My Sci Fi Fantasy: The Story of Sword of Arreon – Part 1

chair1.pngI was sitting in a kid sized camping chair in the backyard one summer night, looking up at the dark infinity of the stars. Having recently dumped my punk band and the band mates I once hung out with (long story), I considered what to do next. In the back of my mind I always wanted to create an animated series in the same vein as the Japanese anime I was so obsessed with as a kid. Series like Zeta Gundam, Captain Harlock, Robotech and original video animations like Fist of the North Star, Vampire Hunter D, MD Geist and many others were inspirations in terms of art, design and storytelling. Many of these animations seamlessly integrated the fantasy and sci-fi genres in a totally original way that made the content more than sum of the two styles.

Ever since the first cartoon I watched, ever since The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts, I wanted to be an animator. Ray Harryhausen, the animator who basically invented cinematic stop motion animation, fascinated me as well as everything else about the process. The design and production parts of the process where of most interest to me, rather than other aspects of film like editing and marketing. At the time (early 1980’s), finances were tight and my Dad couldn’t afford the 16mm camera needed to make my own stop motion animation movies. My aspirations to be an animator were buried by the circumstances of reality, like so many of our childhood dreams.

That night, sitting in the kiddie camping chair looking at the sky, I only wondered how cool it would be to make a story about a magic sword that could turn into a starship. And that is where my plan to Think and Grow Rich all started; with a crazy idea for a motion picture that would blow away sci-fi and fantasy audiences from six to sixty years old. An animated epic that takes place in a multiverse of heroes, dragons, angels and gods with the highest of technology and most advanced sorcery.

The more I thought about it the more excited I became, and the sore spot left from walking away from the former punk band scene quickly faded. During art school, one of my professors said to keep pushing and challenging myself. I would infuse my skills skills and experience in music, writing, illustration and design into the unlimited power of animation in order to express myself to the furthest limits of my potential as an artist.

With only my rough idea and a burning desire to create it, I looked at what I needed to learn and do in order to make it a reality. For one, I needed to study human anatomy. I bought Hogarth’s Dynamic Anatomy and began copying his drawings of arms and torsos. I studied the same pages many times, repeatedly drawing them until I has satisfied with my understanding of those muscle groups and could sketch them out by memory.

My reading of fictional literature was light, so I bought some some books from authors a few associates had recommended. Michael Moorecock‘s The Elric Saga proved to be a quick, accessible fantasy epic, and David Brin‘s first three books from The Uplift Universe were intricate and clever. I was inspired by the depth of the two author’s respective visions, excited to create my own with an equal quality of narrative imagination and engagement. Without basing my film on a good original story, I was wasting my time.

(Continued in two weeks)

Revelations of a Dungeon Master

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This post will delve into the mysterious world of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) and reveal some shocking details about being a Dungeon Master. It is almost quaint to imagine how this fantasy role playing game, first introduced in 1977, is still being played today. Massive multiplayer 3D video games like World of Warcraft, video sharing websites like YouTube, Snapchat and other screen-based media would seem to be more engaging forms of entertainment compared to the dice and miniatures tabletop game. But I can attest to the modern popularity of AD&D first hand, as my 13 year old son, his friend and I have been playing every other Saturday night since 2012.

The popular new TV series Stranger Things makes frequent references to the game, using it as a plot-framing device and to help characterize the 1980’s setting. The game was very popular at the time, but became the subject of controversy when a 10 year old player committed suicide in 1982. His mother Patricia Pulling, searching for answers, assumed it was because of a curse put on his character in the after school D&D club he was a member of. Blaming the high school principal and publishers of the game, she campaigned to link D&D to Satanism and the occult. At the core of her argument against D&D was her assertion that, “a significant amount of youngsters are having difficulty with separating fantasy from reality”. Introverted young people needed to be protected against their own imaginations, so under pressure from Pulling and other religious groups, the publishers of D&D changed core elements of the game in 1989 2nd edition.

