KJD-IMC: On Imagination and Creativity

This page is mostly grabbed from a conversation (lecture? I pretty much spammed the thread with this…) on imagination and creativity. A poster said she wanted to be a writer but said

“My issue is lack of content and creativity. Sure i can write words on a page, but it would be no different than if you decided to take my twitter feed or my facebook and tried to make that into a story. I even have this issue when given prompts, it just doesnt come out coherently or connected at all.”

My response, collected into a single blog post (and slightly edited to remove the names of the innocent and not-so-innocent) because I think I’m going to want to point at this sometime rather than recreate it when the topic comes up again.

I do not consider myself particularly imaginative. I know people who blow me away with the imagination they show. I have, however, developed some tools that help me fake it when doing game design — which is in many ways like writing, except that the only thing you can count on the characters doing is “not what you expect”.

First, an ‘entity definition template‘ that captures important points about each major entity (which can be a person, place, thing, event, whatever). Name, theme (what is it about) description (how do you know when it stands in front of you? How do you know where it’s been/that it was here? How do you know it is coming?), what threats does it embody? (what does it threaten, and/or what is it threatened by?).

Second, a set of questions I ask while preparing the entity definitions. There are the normal 5Ws+H (Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How), but I tend to structure them in my mind as “Challenge and Response“, “how does this entity interact with the world?”, and add another component, ‘Secret’ (“what is not generally known about this entity?”).

Between the two, I have enough to guide me through the creation of (I think) interesting entities and story elements. Having a set of common questions leads me to ideas I might not otherwise have come up with. If I need to, though, I have a third tool in my kit, random generators. Seventh Sanctum has a bunch of random generators that can prod my thoughts, and links to other sites with related materials and tools.

Oh, plus hundreds of pounds (weight or monetary, though I’m in Canada and we use dollars here) of gaming books full of idea tools.

For some specific examples of what this ends up looking like in practice…

Some fantastic locations:

A few special items:

And a replacement/concrete example for a common D&D race (half-orcs):

Note that these are in some ways developed through procedural methods. As I said, I do not consider myself ‘imaginative’, I know people who regularly come up with cooler and weirder ideas than I do… but these techniques go a long way toward giving me something I can use to build a story around. At every stage while considering these questions I discover things I don’t yet know that I might be interested in. The entities all have threats and secrets built into them, providing a tapestry of potential conflict to explore (seriously, I draw relationship diagrams to help me figure these things out).

When I’m developing something, I keep a log (separate text file) for the “thought of something but can’t think about it right now because I’m busy!” ideas.

Well, it works for me.

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