I suppose the trick is to come up with a totally original idea that isn’t just random nonsense. For example, imagine the Beatles as four glass tubes filled with lard, and they’ve been strapped to seats on the Orient Express, which has been miniaturised and is steaming through Harrison Ford’s blood vessels. En route to his eyes. I’ll wager that no-one has thought of that before, but it’s not an ideal method of generating worthwhile creative ideas and if we’re being honest it’s not particularly appealing. I wouldn’t pay to see a film in which the miniature lardy glass-tube Beatles burst bloodily from Harrison Ford’s friendly face. But then again, perhaps someone else will. Who can tell?
Like the old mental game about predicting the future by using a white noise generator hooked up to a bank of video recorders; eventually, amongst the noise, it will also spit out every news report from the future, but there’ll also be an enormous quantity of plausible but fake stories and lots of complete nonsense, and you have no way to tell them apart.
Twelve identical copies of Brad Pitt waterskiing in a giant bowl of soup, and they’re wearing slippers. A semi-naked woman with no legs, covered in dollops of lard that looks rude, and there are two people in a pair of cars - connected with a cloth tube - and overhead a blimp flies past. They have paper coming out of their mouths.
Oh, hang on, I’ve just generated one of the Cremaster films. By pure random chance. Except for the part about Brad Pitt.
That’s how I generate ideas, by the way. I take something slightly silly and extend it into absurdity. And then I apply that template to something inappropriate. For example, the idea of Brad Pitt waterskiing in a giant bowl of soup isn’t particularly funny; but it sets up the rest of the joke, which is a series of seemingly-random observations that actually are from a real creative work, the implication being - in this particular case - pure random chance actually did come up trumps. The more I think about my own writing the more I realise how clever it is, on an unconscious level. Multi-layered, spiralling tubes of intertwined, innovative… internet. Interphase, that was a computer game. But there’s a distinction between something that merely seems complex and something that actually is complex. I mean, complex is complex, but there’s a difference between those drawings that people do when they’re on mescaline and a large-scale artwork where the lines have a purpose beyond simply saying “I can’t stop drawing lines, because I’m on mescaline”.
Yesterday I imagined the camera company Olympus as a lone snow wolf leaping through snowbanks with blood on its snowy mouth, and the humour came from extending this metaphor beyond all sense, so that Olympus had literally become a gore-splattered arctic predator rather than a large international conglomerate, which is what it is. Prowling for profits. I surmise this is how the Monty Python team came up with the Crimson Permanent Assurance short film; they took the idea of corporate raiders and imagined if it was literally true.
And of course even if the idea is complex, thought-out, clever, doesn’t mean it’s any good. So, as a creative person - I created five things today - I would say that the trick isn’t so much to generate ideas, but to sift out the few good pearls of gold amongst the rubbish.
And then, you have to actually do something with it. What was it Robert Heinlein said? The first rule of writing - write. The second rule - finish.