The simplest solution in creative writing – understanding Occam’s razor

Keep it simple, this is a mantra so short and appealing that we end up thinking it must be always true. Unfortunately it is not. However, once we understand what the simplest solution means in creative writing, we can really step up our writing style.the simplest solution

What is Occam’s razor, and why the simplest solution?

In short, Occam’s razor is a principle stating that, among competing hypotheses, the simplest one should be preferred.

However, this is just a tool, and like any tool it’s far from perfect.

In fact, the preference it accords to the simplest solutions is such not because these have been proved to be always the correct ones—not at all. Rather, Occam’s razor gives preference to the simplest solutions because they are the more easily testable.

The fact they often are also the correct ones is just a nice bonus.

For example, just think of the stars we see in the sky at night, think of the way they seem to move.

One theory could claim all the stars are moving around us, and the Earth is still.

Another theory could instead claim that it is the earth that revolves around its axis and the stars only seem to move as a result.

Of course, without any additional element it could be quite difficult to discover which object is actually moving and how.

But as soon as we use a telescope and can observe other planets revolving around their axis, Occam’s razor can be used to give preference to the simplest solution.

In fact, while with the first hypothesis we should have the earth standing still at the center of the universe and all the other planets revolving instead on their axis (two assumptions), with the second hypothesis we only need the earth doing what all other planets do (one assumption).

Please do bear in mind this is an extremely simplified example. In any case, enough of bad astronomy for today. Continue reading

The role of art in society, the ultimate mind map?

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.role of art in society

As the quote from Hamlet makes it apparent, Shakespeare knew quite well that the world around us, just like the one residing in our head, is simply too vast and rich for an artist, any artist, to ever hope to describe it in its entirety.

This might seem like a terrible limitation on our ability to create art. It also seems to undermine the role of art in society. Instead, I believe this apparent inability, this sort of limitation, is one of the strong points of art.

Arts and maps

In fact, just like Borges points out in his On Exactitude in Science, maps that are so rich and detailed as the territory they are meant to describe are quintessentially useless.

The reason is simple. Maps are by definition representations of a limited number of features of a territory. In a way, they are products of simplification as defined in the Oxford Dictionary: the process of making something simpler or easier to do or understand.

And indeed, allowing us to focus only on such a limited number of aspects, stripping the territory of all the features not pertinent to the task at hand, they help us to make sense of a reality that otherwise might prove too complex and overwhelming to manage. Continue reading

Why creativity is special and infinity and monkeys cant’t crush it

In many cases slogans are just strings of words simple to remind—and a bit too simplistic. Creativity is special may sound like a slogan. But nothing could be farther from the truth.


creativity is special - monkeyHave a look at the use over time for the word ‘creativity’ (table 1). You’ll immediately realize this is a trendy term to say the least.

In fact, while before the 50s the word ‘creativity’ was used only in certain fields, nowadays we all sprinkle with ‘creativity’ and creativity-related terms a vast part of our everyday discourse.

Indeed, nowadays most of us readily recognize that creativity is special, and hold it in high esteem.

I mean, creative jobs are in high demand, just like creative professionals. So much so that even professions where creativity and imagination were once considered non essential are now trying to change such a perceptual misconception.

However, despite the enormous attention creativity is getting these days, I believe in many cases people still fail to really appreciate how much creativity is special. Continue reading

The Pareto principle in creative writing


Leaving the creative writing part alone for a moment, we can say that the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that for many events most of the results are determined by a small set of causes.

pareto principle in creative writing

A terrifying example of the Pareto principle

There’s no need to delve with statistics or mathematics. Here what matters most is an instinctive grasp of the Pareto law, not the actual calculations.

 Pareto principle – some examples:

  • 20% of workers produce 80% of results
  • 80% of sales come from 20% of clients
  • 80% of wealth is owned by 20% of people
  • 80% of problems with a product are caused by 20% of its defects

Obviously this 80/20 ratio isn’t set in stone. In fact, in many situations such a ratio can be even more dramatic. Just think of how much it is important to appear on the first page of a search engine results to get Internet traffic. Continue reading

Unique gifts for writers – no matter the season

Let’s be clear from the get go. The unique gifts for writers I’m speaking here are those that can really make a difference for a writer, not those ‘unique gifts’ that end up collecting dust on a shelf. Yet, such notable gifts are quite common…


unique gifts for writers

When it comes to creative writing, what writers everywhere need is not a new telepathic laptop, a new magic keyboard, or a speech-to-text app able to understand them even when they cough and sneeze in the clutches of a cold.

