Combination is Creativity

“What’s this mean?”

John Helfers
had flipped over the card and was reading the front of it. On the back, I had scrawled the URLs of my favorite fiction podcasts – paying markets that I hoped these authors would take advantage of. The only paper I had was my hipster PDA – for which I use business cards. My business cards.

Crap, I thought. He’s going to think I’m a complete and utter blatant schmuck.

“Oh, I carry those around to write notes on.” It’s true – I rarely hand them to anyone. When I ran out of 3×5 cards, they were a ready source of binder-clippable paper.

“No, this line. What’s ‘random synthesis’ mean?”

It is at the end of my last panel attendance of the con. People are swirling around us, and I have to get back to the hotel. “I put strange things together,” I said, and felt like I’d just described Mozart’s Requiem as “a song.”

Before leaving, I had a professor ask me to think about what creativity is. He knew I’d be around writers. As the panels continue, creativity came up indirectly. The short version?

  • Something unexpected
  • Extrapolate to extremes
  • Twist something that’s commonplace
  • Shove things that aren’t normally together into one entity.

All of these are vaguely Hegelian, especially the last. Two things come together and form something new. _Star Wars_ gets credit for this (A New Hope). All that mythic stuff that Campbell talked about is smashed into science fiction. The result was a movie nobody had seen before. (Yeah, I know it had been done in fiction – it’s just an example.)

All stories are this way. What if X happened to Y? What if X was Q instead?

Writers – creative people in general – do evoke emotion, summon experiences, and provide escapism. But they do all that by smashing together things that weren’t together before. I’ve been told that I was “creative” for most of my life, despite nobody being able to explain what “creativity” really was. I would usually reply that I wasn’t creative; I just put wierd stuff together and making it work. Y’know, like where sandworms and Arrakis made an appearance when I ran Star Wars D6. Or fuzzy bears and a slave economy. Or Nostradamus, LSD, and colonial America. Or – more seriously – using cooperatives in a capitalist system. I always used to denigrate this ability, to say that it was some weird thing. But it isn’t weird. It’s something fundamental and Hegelian, to take two opposing things and come up with a new fusion of the two.

So I know now what I should have told John.

“What does random synthesis mean?” my memory of him says.

“It means,” imaginary me says, “that next year I’ll buy you a drink and explain.”

4 thoughts on “Combination is Creativity

  1. Steve,

    We never got to chat at Gen Con. It was good seeing you though. Thanks for coming to some panels.

    Don’t worry about your little chat with John. It’s all good.


  2. steven says:

    I've noticed that kind of graciousness among the authors at GenCon. It was especially evident during the Read & Critiques (which had surprisingly good material, IMHO).

    Besides, Paul, I got another year-defining quote from you.

    2007: "Write good stories!"
    2008: "Follow the guidelines!"


  3. That sounds like a fascinating topic. If you do buy him a drink and chat about it, I want to join in. I’ll buy my own drink.

  4. steven says:

    You do realize that I would love to have great big roundtable discussions with all of you about this kind of stuff.

    And all it takes is booze? Cool… 😉

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