Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Creativity Lesson: Do What George Carlin Says

Recently , The History Channel ran a show called "The History Of The Joke" or something like that. Basically, they interviewed a bunch of comedians and it was hilarious.

One of them mentioned that he once asked George Carlin for advice. Carlin replied, "Write everything down." Upon hearing the anecdote, I nodded to myself and thought, "Yes, George Carlin. Write everything down."

I try to be a better note-taker, because, let's face it -- ideas are ephemeral. They will flit into, and back out of your consciousness with the unpredictability and transience of a deranged hobo. When they're there, in front of you, it pays to capture those little mofos in amber -- pin them down like butterflies with a stroke or two of your pen.

And keep those butterflies. Keep those little notes somewhere, and when you're stuck for a game, use them.

Oh! My! Am I spouting arcane wisdom? Is this some sort of super-secret pagan magick revealed?! No! No, no way. Pfffft. It's just good wisdom, and useful magick, and a handy habit. It's one of those things that are so basic, they're easy to take for granted -- and forget.

Recently, in my one-on-one Castles & Crusades sandbox game, my wife wrapped up an adventure and decided to go poking at the mysterious pyramid which showed up 2 months (in-game) ago. I had no freaking clue what it was when I put it on the map, thinking only, "Hey, mystery pyramid! That sounds like fun. *doodle doodle*" But then the day of reckoning came, and I was all, like, "Uhhhhhhh...."

So I grabbed a piece of paper and started doing one of those 'cluster' diagrams. You know the type, like they taught you in middle school. I started tossing out ideas for what the pyramid is and so on. Eventually I got to the idea that monsters had moved into it, and started rolling on some charts in the D&D RC. "Roc" was one option; "Hobgoblins" was another.

The roc was a cool idea, but it didn't really feel right. The hobgoblins would be easier, but Amber's character had just fought a bunch of goblins. How, then, to make an interesting encounter out of it?

I thought back to an old idea I had. You can read it here, but I just fudged it from memory: traditionally-nasty humanoids who, guided by a god or prophet or something, decide not to become strong by force of violence but by force of labor.

Result: an extended role-playing and puzzle-solving session which not only entertained and kept us busy, but also fleshed out the world and pushed forward a possible plot. Wheeee!

I've heard that the act of writing down an idea helps commit it to memory, probably by forming neural connections in your brain -- the type where cool electrical shock FX snap and crackle across strands connecting ganglia, and then the bonds light up and streams of 1s and 0s pass back and forth and there's the sound of a dialup modem handshake and everything. I didn't have the written note handy, but lacking it, I thought of it -- the neural connection happened, or whatever. "Oh, yeah," I said to myself, "I can use that....!"

And I did.

The next morning, the cat barfed on my notes.