Gone were references to demons and devils; these entities became rebranded as tanar’ri and baatezu, respectively. Also absent was the assassin character class, with the thief class renamed as the rogue, and players could no longer have characters of the half-orc race. Similar business-related decisions further weakened subsequent editions, leading to an obsequious, token version of a game that was once edgy and irreverent.

loremasterVersion 3.5 is an especially bloated, unwieldy example of the parade of money driven rewrites. Needlessly complicated, rules such as “when someone gets a 20 on an attack roll, you should point out that this is a threat, not a critical hit” (version 3.5 D&D Core Rulebook II, pg. 26) take major amounts of fun out of playing. Come on, people. One look at the illustration of the Loremaster character class from pg. 191 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide also proves my point.

When my son was in 4th grade, the hot TV show on Cartoon Network was Adventure Time, which is heavily influenced by AD&D. He asked if he could try the role playing game, and soon I found myself acquiring many of the same miniatures and rule books I had back in 1981. I used many of the ideas presented by Dave Hargrave in his Arduin Grimore, including the fabled Critical Hit table, the liberal blend of sci-fi and fantasy and other rich embellishments that make the game more interesting.

Personally, AD&D has always been about the magic of how the game table scene looks; painted miniatures, dungeon walls and dice like precious gems. I did my best to convey that feeling of wonder to my players, even adding the touches of candlelight in a darkened room and Baroque background music.

I especially enjoyed painting the miniatures, some of which were vintage cast lead pieces miniaturefrom as far back as 1976. Together with the jewel-like set of dice, dark grey foam rubber for dungeon walls, wine corks for columns and miniature trees made from hobby store moss and sticks from the back yard, these game pieces were gateways to the realm of fantasy and imagination where D&D lives. I kept all the miniatures hidden from my young players until they encountered them in the game for the sake of mystery. Their faces lit up when I finally set them on the table and combat began.

In that environment we enjoyed imagining the game action, each of us seeing it in our minds eye. In describing what happened during an adventure, I made a point to involve as many of the five senses as possible for a more immersive experience. For example, the acrid stench of trolls breath, the tortured screams of attacking ghouls, the chill of the stone hallways, and the mayhem and debauchery of the drinking taverns. I would borrow from everything I could remember, Moorecock books, Frazetta paintings, any interesting names I heard, and fantasy films ranging from Labyrinth to Legend. It was useful to have a list of interesting names in reach for the inevitable improvisation required of a Dungeon Master. I also made liberal use of different voices for the many non-player characters, monsters and other entities, and insisted my players speak appropriately during gameplay. “Dude, watch out for that Orc, bro” was unacceptable.

While I always had a basic idea of the plot of an adventure, I allowed my players to exercise their free will (to a point) as a metaphor for real life. We began each session of the game by reciting the rules, “Don’t interrupt, wait to speak. Just like reality, if you’re stupid, you will die. If you’re smart, you will gain magic items and level up”.

Recently I have given up my unlimited power in order for my players to experience the game from a different perspective. I am now a lowly player character at the mercy of a 13 year old Dungeon Master, but enjoying it perhaps even more than I once did 30 years ago.

The Force in Sci Fi-Fantasy

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This post will discuss The Force as related to theories and concepts such as Qi, the Ether and quantum physics. I’m indulging my own fascination with the topic because my 44th birthday is tomorrow and I’m giving this article to myself as a present in order to love it even more. I was 5 years old when the first Star Wars came out, and the Force was to me the most spectacular element of the film.

Fans of Star Wars must wonder if there is some truth to this fictional concept for the franchise to remain as popular as it has. According to the Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars film, “the Force is an energy field created by all living things. It binds us and it penetrates us, it’s what holds the Galaxy together.” He later went on to answer Luke Skywalker‘s question as to if it controls our actions with, “partially, but it also responds to your commands”.