Not even a new secretary, a new house, or a brand new life are required. Sure, a brand new life—maybe one in which the bank account is in black and with a pleasantly long number of zeroes after the initial non-zero figure—can be of help, but only marginally.

Let’s face it. Omero, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, Nabokov, the Brontës sisters, Stephen King, and Neil Gaiman—just to cite some big guns at random—have all managed to write many masterpieces only relying on pen and paper, or parchment and quill, or whatever.

Indeed, the contribution of high tech solutions when it comes to creative writing is in general highly overestimated. In fact, once a writer has at her disposal a decent word processor, she is able to write as fast as her thoughts—or maybe her fingers—allow her to.

Then she can edit her first draft as many times as she deems it necessary, she can keep all the versions she wants to keep, and so on.

Considering that nowadays any PC, even if ten years old, is able to run a word processor and that many of these programs are free, I would say writers need next to nothing to truthfully claim to be up to date. Continue reading

Looking for free horror short stories?

free horror short stories - the wind towerIf you’re  roaming the Internet in search of free horror short stories or free thriller short stories, come and have a look.

Smashwords (multiple formats: epub, mobi, pdf…)

Kobo

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Amazon

The idea came to me during a course I had to attend about safety measures and risk assessment for working at height.

The spokesman was so boring, he managed to make the word ‘boring’ itself exciting by comparison. So, after being hit for an hour or so of droning nonsense, my mind began to wander.

Then when the idea came to me, I jotted down just a few words on the pad I should have used to take much more serious notes.

The course ended at long last. When it did, the winter sun had already gone behind the mountains. But I was too excited to notice. And while driving back home I began to think more and more about the idea for my story.

Things like the setting, the characters, the relationships between them. But as it is so usual for me, I needed to write it down to discover what I wanted to discover. That’s why my first drafts are incredibly messy and sketchy at times.

So, when I got back home, I fired up my PC and wrote the first draft of the story. It was half the length of the final version, and lacked some passages and pieces of information, all right. But it was there. And that was what really mattered.

Continue reading

How to use adjectives in creative writing

In writing in general, but particularly in creative writing, no part of grammar can be overlooked. But it’s also true that no part of grammar should be worshipped either.

woman - how to use adjectives

Endless choices

Fact is, how we write depends on the content of our story, on the style we choose to tell it, on what the aim of our telling is, and a million of other things.

For example, in a novel, to describe the route someone must follow, we may resort to descriptions relating to the colors and the smells of the landscape. We may also describe the feelings of the character.

Instead, in a street guide we would most likely heavily rely on words related to the concepts of distance and direction.

I mean, if we tried to explain to someone how to reach a certain place, but we did so using exclusively words related to colors and feelings instead of distance and direction, in no time we would come up with some sentences that aren’t exactly efficient.

ο Go straight on for one mile and then turn on your left.

ο Go yellow for a naughty while and then blue on happy.

ο First follow the smell of gasoline. Then the reek coming from the dump. You’ll see it, when you feel a lump of fear in your throat.

Of course, in the above examples the concept of choice and how it relates to contextual factors, is glaringly obvious. But when we write we make a staggering number of choices that, even though a lot less obvious, can nonetheless add up pretty fast and give our text a unique flavor.

Just think of:

ο  Who –> whom

ο  You and me –> you and I

ο  Begin to cry –> begin crying

ο  Open the window –> could you open the window?

ο  Lift –> elevator…

ο  I think that you –> I think you

Indeed, in creative writing, choices are so many that, even if we know pretty well how grammar works, often the texts we come up with, in terms of coherence, need some vigorous scrubbing.

I mean, one day we might feel grumpy and consequently veer toward a dark and dry style. Then, maybe, the subsequent day we might feel happy and confident and decide to take a flight of fancy.

Many other things can influence the way we write. How frothy our morning cappuccino was. When it was that we took our last vacation. Or read a great book–no, our own don’t count. Continue reading