Boost Your Creativity: Study Your Real World

A globe (Globus)
A globe (Globus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your world is full of facts, rules, opinions, and possibilities. Notice that I said your world. Your world is different but similar to my world. Your world is full of facts and rules, opinions and possibilities. I think most people take this part of their worlds for granted. But a writer who is aware of them can enhance their creativity.

We defined creativity as “the use of logic in unexpected ways”. Study your world to uncover facts and rules — facts and rules that will not only enrich your world but also will give you a sense of what combinations of ideas readers will expect, reject, or be surprised by. Study your world to identify opinions and possibilities — possibilities and opinions that not only point the way to areas of exploration and conflict but also give you a sense of where facts and rules are murky and can be bent. (This assumes you write contemporary, historical, or nonfiction, but also works for fantasy and science fiction!)

If you want to be more creative, study academics. Every academic field is full of facts, rules, opinions, and possibilities. History looks at real-life plots and characters, insight into how groups of people interact, the difference a single person can make. Historians take facts and look for rules, create theories about why something happened (opinion), and research the grey areas of history (possibilities). Meteorology looks at land and weather — essential elements of setting. Lean the facts and rules, then you can be creative within those bounds (especially if you do extensive world-building). Study the English language to get creative with your voice. Expand your vocabulary (facts), learn your grammar (rules) so you can convey your ideas more clearly to your reader. Find variations and exceptions (possibilities and opinions). Readers unconsciously look for variety in sentence length and word choice.

If you want to be more creative, study the people who inhabit your real world. While you and I probably have the same academic sources available to us, we probably have different people available for study. For instance, I am around few children and lots of farmers, engineers, writers, and martial artists. Your world is probably different. Despite the axiom that “people are people the world over”, what you learn will probably be slightly different from what I learn. When you study people — how they talk, act, and interact — you will start to notice patterns and norms (rules) and exceptions (possibilities). You will develop explanations (opinion) based on your observations (fact). You can combine logic and the unexpected to create surprising (but believable) characters, dialogue, and groups. You can supplement your observations with articles, books, workshops, or classes in psychology, sociology, and/or communication. These academic fields will put words to what you have already noticed on your own and also introduce many new facts, rules, opinions, and possibilities.

If you are looking for truly one-of-a-kind source of creativity, study the area that makes your real world completely one-of-a-kind, study the area that no other writer can fully draw on for inspiration, study yourself. Explore your background (facts), your motivations (possibility), your views on how the world works (rules), your attitude toward people and concepts and things (opinion). Because you are a multi-faceted individual, some of these will probably be unstable, situational, changeable, while others are stable. But all this “stuff” integrates logically into a single person — you. Every area of your work (characters, plot, setting, voice) that comes alive draws on you. “Writing what you know” starts with you. Your interests sometimes become your theme and decide your genre. Experience (what you’ve lived or heard or read) shapes characters’ motives and actions. The way you think shapes your writing voice.

Studying your real world introduces you to facts that can add realism, variety, or precision to your work. It shows you rules that shape reader expectations, rules that can and can’t be broken. It reveals theories and opinions that can be explored as conflict or “what if” questions. By supplying all of the above, studying the world around you opens your eyes to possibilities, as well as to ways to surprise and delight your reader in unexpected ways while keeping them immersed in your world (which will not happen if you are illogical). And if you can do that, you are being creative.

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