In the second film, The Empire Strikes Back, Jedi Master Yoda went into depth about the Force during Luke’s training. He explained,”a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they”. When asked how to tell the good side from the dark, he said, “You will know when you are calm, at peace. Passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack”. The phenomenal effects of the Force include seeing the future, speaking mind to mind with others across great distance, telekinesis, mind control and manipulating electricity. This concept was interesting enough as a five year old, but it becomes even more interesting as I continue to learn about similar non-fiction concepts over the years.

For instance, in the obscure book by Cyril Davson The Physics of the Primary State of Matter, based on the work of Austrian scientist-inventor Karl Schappeller, he describes an “all-pervading consciousness” saturating all space both outside and within the cosmos (pp. 38-40). The texture of space inside the boundary of the cosmos is the Ether, a conscious-physical ‘energy soil’ forming the background of all energies, matter and physical phenomenon. The ether is a fluid-like conduit for energies like electricity, magnetism, and even thoughts. In terms of theoretical physics, the Ether would seem to have the some of the same characteristics as The Force.

In terms of the Hindu religion, the concept of Brahman is also similar to the Force. Brahaman is a single unifying principle from which all life and matter emerge, and to which all return. The concept of Brahaman is expressed as an infinite and eternal consciousness that is the essence of all that exists physically. Also similar in terms of the duality of the Force is Zoroasterism, a belief system from the ancient Persian Empire. Zoroasterism is one of the world’s oldest religions, dating back to the 6th century BC. It was a notably monotheistic religion from an era when polytheism was common. Based on the writings of the prophet Zarathustra, Zoroasterism taught the importance of using free will to choose sides in the cosmic struggle of light and darkness. The virtues of doing the right thing, truth and good thought, deeds and words were the path that lead to the perfection and renewal of the world. This reminds us of the belief system of the Jedi and  frequent references in Star Wars to the light and dark sides of the force.

yin-yang-symbolThe icon of Yin and Yang central to the Taoist philosophy is also similar to the dualistic nature of the Force. Yin and Yang are both manifestations of Chi, the universal life force present in all energy and matter. Another definition of Chi is ‘ether’. When Luke Skywalker asks Master Yoda if the dark side of the force is stronger than the good, Yoda replies, “No. Easier, quicker, more seductive”. Like the image of Chi manifested as Yin and Yang, the two aspects of the Force are equal opposites in the same way that all that everything that exists also casts a shadow.

From the realm of quantum physics, the Force is recognizable in the quantum field theory of matter. In The Tao of Physics, p. 199, Physicist Hermann Weyl theorizes that everything that exists is basically ultra high intensity electrical charges in a universe-sized electrical field. Like static on a three dimensional television screen, this field is the background supporting ‘denser’ forms of energy like electricity and magnetism, as well as the atomic particles that comprise matter. Weyl’s theory recalls Master Yoda’s statement from The Empire Strikes Back, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter”.

The Force is the underlying thread that has kept people engaged with the Star Wars franchise for over 40 years. We eagerly await a deeper understanding of the Force in the upcoming next two Star Wars films.

The Science of Magic

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This post will look into the science of magic, both in the ‘real’ world and the realm of speculative fiction. Is science indeed magic? Are the two concepts related somehow? If so, where is the dividing line between them? Read on…

In the ancient past, science WAS magic. The needs of primitive humans beyond those attainable by mind and muscle were accomplished through the technology of intent and belief, known then as magic. Creating a bountiful hunt, calling on ancestors for wisdom, influencing the weather and healing were some examples. Though miraculous, the practice of magic had to follow certain rules, such as knowing the name of the spirit to be called on, knowing specific ingredients for spells, and only attempting some forms of magic during favorable times (like under a full Moon).

Over centuries, the practice of magic became more sophisticated, culminating into the proto-science known as alchemy. Alchemy was the basis of the scientific method, relying on measurements, laboratories and specialized instruments. Unlike the discipline that would become science, alchemy also dealt with astronomy and the occult, concepts which are difficult to quantify. During the Age of Enlightenment in the 1500’s, the field of medicine would branch off from alchemy, becoming the first ‘official’ science.

