOTHERSTORY, etc.).

For this first round, I’m more interested in the data capture than I am in the meshing of the data. I know, for example, that the name of one human government changed from story to story, sometimes referring to folks centered around Earth, at other times to the mysteries aliens from the far edge of the galaxy.¬† I think I’ll wait until I’ve indexed all of the existing stories into the wiki before going back to make them line up with each other.

The benefits to this are more than data cohesion, though. As I work on this, I see stories I never told, or meant to tell, floating and bubbling along the outskirts. My hope is to have all of the data entry done with with time to spare before Nanowrimo. Ideally, I’d like to use this encyclopedia I’ve written to help me write a short novel in November.

So, worldbuilding isn’t writing.

These last few weeks, I’ve taken some downtime from writing to recharge my batteries. While I agree that writing often, even daily if possible, is great for that mental muscle, I’m also a firm believer in taking some time to just veg on occasion, a mental vacation. Or at least that’s what I’m calling it.

NanoWriMo is looming ahead on the horizon, and the last few days have seen me considering that beast of a writing marathon. The key, I’ve learned, is not to pants your NanoWriMo¬†– there’s not enough time to be faking it. You need to go in with a plan, execute it quickly, and never look back.

English: Typewriter "Hermes" Deutsch...So how does NanoWriMo relate to worldbuilding, you ask?

The bulk of my fantasy and science fiction writing, one way or the other, falls into one of three universes I’ve created. Not everything, not even some of my recent writing, but more than enough. Because I’ve spent so much time developing in these universes, it’s my natural inclination sometimes to try and write within their confines (for good or ill). This is particularly true when I get the bug to write a GENRE novel. Up till now, I’ve taken my past writing and used it as a framework for further writing. What I’ve ended up with is a really well developed set of universes in which I can tell stories, even when the stories I’ve ended up with have been less than saleable.

Except I’ve never pulled it together into a cohesive whole. With NanoWriMo approaching, I feel the bug to work on a space opera¬†epic. I have a soft spot for progenitor stories, stories where current civilizations are just walking in the footsteps of previous giants. Before I can give any thought to a new story, though, I’d like to pull together all of the tidbits, all of the races, footnotes, and research that I’ve done for the past ten years and iron it out into a cohesive unit. I think I will take the WorldBuilder’s Leviathan template¬†¬†and see just how much of it I can fill in with the stories and novels I’ve already written. In part because although I have it all in my head, I’ve never made a comprehensive effort to actually make it all consistent. Truth be told, though, the bigger impetus is the realization that so far, all of this has been worldbuilding, not storytelling. When you think back to the stories that stick, the ones that really work, it’s rarely about the major events in the world. Of course there are exceptions, that’s what exceptions exist for, and no story happens in a vacuum. Well, almost no story. But the major events are the framework, the backdrop to the story. Not every story can be about Great Hero doing Great Things. Sometimes they’re about what happens while Great Hero is off doing Great Things.

This seems to fly in the face of Space Opera, which is about Great Things on a Great Scale. I know. I didn’t say this was going to be easy. I haven’t even made my mind on whether I’ll be participating in NanoWriMo this year. Regardless, I think this is a good exercise and will prove helpful in the future. It might even help me fix some of these broken stories.