It’s OK to Be Creative, Just Not Too Creative

By Tony Neale,

Take a writing class and you’ll be told, write what you know. Boring! You should understand what you’re writing about. If you’re writing a historical novel then research your time period. Don’t pretend to know when you don’t. If you get it wrong it will show and your readers will never let you forget it. But writing about what you know doesn’t mean writing about your life, your town, and your adventures. Not unless you are really interesting.

So if you’re not writing your own story, you will probably need to create characters and a plot. When you do, please don’t go crazy. Not too long ago I received an outline for a book that had it all. And none of it was good. The writer tried too hard to be creative.

This particular submission had history, alternative universes, and pedophilia. It was set in the Depression and World War II. A young boy marries his much older teacher and somehow one of them becomes president of the United States during World War II. As I recall one of them was a fighter pilot, too. Together they single-handedly win the war. Or something like that. The reason I’m not clear is because there was so much to take in. After dealing with all that creativity I didn’t care if this person could write. I already knew that the writer couldn’t plot a story or develop believable characters.

Another writer submitted a story so dark, sad and inventive that I was scared they had our mailing address. This story in the hands of a gifted writer could have been fantastic, although in a weird, but good way. With a less skilled writer it was just plain odd. I guess my advice is don’t run before you can walk. And don’t stray too far to the creative side unless you can truly impress. Innovation can be dangerous. One slip and the whole story can tumble.

I don’t want to suggest that creativity is dead. That a writer has to pull from the standard stable of characters and send them out in the world with a tried-and-true plot. While we are all comfortable with the familiar, I bet if you look at your bookshelf you’ll see the works of writers who dazzle you with their imaginative characters and storytelling. I don’t think creativity is limited to fantasies and paranormal fiction where otherworldly creations are essential. Sometimes creativity comes in taking the same-old-same-old romance scenario and breathing new life it in.