The technology of using intent and belief in ‘supernatural‘ forces for magic eventually gave way to belief in science, which manipulated ‘natural‘ forces such as the elements, magnetism and electricity to make magic “real”. Feats such as levitation, clairaudience and clairvoyance (hearing and seeing at a distance) curing disease and other extraordinary accomplishments are now achieved with the technology of machines.

In a sense, technology has replaced magic items as the tools used to perform miracles. For example, the launch button for a nuclear ICMB has become the modern version of The One Ring from Tolkien‘s famous fantasy novels. And the wings formed by Daedalus for he and Icarus to escape the Isle of Minos have become private jets and helicopters. Since flight, instantaneous communication at a distance and other things not possible with ordinary means are all derived from the intricate manipulation of natural forces, nature herself could be considered magic.

As far as we have come scientifically, much of nature remains mysterious such as how the human brain works (we still have no computer-based artificial intelligence as smart as the human mind) and where and how the universe was formed, for example. Science is constantly progressing toward a complete understanding of everything in nature currently beyond explanation.

So much for reality; on to the science of magic in fiction. Mixing technology and magic results in concepts like Magitek, found in the video game Final Fantasy VI. Magitek, or magical technology, is weapons and equipment enchanted with the distilled life force of magical creatures called Espers. In the Final Fantasy universe, the Gestahlian Empire rises to power by enslaving and draining many such espers, forming a major plot device for the storyline of the game.

The 1980’s anime series Aura Battler Dunbine represents the science of magic by featuring giant robots made from the enchanted bodies of giant insects, which serves as amplifiers for the aura of their pilots. This anime also makes use of time travel, as the the main character is displayed form modern day Earth to the sword and sorcery land of Byston Well.

Other notable video related to the science of magic include The Flight of Dragons, The Star Wars saga, Time Bandits, Ghostbusters and Highlander. There is a long legacy of the science of magic in fictional literature, including the macabre H. P. Lovecraft novels, featuring alien demons and science so advanced it resembles magic, but the understanding of which drives mortals insane. Also notable are The Incomplete Enchanter by Harold Shea, Lawrence Watt-EvansWorlds of Shadow trilogy, The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny, the Dragaera books by Steven Brust and Piers Anthony‘s Apprentice Adept series.

A few graphic novels featuring the science of magic are Judge Dredd, The New Gods, Saga, both Secret Wars by Marvel, and Frank Miller‘s Ronin.

Some video games steeped in the science of magic are all of the Final Fantasy titles, Xenoblade, Crystalis, Chrono Trigger, Kingdom Hearts, the Guilty Gear series, The Elder Scrolls, The Longest Journey series, the Star Ocean series, Wizardry 7 and 8, Doom, and more recently Destiny. Some role playing games that take place in a science of magic setting are Destroy the Godmodder and The Arduin Adventure by the renowned Dave Hargrave.

The science of magic continues to be a font of intriguing content spanning all known forms of media. It remains as the ‘pi‘ of genres, a fictional constant producing questions, answers, and more questions ad nauseum. What does the science of magic mean to you, dear reader? Please comment below so that we might continue the conversation.

Dragons in Sci Fi & Fantasy

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By default, the mascot of the fantasy genre is the Dragon, with their understudy the unicorn in a close second place. This post will look at the history and meaning of dragons in both sci fi and fantasy styles of fictional content.

Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces identifies the dragon as the ultimate nemesis, encountered at the darkest hour of the hero’s journey in a dark abyss within the earth. Representing great power, the dragon is a universal symbol found in cultures around the world throughout human history.

The dragons of medieval European mythology where typically large winged fire breathing monsters that inhabited caves, castle dungeons or other lairs. Evil dragons where the antagonists of fairy tales to be slain by the hero, while the rarer good dragon gave the hero advice or other boons to help them on their quest. One well known European legend is that of St. George and the Dragon, first told in the tenth- or eleventh-century, where a mounted knight is sent against a dragon with an insatiable appetite. This tale would go on to inspire the 1981 film Dragonslayer.

