Sometimes we are lucky enough that an idea, perfectly formed, will strike us like lightening in the middle of the night, hence the handy bedside notebook of most creative grafters. But there are many other times, when generating ideas feels like scraping the bottom far edge of the barrel for any meagre scratchings of inspiration. There are of course no easy answers to the necessary pain for your art, but there are some tools that can get things moving.
I have used Glaveanu’s (2013) socio-cultural model of creativity as a tool for analysis of research data on creativity in teaching, but have found it equally useful as a tool for generating story ideas. It is an interesting and simple framework for playing with ideas.
Let’s take the example of The Handmaid’s Tale, the recent Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel. The novel explores the idea of women’s reproductive rights, pushing this idea to its extreme of the actor (or protagonist) living in a socio-cultural environment of a totalitarian Christian state, where a woman is purely a vessel for human reproduction.
Before the audience becomes alienated from a main character who is a sex slave dressed in a red Amish style outfit, we are provided with flashbacks to her previous life, as a working woman, dressed in jeans, using a smart phone and living a life very similar ours. Quickly we are brought to accept this new reality, through a flashback to her induction, where the newly enslaved women are told that this new world order feels strange now, because it is new, but very soon this new world will become the new ordinary. How quickly the world can change almost beyond recognition might have been a stretch to our imaginations twelve months ago. Unfortunately, no longer.
A socio-cultural model of creativity provides a fresh and useful tool for examining the world of fictional characters. What power does the protagonist carry over his or her world, through the material, social and cultural capital they have?
Children are usually pretty powerless in terms of socio-cultural affordances in the world they occupy, but they are still part of that world, and their point of view is still created by that world. When these points of view are teased out and stretched creatively, powerful stories can be created. In John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, the innocent German son of the commander of the concentration camp is both the actor and the audience as his material and socio-cultural affordances clash against those of the boy on the other side of the fence. He doesn’t even realise that his new friend is hungry, because it isn’t something he has ever experienced, or has any understanding of. And yet the story also manages to dissolve those differences, in the boys’ common desire for friendship, a need universally understood by all children, everywhere and in every socio-cultural context.
It is a wonderfully simple tool to play with the boundaries of themes, story ideas, characters and the worlds they inhabit, and deepen the potential insight and empathy of audiences. It is particularly useful in the early stages of developing ideas and themes into stories, before delving deeper into the construction of plot.
Glăveanu, V. P. (2013). Rewriting the language of creativity: The Five A’s framework. Review of General Psychology, 17(1), 69.