The Writing Life: Alien Eyes (Exercises in Creativity)

Last time, I promised some exercises in creativity. I’ve got several that I use to spark ideas and what makes them extra cool is that they don’t take much time or money.  You can do any one of them in minutes in mundane places such as your place of work, your kitchen, bathroom, or a supermarket.

First, always carry a notebook, tape recorder or some other way of taking notes. I have an iPhone. That allows me to take voice or written messages but I still carry tiny little composition notebooks everywhere.These are small enough to fit in a pocket or fanny pack. I have one of each, both small enough to fit into my purse.  This makes it possible for you to capture all your great ideas as they leap into your brain.

Now, here’s Exercise #1: Reverse Engineering. You can do this while you’re grocery shopping or at the bookstore. Browse the bookshelves. Find a book with an interesting cover. Ignore the title; do not read the blurb on the back. (It won’t do you any good anyway, because it has nothing to do with the actual plot of the novel.)

Now, tell yourself a story.  What’s happening in the scene on the book cover? Who are the characters?  What are they doing?  What’s their story?  If the cover art is especially interesting, you might want to write a little synopsis of what you think this novel is about.

If you’re in a grocery store, people may think you’re a little strange to stand there staring at the cover of a paperback scribbling like mad or mumbling into your recorder; if you’re in a bookstore, no one will find your behavior in the least odd.

You may find more inspiration this way than you expected.  If this happens, please do breeze through the book to make sure the novel you write won’t plagiarize.

Next time: Another exercise in creativity.

Visit Maya’s bookshelf.



The Writing Life: Alien Eyes (Exercises in Creativity) — 5 Comments

  1. My mother, an instinctive story teller, would do this in the car. (In the old-fashioned way, she never got to actually drive, since my father had to be at the wheel, so she had the leisure for creative riffs.) “Look at that woman, the way she is driving! The next exit is the hospital — I bet her daughter has fallen out of the window at the high school while escaping from an exploding bunsen burner in Chemistry class. She must be a smart girl, do you think she has applied to Yale?”


  2. (And it is obvious, is it not? that the daughter has acquired fantastic powers in this explosion, and New Haven is due for a new superheroine…)

  3. In one apa I was in, our central mailer would send out interesting covers, and have us do this exercise. The first time, I came up with a scene where the hero was in the middle of being chased by a pack of werewolves. The second, the idea of a novel about a Roman soldier being thrown through time courtesy of Ancient Deities to the Regency era. Funny what you’ll find in a tin mine, really. Now I just have to write it!

  4. Jean, you MUST write it! It sounds wonderful.

    And Brenda, since my husband insists on driving everywhere we go together, I can whip out my laptop and work in the car or scribble. However, I found taking notes while driving problematic. Kevin Anderson showed me his Sony tape deck, so I got one of those—voice activated, of course. Then switched to my iPhone app.

    I learned my lesson when Taco Del started yakkin’ at me. I was driving like a maniac trying to get to a notebook and pen before he shut up.

  5. What I used to do was take a story I found logical holes in or unanswered questions, and say “What if?”

    What if the character in this story were a man instead of a woman or vice versa? Or, what would explain this idiot going down into the haunted cellar during a zombie attack?

    I think it’s obvious that I got my start in fanfic. And BTW, it works. It works well. And sometimes you can file off the serial numbers and create a universe of your own from those seeds.