Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Dog Hunts Grubs – (Thoughts About Creativity)

Okay, so I’m writing feverishly on a sci-fi story. The main character, Art Starhopper, finds himself trapped, without his weapon, backed up against a sheer cliff wall when a giant apex predator appears. With his pants still down around his knees, he studies the nearby jungle, hoping to discover an avenue of escape, but the aggressive beast with eons of evolution in hunting, leaves no opening for Art to take. Foul stench of the carnivore’s breath reaches my MC. Its blood-stained claws extend from paws at the end of two heavily-muscled forearms. The creature crouches for its killing lunge.

Crap! My MC is trapped. I forgot to figure an escape for him before I started writing this scene. I’ve got Art into deep trouble, and I don’t have the faintest idea how to save least in a way that would be credible to my readers.

A cold, wet, puppy nose, slides across my bare foot, interrupting my writer-panic.

“Okay, okay,” I find myself talking to the stupid dog as if he really understands English. “You want outside? C’mon.”

My annoying little Dachshund bounces off my leg a time or two on the way to the back door. His partner wiener-dog joins us and we go out back so they can do their “thing”. As I sit in a patio chair, waiting impatiently, I ponder my scene. How do I get my main character out of this impossible situation? Subconsciously, I watch the dogs without really paying much attention. Then, Zack shoves his nose into the ground and begins digging franticly. The curious scene breaks through my mind-fog, and I go look in the shallow hole he just dug. Nothing there but a couple of small grubs, which, to my disgust, Zack eats alive. Note to self:  increase protein in dog food so they will not feel the need to eat raw grubs. Yuck!

Minutes later, I’m back at my computer with two empty-bladder dogs sleeping at my feet while I re-read my main character’s dilemma. The first adjustment is obvious. I have him pull up his pants at the first sight of the nasty predator. After all, how can my MC make a run for it with pants around his ankles? I feel good. Just fixed a minor plot flaw. Still, he’s about to get crunched by a five-hundred pound, flesh-eating beast that leaves no way out. Then, the epiphany hits!

I type feverishly:  “Ground bumps up and down behind the great beast as some burrowing jungle animal moves toward Art. Its small black nose with odd-looking feelers pokes out of decaying mulch right between the carnivore’s feet. The little beast wiggles its nose, sniffs the air and snorts a couple times. The master predator also notices the creature. With lightning speed, a set of long claws scoops the small animal from its shallow trail, creating a burst of leaves, roots and topsoil. The Okah sniffs the little brown furball in its clutch and opens its mouth to devour the morsel. Art could only watch in horror as one of the jungle’s most gentle creatures succumbs to the jungle’s most deadly denizen. To his surprise, the subterranean animal uncurls at the last moment and lunges directly into the mouth of its enemy. It bites deeply into the Okah’s tongue and wildly sprays a fluid from a gland near its rectum. The big animal screams in pain. It spits the mole to the ground before running into the jungle in search of water to cleanse away a potent acid-based discharge. The mole quickly burrows into the soft jungle floor, vanishing from sight. Art seizes the moment to escape. Back in his camp, he grabs his particle beam sidearm and changes the setting from stun to maximum.”

My little dachshund, digging for grubs, triggered the invention of a story-enabling jungle creature, one that lives underground and defends itself by rolling into a tight ball until just the right instant when it can spray an acid-based deterrent into a vulnerable area of soft tissue. I like this little creature. I like it a lot, and I'll probably use it again in some other part of the story. Thank you, Zack, for digging up those grubs.

Where do writers get creative ideas? We steal them from reality. That’s right, creative ideas are all around us as long as we keep our eyes open and our minds free of manmade limitations. How did Edison come up with 1093 patents? Creativity. Who figured out that crude oil seeping from the ground could be refined into gas, jet fuel, synthetic fibers and a host of life saving inventions? Some creative person, or persons, thought outside the proverbial box.

Creativity, in my opinion, has two parts. First, observation. Being a good observer of people and nature provides the raw ingredients for creativity. Second, the creative process, and it IS a process, releases those observations from the limitations of preconception. A fiction writer must cultivate the ability to imagine the unimaginable, to take the mundane and turn it into the extraordinary, to go from a puppy eating grubs to a plot-saving subterranean mole with an acid-washed butthole. Ain’t creative writing fun?!

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