A notable dragon in fantasy literature from last century is Smaug, from J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Smaug, whose name is clearly social commentary on the air pollution side-effect of modern industrial society, sleeps on a large horde of treasure deep within Lonely Mountain.

Asian dragons, in legends and folklore are more commonly wingless and snakelike, symbolic of magic, power and luck rather than the dreaded behemoths found in European mythology. Unlike their European counterparts they have no wings, but can still fly using mystical abilities. There were three tiers of asian dragons, each differentiated by the number of claws on their four legs. The five-claw dragon was associated with the Emperor, four-clawed dragons were associated with nobles, and three-clawed were the symbol of ministers and commoners. Interesting to note that higher ranked dragons were closest to humans in terms of hand anatomy. They were represented holding a fiery pearl in one claw, although this was more a symbol of spiritual power and wisdom than of wealth or treasure. Dragons have been part of Asian culture for over 7,000 years.

Dragons are also found in sci fi, although not as often as in mythology. Early examples include the blue fire-breathing Godzilla and King Ghidorah from the 1964 kaiju monster movie. King Ghidorah, commonly known as Ghidrah in the West, had three heads, two tales, lacked arms but had massive wings which could cause hurricane level winds. He could also breath ‘gravity beams’ of yellow lightning from each of his three heads.Ghidrah was gold in color, originating from Venus, and represents one of the first incarnations of dragons in the sci fi genre.

A few years later in 1968, writer Anne McCaffrey penned the sci fi fantasy Dragonflight, the cover of which bears a remarkable resemblance to a single-headed version of Ghidorah mentioned in the last paragraph (see illustration). Dragonriders of Pern takes place on another planet and features a pre-industrial society divided into four classes. One of these, the Weyrfolk, rides a genetically engineered breed of psychic dragons to combat the Thread, an extraterrestrial pestilence. The Dragonriders of Pern series consists of 22 books, still wildly popular and has won awards including the Hugo and Nebula awards.

More recently (1980’s), the TV series V had an extraterrestrial race who appeared to be benign humanoids but where indeed reptilian beings intent on harvesting earth people for food. Also from the 1980’s came the film The Last Starfighter, the supporting role played by a friendly reptilian starfighter pilot.

From the ever entertaining field of conspiracy theory has many accounts of shape shifting reptilian aliens from the Draco constellation. Author David Icke, in his book The Biggest Secret, suggests that a race of reptilian aliens from the Draco constellation control world governments in secret. Icke’s concept of shape shifting dragon men who inhabit the inner earth bears resemblance to author Robert E. Howard’s ‘serpent men‘ from the King Kull stories published as The Shadow Kingdom in Weird Tales, 1929.

Dragons in sci fi, fantasy and science fantasy genres represent pure wonder. The European dragons typically embody the lowest depths of fear, the hero’s nemesis, and the all the worst human sins including greed, lust and avarice. It is fascinating how different this symbol is compared to the dragons of Eastern philosophy, which stand for the apogee of human potential such as Kundalini awakening in the East Indian Yoga tradition, national leadership in China, and wisdom and creativity in all Eastern cultures. As I write this, there is a large lizard on the cinder block wall outside my office window, now sunning himself and doing pushups. This article is dedicated to you, little dragon.

Review: DK III & The Dark Knight Universe

DKIII-2This post is a review of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Universe and the third installment in the critically acclaimed series, DK III: The Master Race. DK III is co-written by Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello, currently out with five books out of a series of eight. Since it’s inception in 1986, the Dark Knight Returns was the graphic novel that began the Dark Age of comic books, a permanent genre-wide change still felt today in comics and graphic novels and now films. Arguably, Miller’s avant garde work raised comic books as an artform into the same category as “serious” literature, making way for the Hugo award-winning Watchmen in 1988 and Pulitzer Prize winning Maus in 1992.

