That sounds like a weird title, right? I guess I got the inspiration to choose this one from the movie series of Despicable Me, where little Agnes is obsessed with unicorns and ultimately tries to find one in the woods. I loved her amazement about the fluffiness of this toy. But ultimately, it is not that cool and there is a deeper meaning to my title that might actually give some wisdom beyond one of the most famous lines of a cartoon movie.
When George R. R. Martin was interviewed and asked about the reason why he put magic into his world of Game of Thrones, he said that fantasy simply needs magic. And then, he added this quote:
I think with this quote, he has a strong point. I read countless books that contained magic, but most of them either oozed with it like a low-quality burger, or the magic was not completely understandable and explained in sufficient detail. Of course there exist good examples for exceptions from my observation (a friend of mine really likes the detailed magical systems of Brandon Sanderson’s books), but the message that I want to bring across here is a different one. Martin implies, that magic needs to be there, somehow, but in oder to have the biggest impact on both the world and the reader, it must not be completely understood and definitely not be overused.
Let me illustrate what I mean on a more concrete, yet quite simplified example. Imagine that you have to write a story about a knight who has to free his beloved princess from an evil dragon. You can write whatever you want, but your goal is to mesmerise the audience as much as possible. The first part of the story might be quite easy: As the knight does not have enough skills to face the dragon immediately, he first needs to find a mentor that teaches him all the necessary moves he needs to stand a chance to fight the monster. And at this point, we realise that a simple human being alone cannot withstand the mighty dragon. But of course we want our hero to succeed, so we bring magic into the world (assuming that a dragon is not enough magic already). This magic is taught by the mentor. And now comes the tough choice. We want to keep up the tension until the latest possible moment, not being certain if our hero might actually succeed or if he vanishes in the fiery breath of the giant beast. So we give him a tool, a mystic weapon or a specific spell or skill, but something that still requires luck and effort in order to defeat the monster. So our knight receives a sword with special powers and trains until he masters this magical tool. As soon as our hero faces the dragon, the final fight begins, and only with the last swing of his magical sword, he kills the beast and frees his lady. But all the way up until the end, there has been the chance of failure, because the magic of his sword is not completely understood by him, he’s just using it as a tool. So we as an audience stay engaged. We want to know if courage can triumph over evil.
That’s how it should go if you want to write a catching story. But imagine another plot, a plot where magic can serve as the explanation of everything. The hero, in desperate search for a way to free his beloved princess, finds the revelation of all magic in an ancient book and finds the spell that wipes out the life of an enemy with a snap of his fingers. Without any worries, our knight faces the beast, snaps his fingers and boom… the dragon is dead because our hero understood all that is there to be understood about magic. Now I ask you, which story would you prefer?
But what exactly is magic? In many fantasy worlds, magic is a kind of a mysterious force that mostly creates something that could not have been done with “real-world” powers.
So I have pointed out that magic should be something that should not be completely understood because too much of it spoils the suspense. Let me add another flavour to the above mentioned opinion: If the knight can find out about all the deep secrets of magic, so could the dragon. And eventually, they both kill each other, no-one survives the battle and the princess dies because she starves in her iron chains (don’t ask me how a dragon put them onto her in the first place). But the point here is, that as soon as all magic secrets can be revealed, it becomes a commodity that everyone can handle.
And now, I want us to get back to the real world. Where there is no magic, no knights, no dragons, no unicorns. Or am I wrong?
What is creativity? A force, not (yet) completely understood, that enables us to create things that we most likely would not have created without it. In case that this definition is true, is creativity so much different from magic, and should we as the writers of our own lives use it in the same way as authors use it in fantasy worlds?
From my point of view, magic and creativity are quite similar. And to be honest, I am happy that this highly-valued (and perhaps overrated) soft-skill is not yet as deeply explored as other skills like leadership and rhetorics. Imagine a world in which everyone would be as creative and genius as Elon Musk, because every single soul on this planet knew the (not so secret anymore) ingredients to become creative with the snap of their fingers. Creativity would not be special anymore, it would be a simple commodity, not valued, appreciated and respected.
And yet, I want to give recommendations on how to be more creative. How does that fit together? Like magic in so many books, creativity is something special that can create extraordinary things and ideas, and we should treat this special skill accordingly. Every creative soul is a magician in this world, and every soul in this world is source for more creativity than you can imagine. But, even if every single one of us starts harnessing it, we must not forget that it is somethings special, something that cannot and must not be forced and overused, just for the sake of using it as the solution to all our problems. Like magic, creativity is just another – yet quite special – tool in our skillset. A tool that sometimes fits, and sometimes doesn’t. You wouldn’t use a screwdriver to strike a nail into the wall, would you?
And therefore, we should not try to overuse our creativity at every possible occasion. Because then, we create these pink, fluffy unicorns that ooze of magic but have no real meaning. They are useless, too slippery to grab, to hard to handle, because the purpose of such a magical creation is not that of an enabler, but of a side-product without value. Instead, let us try to create these magnificent, majestic, white unicorns, ridden by elves, that serve as the great battle companions that amaze us at every thought. And, where creativity is not the tool to be used, let us kill these pink, fluffy unicorns.