Are People Just not that Creative Any More?

Today I got a very interesting PM from a fan.   It was in regards to an ongoing little novelette that I had written called “Vindictus, the Dark Lord.”  This was a little story that I had actually started writing on 3 separate occasions, with 3 different takes on the storyline.  I ended up taking pieces from all 3 different parts and wove them into this one tale.  As the story progresses, there are a few flashes of “history” regarding this make-believe world and the characters in it.  It wasn’t anything all that great or special in my eyes, although I did put a good bit of thought and effort into the history behind this story and a lot of time and energy into the creation of the characters.  What had started off as something that I had jotted down and pushed to the back of my mind soon became a story that had fans begging for more.

I have had dozens of comments on this story, all kind-hearted words of enthusiasm and encouragement, and quite a few, “Please!  Write more!  I love this!”  My PM from today was more of the same, for the most part.  Except that it wasn’t all entirely praise.  The reader had made the comment that I had gotten quite a few myths and legends wrong in the story.  I replied with a polite thank you and informed the reader that the story had not been taken from any myth or legend that I was aware of, and if it did resemble something else from Greek mythology, then it was purely coincidental on my part.  After all, I have never studied any of the mythologies of the world. 

I am not saying that I am original in all of my works, because with several billion people on this planet it is really hard to come up with anything that is completely unique any more.  I do put forth a lot of effort and thought into my stories, the plotlines of those stories, the characters, and even the world and culture that the characters live in.  Often times the world gets created before the characters do.  I realize, however, that there are going to be a lot of books and stories out there that are going to sound a lot alike.  But this statement from one of my readers got me to wondering.  Are people really getting to the point where they would rather rip-off someone else’s hard work than come up with their own creation?  Or have readers gotten so use to reading stories that all sound alike that when a writer actually does come up with something remotely unique, the reader immediately assumes that it has been taken from some mythology or legend of old?

It makes me wonder what ever happened to writers depending upon their own creativity and convictions to come up with something that no one else has ever thought of.  It use to be an embarrassment for a writer to come up with anything that remotely resembled any other author’s work.  They would rather cut off their own finger than have a critic compare their work to something else that had already been done.  Writers use to take pride in exercising their creativity and coming up with something so very unique and surprising that the literary world would be forced to take pause. 

Now days it seems that writers either don’t want to take the time and put forth the energy required to come up with their own ideas, or they simply cannot get in touch with the creativity and imagination that it takes to be a really great writer.   Someone had made mention that we were educating our children right out of their creativity.  I believe that perhaps we are, to some extent.

My music appreciation instructor posed the question, “Do you think that Mozart would have been as good of a musician or accomplished all that he had if he had been born in the 20th century?”  My response was, “No.”  While I believe that the raw musical talent would have been there, I do not believe he would have become the master musician that he was if he had been educated in today’s society.  We spend so much time trying to make our children “more well-rounded” that we are, in fact, educating them right out of their creativity.  We no longer try to teach them to “think for themselves” when it comes to creativity, only to do their own work and not copy their neighbor’s test.  Creativity, in today’s world, is being able to put a positive spin on a business’ latest bad publicity.  We are so wrapped up in pushing “facts” onto our children and insisting that they stick to nothing but the “facts” that they are ceasing to be able to come up with a single creative thought on their own.  We are, in essence, trading phenomenal natural talent and creativity for the ability to write computer software programs and build large monetary empires out of a well-planned idea.

With so few writers being encouraged to “think outside the paragraph” and come up with their own ideas, it’s no wonder that a huge portion of today’s literature all sound like spin-offs from the same plotline.   I’m not saying that you can’t write about vampires because all the “good” ideas have already been thought of.  The whole point behind being creative is to look at what others have not already come up with.  If everyone is writing about vampires and werewolves and you know this would be a great hit, why not flex your creativity muscle and try thinking of something unique that would stand out.  Create a whole new species, try a plotline that no one else has ever thought of, or toss in every single element every written about the idea and weave it into one epic novel.  Don’t be afraid to take risks because you think no one would be interested.  If Bram Stoker had not taken a risk and bet the bank on the fact that females would fall in love with an undead walking body that sucks blood to remain active, then our subsequent beating hearts would never know the beauty that is Edward Cullen.

