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Creativity Tips - Lateral Thinking -- by Emilie Poissenot

In my quest to find more ways to spark creativity (my own as well as yours), I want to introduce you to the concept of lateral thinking. You’re probably already doing it without knowing, but knowing what lateral thinking is paves the way for a bunch of creativity tips.


Lateral Thinking Is Not Logical
A term coined by Edward de Bono in the mid 60s, lateral thinking is the opposite of the usual logical, thus linear, reasoning. It’s jumping from one trail of thoughts to the other or, as I like to put it, making meaningful non sequitur.
When we think logically, we move from a cause to its effect, an action to its reaction, a whole towards its parts, etc. The line is straight and easy to follow, which makes logic foreseeable.  Sometimes, logic goes in circle around the problem without finding an answer, creating writer’s block.
Logical thinking doesn’t go outside the box; lateral thinking does.


Lateral Thinking Happens Naturally
Everyone jumps from one idea to the next in a lateral manner from time to time. Obviously, we want it to happen as often as possible when we create, but more importantly, we want it to happen in a way that we can use.

Writers invested in their stories frequently experience lateral thinking without even realizing it:

  • When our character speaks to us and reveals something we didn’t suspect.
  • When suddenly a bunch of details in our story click together and form an unforeseen plot twist.
  • When we type in a sentence and realize afterwards how much it messes up our plot in the most amazing way.

These are all examples of times when our brain associates seemingly unrelated thoughts and builds a link between them. It is not a logical/linear link; it’s a lateral one.


Lateral Thinking Jazzes Things Up
When we take a lateral thinking leap, we keep our story from being foreseeable. It takes us outside the box.
Once the “jump” between seemingly unrelated ideas is done, we can reverse engineer a connection. We can adjust details in the story to guide the reader towards the same conclusions. Then, our initial non sequitur surprises the reader, but makes sense to him.
To put it in image, if our brain was a highway and trail of thoughts were lanes; logical thinking is speeding down a single lane, while lateral thinking is the act of switching lanes. Both result in a trajectory someone else can follow, but one of them is much more interesting.


Lateral Thinking Can Happen On Demand
Putting different brains in a room and asking them to come up with ideas create lateral thinking: that’s why good ideas come out of brainstorms. As writers, we often work alone so we need tricks to make lateral thinking happen.
The first step is to narrow down what you need to have ideas about, to establish the thought you want to jump off of, or the problem you need to solve. Then, grab a pen and paper, and use one of the following techniques with creative abandon. No idea is bad at this point; you can organize and sort them later.

Generator of Unexpected
A bag of random objects, a dictionary, the “Random Article” button on Wikipedia... choose your favorite way to generate something random. This random something is the ultimate key to solving your problem. Write down a list of words or ideas that link that unexpected element to your subject.

Flip the Problem
Take the thought or problem, and throw it off. Reverse it, diminish it or amplify it, swap the characters having the issue, etc. This technique is about looking at the problem differently, like the “first world problem” meme turning complaints into jokes. List whatever comes up when you think about that Bizarro world version of the problem.

Thousand Questions
Let loose the “What if”, the “Why”, the “How”. Like a kid, question the problem/thought beyond the point of logic. Note all the answers.


Closing Words
If we listen to ourselves when we write, we allow our subconscious to guide us in a lateral assemblage of ideas. It is a natural process that we can use to our advantage.
It’s also the reason why outlines or initial ideas are rarely the best story; their creation is logical. When we start fleshing them out, meaningful non sequitur happens. Then, we can go over the first draft and plant the hints so readers can follow us out of the box.
And when we have no clue which hints are needed for all of it to make sense, we can force lateral thinking to find the answer.

Please leave any question in the comment. I'll be happy to detail this further!


About the Author
Game Design Director by day and writer by night, Emilie Poissenot (aka Aheila) has several tricks to manage creativity, especially when dealing with content and/or time constraints. She writes all sorts of stories, some of which are posted on The Writeaholic’s Blog as short stories or serialized novels, and is currently seeking publication for a steampunk novel.

This Creativity Tip is a rewritten advice taken from her blog.

Posted by Emilie Poissenot 1 Nov 2013 at 01:53
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Responses to this blog

Cam 1 Nov 2013 at 15:19  
Awesome post. Thank you, Emilie.


Aheila 1 Nov 2013 at 17:51  
Thanks for the compliment, and it's my pleasure to share these. I have another post in the works that touches on lateral and parallel thinking.
Fairchild 1 Nov 2013 at 19:18  
swap the characters having the issue,
I...I think I've just been struck by a brilliant idea!

Thanks for this post.
Aheila 4 Nov 2013 at 17:05  
Great Fairchild! I'm very happy I could help!
Dil 5 Nov 2013 at 09:10  
Many thanks! Will study before I attempt to write something else - it really is my weak spot.
Ginger11 8 Nov 2013 at 06:01  
This article helped tremendously. Next time I get stuck in my Nano project this year, I'm going to use the random generator as a possible help out of the snag.
Aheila 12 Nov 2013 at 23:38  
These little tips are really useful for NaNo, aren't they? I have a list of them I keep handy to kick start my brain when it stalls.
Mariam 27 Dec 2013 at 22:13  
Really useful tips - I think we call it - throwing a spanner into the works
Kittykat2 31 Dec 2013 at 17:11  
Thank you! This is really helpful.

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