Miller’s muscular interpretation of the Batman in the Dark Knight Universe is modern mythology, an iconoclasm of the barely-serious camp seen in the 1960’s Batman live action TV series and Super Friends cartoons of the 1970-80’s. Gotham City is a gritty, visceral film noir skyline full of gargoyles and deco gothic architecture that oozes tension from every shadow. The familiar characters surrounding Batman are also portrayed with deeper dimension, their flaws making them more engaging. Wonder Woman and Superman are lovers, their child is a moody teenage Supergirl named Lara, and the Joker is a homicidal sociopath instead of a wisecracking robber. Bruce Wayne struggles with his aging physique more so than the previous two Dark Knight series, now unable to engage foes with the same level of “blunt trauma” as before. This touch of realism makes DK III more interesting not only because it makes Batman’s challenges more difficult but also by giving longtime fans (myself included) a hero they can identify with.

Miller’s Dark Knight Universe draws realtime parallels to modern day events and zeitgeist of an ever changing America. Runaway capitalism, urban racial tensions, even the ubiquity of social media and cell phones are woven into the storyline. Fear, Batman’s greatest ally, is the unifying refrain in all three DK titles. In the 1980’s Reagan decade it was the fear of nuclear war (The Dark Knight Returns or DK I). In the 2000’s, the banal psy-op fascism of the Bush decade is seen in the villainy of Lex Luthor and Brainiac (The Dark Knight Strikes Again DK II). Today, the abomination of  fearful police murdering unarmed African American citizens is clearly recognizable in Dark Knight: The Master Race, (DK III). The army of Supermen led by the fanatical Quar represent the misguided trigger fingers of the racist police officers who, like the Kryptonians, wield the state-granted power of life and death. Even after suppressing Batman’s allies including The Flash, Green Lantern and The Atom, the Kryptonians are outwitted by the Dark Knight and are forced to meet the citizens of Gotham in combat in the most recent issue of DK III.

While artists Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson are the penciler and inker on DK III, the artwork retains some of Miller’s distinct style. His artistic concerns are expressionism and composition rather than lifelike realism. The chiaroscuro silhouettes and characters’ faces make reading an emotional experience, allowing us to feel the action directly. Miller’s characters have a statuesque quality, evoking ancient greek mythology in the way they are more carved from marble then drawn with pencil and ink. Miller’s art is moving in a more instinctive, metaphoric direction where he freely distorts certain characters for emotional impact. One panel of the Batgirl minicomic (penciled and inked by Miller himself) even transforms an angry mob pursuing Batgirl into a piranha, calling to mind the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca.

Of special interest is the development of Caroline Keene Kelley, a hero introduced in DK I. The Dark Knight universe was the first to use the gender switch device now so popular in Marvel comics today, as evidenced by Thor, Wolverine and now Iron Man Batman’s sidekick Robin, slain by the Joker long before the incidents of the original Dark Knight Returns, lives again in the character of Carrie Kelly, a brave teenage girl inspired by his reappearance during the first issue of DK I. Kelly proves herself worthy of the mask after saving Batman’s life during combat with the mutant leader, impressing him with courage and ingenuity beyond her years. She switched her hero identity to Catgirl in DK II, still remaining Batman’s partner but expressing another aspect of her identity through her Catgirl persona.

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Kelly eventually earns the title of Batgirl in DK III, her 1980’s punk rock inspired green and purple costume demonstrating how taking artistic risks is one of Miller’s most entertaining assets. The Batgirl #1 mini comic included in DK III issue #4 is a remarkably enjoyable episode. Passages of it transcend the superhero genre in how the mob chasing Batgirl as she carries out her mission seems to be a group of inhuman orcs and ogres wielding primitive melee weapons. Her encounter with Aquaman riding a monster hammerhead shark again evokes Greek mythology in his resemblance to Poseidon, god of the sea. This kind of sci fi fantasy imagery juxtaposed with bleeding edge street dialogue make Miller’s DK III: The Master Race the future of the graphic novel landscape.