In today’s literary world, finding your voice and speaking up loud and clear will help to separate you from the sea of mediocrity that is the publishing business.  Don’t be afraid to try out new ideas, to think outside the paragraph, to give rise to that frightful creature who impregnates his victims with a phallus tongue.  Variety is, after all, the spice of life.  Unless, of course, you don’t mind your readers asking you which myth you stole your ideas from.

The Right Kind of Wrong: Clichés and Creative Writing

As I have said in previous blogs, most readers fall into two categories:  those who think that a novel is great because the plotline of the novel is great, and those who think a novel sucks because he thinks the plotline of the novel sucks.  If you are a writer who thinks this way as well, then I hate to burst your little bubble, but good writing and good plotlines do not go hand in hand.  I have read many books that had great plotlines behind them but the actual writing was atrocious.  Likewise, I have read some awesome books that really had a very weak plotline but I kept reading it anyway because it was so beautifully written.  As a writer, you will want to strive to have both a knockout plotline and be such a creative writer that people will want to read every word that you have written down.  And if you cannot do both, then you had better either be one hell of a writer or come up with such awesome plotlines that people don’t care that you are not that talented. 

‘Creative’ writing is subject to an individual’s own perspective.  In my opinion, being creative doesn’t just stop at coming up with a great plotline.  Often times writers get so hung up in trying to follow the rules of the English language and ‘proper’ writing ‘rules’ that they forget that writing is still an art form.  You are, in essence, trying to paint a picture, and words are the paint that you use to create that picture.  Creative writing isn’t about following rules and trying to sound like an English writing assignment.  It is about using the English language to create pictures in the mind’s eye of the reader.  For some, it comes natural.  For others, it’s like pulling teeth.  Ultimately, it is going to take practice, practice, practice.

I have read numerous articles and blogs regarding the use of clichés.  Most people know what a cliché is when it comes to single sentences or dialogue or even in some descriptions.  Basically, a cliché is something that has already been written about many, many times before.  For instance, if you have ever read about a grip that was  ‘vice-like’ then you have just read a clichéd description.  Big on romance?  Ever noticed that the man is often described as the clichéd tall, dark and handsome stranger?  Of course, I am guilty of this as well, but not because I want to use the cliché.  The men of my novels usually sound a lot like this simply because it is the type of man who I find extremely sexy, not because I can’t think of any other way for them to look.  Still, I have been accused of using this cliché to the extreme by a very outspoken critic.  What most readers do not understand is that often writers see their characters very clearly in their minds and cannot imagine the story without that character, or even imagine that character looking any other way.  Often times writers will get very emotionally attached to their characters and will not, or cannot, fathom the possibility of changing the way they look or act. 

If you are going to use this clichéd look for a character, then you will need to make him stand out in other ways.  Maybe he has a quirky personality trait or a scar or is blind in one eye or even missing a limb.  Whatever you do, don’t make your characters perfect, not even your vampires.  One of the points of writing is to create characters that seem real enough that your readers can relate to them.  If you have a novel full of absolute human perfection, your readers are going to get bored really quick.  Not to mention that we see enough ideals of ‘perfection’ on the covers of magazines.  No need for anorexic models in your reading material as well.

For the record, I will once again state my opinion that there is no right or wrong way to be a good writer.  Yes, there are things that you can do to polish your work and hammer out the kinks.  But the bottom line on using clichés will ultimately rest with the individual writer.  I myself use clichés all the time, to the extreme.  But I mix them up, change the traditional storyline around and add so many of my own unique twists that for some odd reason, all the clichés work for me rather than against me.  I, however, am not the norm for this.  I have been writing for twenty-eight years.  I have always written with the mentality of breaking every single writing rule that I possibly could.  Actually, I don’t just break them, I stomp all over them with a vengeful fury.  I have made it into an art form all its own.  For most writers, it simply is not going to work.  But I can give you some tips and tricks on why using them can actually work for you instead of against you.  Think of it as being a good writer in reverse.  Or as one writer so eloquently put it, ‘The right way to write wrong.’  This statement has been my motto for my entire writing career.

