Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Lateral Thinking for Writers

By Ahmed A. Khan
Ahmed A. Khan

When Edward de Bono first propounded the principles of lateral thinking, it is quite possible that even he never dreamed of the various fields in which these principles could be and would be applied. Creative writing, and particularly fiction writing, is one offbeat field where some techniques of lateral thinking can be usefully applied.

From my personal experience, there are three especially useful lateral thinking techniques from the point of view of a writer. I have named them the hyper jump, the random stimulation, and the reversal.

Of these three techniques, the reversal method is the easiest to use: take an accepted fact, turn it on its head, then justify the reversed fact.

For example, it is an accepted fact that man descended from apes. Now reverse it. You have the premise that apes descended from man. At this point, there are two ways to develop the story. Either you begin with the above stated premise and use your story to prove its truth, or you forget about proving anything and simply construct your story in such a way that the events in the story lead to the conclusion that apes did descend from man. I used this idea in a short story called "Ancestor." The story has been published in GateWay S-F.

The hyper jump technique involves asking yourself a question: why did we stop manned rocket flights to moon? Jump to a wild conclusion: because the moon, in actual fact, turned into green cheese. Too wild? Well, John Brunner did write a science fiction story wherein the moon turned into green cheese.

At this point it is fairly obvious that both these techniques are more useful in generation of story ideas than as plot development devices. More suited for use in plot development is the technique of random stimulation.

The idea is to take a topic or theme, then randomly pick a couple of other words or concepts and strain your imaginative powers in trying to relate these random words or concepts to your theme.

This technique can be used to generate story ideas as well to develop the plot of an on-going story.

Choose a key word from the story idea or the plot that you want to develop. Take a dictionary, open it at random and make note of the first word that you spot on the page. Repeat the procedure to get a second random word. Now rack your brains to come up with some common plot threads or backgrounds that could link the two random words with your key word. You would be surprised at the number of truly innovative ideas that you can generate this way if you really dig in.

As an illustration of story idea generation using random stimulation, take "success" as your key word; i.e. you plan to write a story that deals with some aspect of success. Let your random words be "butterfly" and "library." See what scheme you can come up with that could link these words with your key word. Try word associations: library -- knowledge; butterfly -- metamorphosis. There is a girl who works in the library. She is drab and homely and laid back. She decides to change herself but doesn't know how. She thinks of the library where she works. Here is a reservoir of knowledge, an easily accessible resource. She turns to books on self-improvement topics, reads them, follows the instructions and starts to change for the better. So here is your basic story idea, generated out of a theme and two random words.

Let us now move to plot development. You go for random stimulation again. You open the dictionary at random and the first word you see is "elephant." Now what has elephant got to do with a girl who is working in a library? Let us try word associations: elephant -- elephantiasis -- disease. Yes, it may be possible to relate disease to your heroine. Does she fall ill? Let us say she fakes an illness. Now why would she do that? Maybe to test someone. Who? Well, with her improved personality, she was able to make friends with a few people. Two of them -- boys -- have come quite close to her. Both have proposed to her and she cannot decide between them. Well, why not test their mettle, the truth of their feelings for her, by faking some nerve-wracking sickness and waiting to see who provides her with support and solace in such a condition? 

Thus progresses the plot.

Three cheers for lateral thinking.