I already brushed the topic of lateral thinking when I talked about brainstorming alone. I feel like I should spend a little more time on the topic before I dig into de Bono’s Hats later this week.
What Is Lateral Thinking?
The term was coined by Edward de Bono in the mid 60s. What it means is fairly simple; lateral thinking is all thinking that isn’t the usual logical, thus linear, reasoning. I also call it “fruitful non sequitur”.
When you think logically, you usually 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. However, these very qualities make logic foreseeable. Moreover, sometimes the line goes in circle around the problem without finding an answer.
Logical thinking cannot go outside the box; lateral thinking always is.
When Does Lateral Thinking Naturally Happen?
Every one 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 makes sense.
Luckily, 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 associate seemingly unrelated thoughts and builds a link between them. It is not a logical-linear link; it’s a lateral one.
Why Is Lateral Thinking Important?
When we take a lateral thinking leap we keep our story from being foreseeable. Lateral thinking is thinking outside the box; it helps us be unique. Why? Because lateral thinking is very unique and personal in nature.
Once the “jump” between ideas is done, we find a link between the two seemingly unrelated ideas. We can drop a line to make it logical from the person experiencing it after us. Then, our initial non sequitur surprises but makes sense for the reader.
How to Make It Happen On Demand?
That’s where de Bono’s Hats, brainstorming and other creativity techniques come in play. I’ve already talked about brainstorming. I’ll talk about de Bono’s Hats on Thursday and I’ll try to keep putting on more tools to encourage lateral thinking.
What we really need to remember right now is to listen to ourselves when we write, to allow our subconscious to guide us in a lateral assemblage of ideas.
Last thought. Lateral thinking also explains why the outline or initial idea is never the best story; they are both fundamentally logical in their creation. When you start fleshing them out, then go over them later, fruitful non sequitur happens and allows you to better the whole thing.