Using clichés isn’t about just ‘using’ them in your storyline, but putting your own twists on them to the point where they stop resembling tried and true clichés and become something very unique to the writer.  Let me also point out that sometimes when you write about something that has been done to death, like vampires, (cliché alert!  warning!) you are not going to be able to get around the cliché no matter how hard you try.  Take, for instance, the vampire’s ability to hypnotize his/her victim.  If you are going to have vampires that can do this, then be prepared to write about a cliché.  Glamourize, bespell, bedazzle…all clichéd words used to describe a vampire’s ability to hypnotize his victim and make him/her do what he wants. 

If you are going to write about a cliché, then be prepared to embrace it and make it your own.  In this case, writing the word in a story one or two times makes it a cliché.  Constantly bringing it up removes it from cliché status and makes it a very important part of the storyline.   But don’t overuse them.  The last thing you want is a novel full of nothing but predictable storyline clichés.

Which brings me to my next point.  If you are going to use clichés, then you are going to have to keep the reader interested in what you are writing, make them want to read every word that you have written.  How?  By coming up with your own unique and interesting twists to the storyline and, inevitably, the cliché in question.

How can you keep a reader interested?  There are lots of ways, but the easiest way is to surprise them.  And that surprise doesn’t have to be scary, just unexpected.  For instance, a common description cliché would be a storyline that has a female walking the streets, at night, all alone.  There would be no moon, maybe even lightning and thunder in the distance.  Perhaps the night would go quiet all of a sudden and then…well, you already know what happens.  She gets attacked.  Doesn’t matter by what or who, the reader knows she is going to get attacked because the writer used a very cliché description.  But what if you went through all that trouble of building up that suspense, really got into describing her emotions of how scared she is, how dark and ominous everything is…only to release that tension by having the character break her high-heeled stiletto and fall face first in a big mud puddle?  Skip the whole ‘she gets attacked’ crap right then.  You can have her get attacked further down the storyline, like after she gets home and is whining about the ruined dress.  The trick is to release that tension that you built up, let the reader get a good laugh, let the reader realize that what they thought was going to happen didn’t, and give them a false sense of calm and then…WHAM!  Let the attack come out of left field.   The writer used the cliché to his advantage and still surprised his reader.  Now that is creative writing.

Another type of cliché is where you begin writing something that is so standard and so done to death that the reader figures out what is going on, what is going to happen, and, if it’s a mystery of some kind, the who-done-it before the first chapter is over.  Let’s take for example the classic vampire novel.  If you are writing the standard clichéd vampire plotline, you know that there is going to be some biting, some bloodsucking, a main character and the love interest, a nice romance and maybe even some sex to spice things up.  But if this is all that the plotline entails then congratulations.  You just wrote yourself a huge clichéd novel destined to get you a giant “REJECTED” stamp on the front of your manuscript.  Now if you want to save this sinking Titanic of a novel, you had better start pumping it full of unique ideas and plot twists.  Have aliens invade, set the plotline in an apocalyptic world or on some distant planet, hell set the damn plotline on the Titanic if you have to…anything to set the clichéd plotline apart from all the other clichéd novels out there.

Can clichés work to your advantage?  Yes.  But only if you can add your own unique twist to the standard cliché.  You are going to have to be extremely creative, think and write outside the box, and not be afraid to take chances.  If you think a story would be best told by killing off the main character then do it.  If you are wanting a tragedy but are afraid that your readers will turn against you if you write some huge tragic novel, then you are writing for all the wrong reasons.  But don’t off your character because you can’t think of anything else to write.  Taking advantage of a cliché and using it to your advantage is an art form all its own.  It is not going to work for everyone.  Most people would be better off if they avoided clichés like they were Michael Myers because chances are they are going to murder your novel before it ever gets started (see how I worked that cliché in there?).  Although if you are going to insist upon using them, be prepared to make those clichés your bi-och.  If you don’t own them and make them uniquely your own, then you are just another clichéd writer in a sea of mediocrity.