Creativity & Vague Prompts

Whenever I hit creative blocks, my next move is usually one of two things: to take a rest and just relax, or turn to a different kind of media for inspiration.

The idea for “Where Has the Time Gone?” came to me around November of last year, but it really took a while for it to develop into… well, whatever you’d describe it as!

I had a theme in mind, an atmosphere, characters—all that, but where did I actually want it all to go?

Took me a bit of time just thinking about things… until I turned back to one of my greatest creative inspirations: David Bowie.

But it wasn’t so much his music that I looked at for once—because when it comes to industry geniuses such as him, you often have to wonder where they get their ideas from.

Three late-70s albums of his, Low (1976), “Heroes” (1977), and Lodger (1979), colloquially known as the Berlin Trilogy, are nowadays seen as some of his best and most influential works, and behind their production and composition is one Brian Eno, who’s had so many roles over the years that I don’t think they’d fit into three Tweets.

Whenever he and Bowie ran into creative blocks, they’d always have a trump card at their disposal: a deck of flash cards known as Oblique Strategies, which is what I wanted to write about today~!

You can check out the cards for yourself at this link, or purchase a physical set from Eno’s shop here, but to summarise, you shuffle them, pull out a card, and get… something.

I’d describe these as the artist’s equivalent of tarot readings—that is, each and every prompt is intentionally vague and brief to make you wonder, “what does this card actually want me to do?”

But if you ask me, that’s the lovely point of it~

In my case, I went to the online link and it gave me one card back: “Use an unacceptable colour”.

Of course, in a non-visual medium like writing, that kind of prompt does feel a bit useless… but I wanted to challenge myself: how could I apply that sentence to the entire story?

First off: colour palettes! I just made sure the environment was about 80-90% cold, soulless tones of blacks, whites, greys, and browns.

Now for the story itself… Well, this was where things got fun!

I read that “unacceptable colour” as a prompt for me to try to steer towards a more unnerving tone: to create a setting that, ideally, would make you question whether anything you were reading was to be trusted!

A “parent” and “child” without any connection, an ill man carrying water he doesn’t intend to drink, an environment that threatened the very idea of physics, dialogue that just almost made sense, a strange banquet at a funeral home—For me, I now had a duty of making everything feel slightly off, like a Japanese summer without the chimes of a single fūrin (風鈴).

Eventually, I went and pulled more cards for specific purposes, and I got even more interesting results!

For the characters, I got “from nothing to more than nothing”—foreboding, ain’t it? And I think that’s a very good word to describe what the story means to me~

For the plot: “Be less critical more often”—not that that’d change much since I’m quite lazy~ BUT, it went really well with my vision of ensuring the whole story felt off. If there was a mistake, I could always correct it… so what if I didn’t?

What if I made sure the mistakes were a part of the experience?

These card together led to me just piecing the story together over a few days—and no matter how nonsensical or unsuitable, I think there’s a lot of merit for you to try out Oblique Strategies for yourself- if only to see what you think the cards are telling you~

Oh, and as for what the story itself means?

Heh—I’m sure what it means for me is way too different from what you got out of it, so I’m content leaving my side out of it, but if you wish to have a look, then click here to see the story for yourself!

And if you wanna see more like this, then drop an email here and come join me for the ride!

Catch you soon, and all the best! *\(^o^)/*

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