Writers of fiction are said to be in the creativity business. That bunches us with painters, dancers, singers, actors, film directors, Wall Street bankers, software programmers, and astrophysicists. It is, in other words, a crowded intersection where writers stand trying to flag a reader passing at warp speed, just to get from point A to point B. I have a feeling that creativity has some common elements that apply across many different fields. But let’s start with what many people believe is the definition of creativity: a vivid imagination.
No one can say that is entirely wrong when checking the list of creative workers above. But there are a few problems with the definition. While imagination is useful and indeed necessary, it is not sufficient to define creativity. What is missing? I have few ideas to share about the basic elements. No doubt one day cognitive scientist will have a better way of understanding creativity. But here’s my rough outline: clarity, coherence, insight, and truthfulness form the quantum creativity universe (in a slightly different way for everyone). No matter what extraordinary, vivid worlds, characters, scenes, word play, plots you imagine, these fundamental particles form the mass and energy necessary to sustain the life force that is creativity.
Clarity because we live in the midst of a dense fog of ideas, information, images. The speed at which life approaches us means what we experience is blurred, filled with ghostly specters detached from their context. We only partially comprehend the motives, needs, and wants of others, and the fast moving web of events which we witness around us also catches us, pulling us too close for a detached, second look. That is, we push against our personal limits of observation. In fiction, clarity focuses the reader on the context and illuminates meaning and purpose. Creative people lift the fog if only for a moment and provide a glimpse of how things are interconnected.
Coherence means that the whole book has a unified structure and persuasively builds a seamless organized system. There can be a book with brilliant sentences or paragraphs or scenes, and those may, when isolated, reach the height of creative achievement. But the book fails if the reader must dig through tons of ordinary clay to unearth the few gems submerged beneath. Like clarity, coherence is a universe where all the laws set in motion given the author a chance to explore the mysteries of events and characters in an ordered system.
Insight is that feeling in reading a book where the reader says, “That’s what I’ve always felt but never had put it in words.” Or “I often saw (felt, understood, was taught) A, B, and C but always thought of them as existing in isolation from one another and now I can see the connection between them.” Or “I had been to that place or done that activity many times but never stopped to consider the consequences of my involvement.”
Truthfulness is often the most difficult quality to achieve because rather than search for the truth we assume that we know what is true and false and can dispense with the search. Readers come to books in search of truths that they can’t find elsewhere. Creativity, in part, requires a journey where truth is the reward. It may knock over conventional wisdom, threaten the perceived way of understanding an idea, person or event, or it may undermine a belief system such as truth is always clear, evident and beyond dispute. Authors, the most creative ones, are able to connect readers to what is true in human relationships and what is a smokescreen that people find convenient to hide behind as they flee from reality.
Posted by Christopher G. Moore