Wikipedia as a Life Line for the Creative Urge

If you are like me – and I know I am – then you know that when the creative urge strikes, it doesn’t always come hand-in-hand with ideas. You know you want to do…SOMETHING… but have no idea what that thing is. Much like the adrenaline high of a sudden scare which leads nowhere, the creative juices which were so powerful in the morning sit unused, and gradually sour into an afternoon of sitting fatassedly on the couch, watching television.

While browsing through Wikipedia the other day in the grip of post-urge ennui, I realized that the “On this day…” link on the right side of Wikipedia’s main page is a treasure trove of disparate events, united by the theme of having happened on this particular date, offset by a certain number of years. What if someone was to take a random-ish handful of the events which happened on a day, and from them construct a story, or a poem, or the plot to an adventure game? I tend to look at things through the lens of a semi-practicing Buddhist, so the idea of cycles and recurrence appeals to me, and the filter of requiring a specific date makes the data set manageable – it provides the constraint which helps stave off the onset of option paralysis.

Putting this idea into practice, look at the page for September 25. A lot happened on this date in history. Here is a (very) small sample:

275-Tacitus becomes Emperor of Rome.
1513-Balboa reaches the Pacific Ocean.
1775-Ethan Allen surrenders to the British.
1789-Creation of the Bill of Rights.
1972-Norway rejects membership of the European Union.
2008-China launches the spacecraft Shenzhou 7.

Fletcher Christian was born in 1764, Lu Xun in 1881, and Catherine Zeta-Jones in 1969.

Johannes Secundus died in 1536, Pope Clement VII in 1534, and George Plimpton in 2003.

Coincidence? I THINK NOT!!!

But you can see where I am going with this. Narrative frameworks could be constructed which follow specific threads or sub-filters of the information on that page – say, only the events which are political in nature, or only the deaths of artists, or only the births which happened in years evenly divisible by 10. Start with a set of disjointed data. Apply an arbitrary filter. Come up with a loose narrative which allows for a significant number of the events in the filtered set. Apply a second filter. Tighten the narrative. A third filter. Now the narrative either falls apart, or contains within it the seeds of a story.

While it can be difficult to pull a complete story out of such an exercise, it can provide the seed of something much more complex. Or, perhaps there is a poem somewhere in the mix. Or the framing story of a game. Or even a film script.

At its simplest, constructing a coherent story from such an arbitrary list of data is a good thought experiment. With National Novel Writing Month starting in a few days this could be the seed of something amazing.

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