Creating Better Ideas

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In this post we examine techniques for creating ideas in more detail, with the intent of using them to create even better ideas. These practices will help when dreaming up new stories and characters, visual artwork, game designs and other engaging content.

Tell yourself, “I don’t know how I’ll think of the idea, but I know that I will”. This affirmation frees up your conscious mind, which is mainly concerned with everyday mundane functions like the five senses and memory, making way for the wealth of imagination that belongs to the unconscious mind. Put yourself in a quiet, comfortable environment and close your eyes. Keep them closed and gently look up without tilting your head. Concentrate on the known facts surrounding the idea, such as the setting for the story, the type of hero you are designing, or the desired outcome. Breath deeply, and wait without expectation. This will bring your mind’s eye to the horizon where dreams meet reality, a zone of limitless, infinite potential. There are no judgements or mistakes here, only what is useful and interesting.

When the ideas come, expect the unexpected and be ready to write down, draw or record whatever comes. Do not question the worths of these ideas at this point, as revision engages a very different part of the mind and will shut off the flow of imagination. Just record enough so that you will remember the concept later during the Revision phase. Dr Elmer Gates practiced this ‘Sitting for ideas’ at first for his own inventions (which numbered some 200),  eventually being paid to sit for ideas for large corporations, so refined did his imagination practice become (Think and Grow Rich pp. 158-161). Nikola Tesla also created his inventions this way, adding the technique of holding a ball bearing in his palm which rested in a metal pie tin. If he went too far across the border of consciousness and fell asleep, his hand would go slack and let go of the ball bearing, causing it to fall into the pie tin and make a noise that would wake him up. He would then start the visualizing  process again and pick up where he left off.

The practice of recognizing patterns can lead to new discoveries and insights. For example, it is fascinating how the appearance of a cancer cell is similar to that of the first microsecond of a nuclear detonation (see illustration). And how the structure of lightning resembles that of a river when it meets the ocean. Seeing significant likeness in events or phenomenon can also help to avoid predictability. cancer-cell-nuke
For instance, if your story idea is similar to another established story, study it in order to put a surprise plot twist in your idea. In this way your story will benefit from the familiarity with the existing story, while rewarding readers with a welcome violation of expectation. The television series Once Upon a Time did this with the character Ruby, who is both Little Red Riding hood and the Big Bad Wolf in the storyline.

Seeing the ordinary in new ways is another way to strengthen your creativity. Looking at a drawing in progress in a mirror flips the image, allowing you to see it with fresh eyes. Or imagine the familiar is the strange; next time you go to a convenience store pretend to be a time traveller from the 1600’s and notice how different everything seems. Harnessing the power of make believe we all used as children is stimulating and very useful. Pablo Picasso looked at a bicycle seat and handlebars in 1942 and created the sculptural piece “Bulls Head“.

Making connections between unrelated ideas and phenomenon can bring them together so they produce a new idea. The use of mutants, demons and magic in the distant future setting of both the anime Vampire Hunter D and the graphic novel Ronin make gripping examples of the benefits of connecting unrelated material.

Taking advantage of chance is yet another tactic to use when creating better ideas. Happy accidents are one example, like a misspelling that leads to a more interesting name for a character. Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming discovered the medicine penicillin by accident. Going with the flow when the unexpected happens often leads to ideas that delight the imagination. Being open to gifts hidden in the form of mistakes will increase the creativity of your ideas.

Constructing networks by forming friendships and associations between other like-minded people yields helpful feedback for new ideas. Just being in the same space as other creative minds can cause new ideas to emerge. The exchange of responses and encouragement from your “Mastermind group“, (another quote from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich) is very valuable to the life and growth of your creative content.

“But I don’t have a creative bone in my body”. Nonsense. Stop telling yourself that cliche, and never look back at such a useless attitude. Challenge assumptions about everything, both your own and those of others. For example, telling yourself, “no one will like this” is probably not true. Dare to question given facts and truths before dismissing the new idea. If you like it, many other will also.