| David Gane

The #1 rule for creativity

Ang and I began work on Book 2 of Shepherd and Wolfe yesterday. We knew a few things before going into the story: when and where the story would take place, some of the story between the two main characters, as well as some things we wanted to avoid after the last one.

But our main question: who was the killer?

Narrowing down our suspects

We didn't have any plan for our antagonist at the beginning. I wrote up a summary of all our ideas and asked Ang to respond. She misread something I wrote, which sent her in a direction different from mine.

We went down this path for a while, considering all its edges. We'd also throw things into the mix that went against all our thinking, questioning all the details, and even breaking our own rules to consider all sides. The process was messy and convoluted and Ang and I both have admitted afterwards that there was a moment that we felt that this wasn't going to be resolved anytime soon.

Yet, we fell onto our idea of the antagonist because of Ang's early misread. Suddenly, we were going down a line that evolved into something that neither of us were sure of, but felt held potential. It wasn't until we had a night's sleep, a bit of time walking, and a few more texts back and forth that by the end of the day (today), we knew we had our villian.

Evolution without Direction

Our process of identifying the main antagonist reminded me of a chief component of the creative process.

In her article, Stop Trying to Be Creative, Christie Aschwanden talks with University of Central Florida computer scientist, Kenneth Stanley. He developed a website called Picbreeder that evolved simple abstract shapes based on users choices.

What Stanley discovered that "users were regularly evolving complex pictures that looked like real things." However, most importantly, they never set out to make these complex things—in fact, none of the original images looked like the final outcome.

As Scott Barry Kaufman, the scientific director of the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania says, most creativity start out:

start out with with a hazy intuition or vision...After a lot of trial and error they get closer and closer to discovering what their idea is and then they become really, really gritty to flesh it out.”

Working Models

I sometimes think of creativity as a I science experiment. We have an assumption of how things can work, we test that assumption, we get feedback as to whether the assumption works, and then develop further assumptions.

We figured out a working model for the villian in Book 2, but this doesn't mean we are done. We will continue testing the character by putting him/her into action through the process of writing. This will lead to further refinement and definition.

It's this process of seeking answers with a lack of objective that is often the most thrilling (and most terrifying) part of creativity. However, a lack of objective does not work in most situations.


Creativity is about production and response, testing ideas and getting feedback. It's about confronting the unknown and discovering what is there.

By embracing the process of discovery, even when it seems the most terrifying or confusing, is the best way to take hold of your imagination.

Tags: Process, Writing

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