James’s Blog: God Bless Restrictions.

One piece of advice that artistic people often give is that restrictions and constraints are good for creativity. I’ve heard this from artists, writers, film makers and computer game programmers, so it must be true.

Actually, it is.

If you give an artist a blank piece of canvas then what is he supposed to do with it? If you tell him that you want a picture of a tree, well, it doesn’t require much in the way of creative thinking but at least it’s something. If you tell him that you want a picture of a tree, and that it can only be in black and white, and that if you turn it upside down it must then look like a picture of a little girl – well, now you’re talking. That’s when the creative muscles get a workout.

I’ve dabbled in Microfiction (aka Flash Fiction), which for those of you who don’t know, is a discipline where you subject yourself to an arbitrary word count (usually well under a thousand words) and set yourself the task of writing a complete, coherent story. I’ve found it a highly useful exercise, especially as my stumbling attempts to transfer my fleeting philosophical musings from the centre of my thought processes onto a sheet of blank paper have a disarming habit of running to the verbose. You know what I mean.

I’m currently working on editing a batch of stories for the sequel to The Listening Book, and a couple of those were born from constraints. When I was describing The Listening Book to a friend he asked me if one of the stories was called ‘The Parable of the Boy who Ran with Scissors’. Trust me, this is fairly typical of the type of question that he asks. I replied that there was not, but the very next day I sat down and set myself the task of writing a story with that exact title. I’m quite pleased with it.

Perhaps that’s the way I should go. I could get other people to suggest titles, and then I have to write a story to attach to them. So, if you have any imaginative titles lying around feel free to throw them in my direction, and if I’m looking for a challenge one day I could try writing a short story for it. Maybe I’ll post it here, maybe I won’t. It depends on whether or not it’ll make me look creative.

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