I sometimes wonder where ideas come from.
One of the angles I’ve not explored in those wonderings is shifting frames of reference to look at things from a new perspective or to combine things in an unusual way. I don’t really think about this as a source of ideas because it is just how I think all the time.
It’s why I make so many puns in conversation: I’m always thinking of double meanings or alternate sound groupings or any other angle to take words I or others have spoken and turn them into another small joke*. It’s also why I don’t remember most of my puns – they’re fleeting shafts of light where holes in the shifting mesh of conversation line up, rather than carefully constructed insights that are worth memorialising.
The importance of using shifted frames of reference to understanding the nature of intelligence is something which Hofstadter writes about in Gödel, Escher, Bach – how if you look at a string of letters with one starting point you might get a completely different meaning if you shift the spacing or punctuation – is manslaughter or man’s laughter? Experts Exchange or Expert Sex Change? Powergen Italia or… well, you get the idea.
For idea generation I find it helpful to look for the corners not covered where things come together at strange angles, or to look at the story from the point of view of someone unusual – sometimes these combinations can seem arbitrary and even forced, but selecting the ones that work or which enhance the story is one of the lovely things about writing. Even better better is when your brain notices a connection between otherwise disparate ideas, or when two things which were weak in isolation combine to form something stronger when combined.
Find a routine and change it; find a convention and break it. This is the heart of my contention that creative people are intrinsically transgressive.
Generating ideas is only ever the beginning, of course – the development of ideas into something someone might want to read is really what writing is about, but having a constant flood of concepts to choose from certainly helps.
Do you have favourite frame shifting tricks which help you maintain your creativity?
[*] often very small.