The Power of Unrelated Ideas

My experience is that I have never done well writing a story from one idea or developing a character from one source. Only when I put together two previously unrelated ideas or characters do they come to life; it is in the process of connecting the unconnected that my stories grow.

Orson Scott Card, Characters & Viewpoint

This quote came to mind yesterday as I watched my children play. They were wildly and chaotically mixing-up inspirational sources.

When I first saw them, they had transformed the manipulatives that I use for teaching math (card-stock base-ten blocks, vase gems, dice, and coins) into medicine for our Roboraptor. I was somewhat put out to see they had destroyed many of my hand-made thousands cubes in the process, but I noted that by filling them with the smaller pieces, they had created a play version of hard-shelled pharmaceutical capsules.

The Pink Pirate

Later in the day, my daughter was playing “Pirates of the Caribbean,” which she knows only from a single movie trailer. She had donned a black vampire cape and her pirate bandana, hot-pink with a skull and crossbones. With a small, plastic dagger tucked into her waistband, she was commanding the motley crew of her Playmobil Egyptian ship to search for treasure according to the map she had drawn.

In both cases, the play was deep, engaging, unstructured, and inspired. The elements of craft that could be used to transform either of those games into a short story, for instance, would clean up the edges, and remove some of the unmatched elements to streamline the imagery.

I found myself wondering whether in the name of craft, I had lost some of the wild creative impulses that my daughter was demonstrating.

What do we sacrifice when we transform the wild, messy realm of life into art? Can we stay open to the mixing of seemingly unrelated ideas and still use craft to form cohesive work? The quote from Orson Scott Card not only says “yes we can,” but also “perhaps we must”.

What do you think?