Should authors just give up on originality?
I’ve heard a lot said about there being nothing new in fiction. In script writing I frequently run across the saying “the same only different.” Let’s face it, though—a writer wants to convey unique ideas, and such a hope drove most of my efforts this last year.
Classic monsters provided fertile foraging ground. I wrote three such stories in the first fifteen days. Looking for the “different” in the “same only different” among monsters became a routine part of my brainstorming. And why not? Monsters are cool.
By the way, if these “Idea Generation Strategies” amount to mere navel-gazing, it’s all good. It sometimes feels that way to me. Keep writing and more power to you. My intention is to give examples of strategies that got me through three hundred sixty-five stories in three hundred sixty-five days. If you get something out of it, all the better.
Back to business.
(If you want to prevent any spoiler effect, read Day 3: All for Amila before reading the next paragraph.)
I wrote about a zombie in Day 3: All for Amila. I have lots of opinions about zombies, and getting me to talk about them is a lot like asking a few teenagers who the best Avenger is. You’re going to get an earful, and it may or may not be entertaining. So I figured I could find my own angle. I asked myself what kind of person would be most resistant to a zombie infection or curse, and what I came up with provided me immeasurable satisfaction.
Before starting the Flash-a-Day project, I already had a couple ideas regarding vampires that I put into Day 6: Unrelenting Baptism. It’s possible the ideas in this story are the most original in the entire run, and I’m quite proud of it. I’d have to dig a lot deeper into my navel to explain. The story didn’t come from ticking down the list of monsters like the others did, but it highlighted them as a potential fount of new angles.
I struggled to write Day 15: The Mummy’s Last Redress. That day began my third week, and ideas grew thin. I had already floundered late into the night, so fatigue dogged my mind. The decision to write about a mummy pushed me even later because it created the need for research into Egyptian stuff to find realistic names, determine religious references, and assure the geography made at least a little sense.
In spite of the difficulty, it was an important turning point. I’d already burned through some reserves, and completing the story, for the first time, made me feel like I might actually be able to follow this project through. To find that original angle, I asked myself who a mummy might be and how anything in the modern world might be relevant to him at all.
This poor creature from one of the longest lasting civilizations known by man woke up in a completely unrecognizable world, only stone remnants of ancient Egypt still remaining. What could he possibly care about? What could possibly persist? By answering those questions, I found a gratifying new angle for a mummy story.
There’s no specific method to this other than keeping a list of classic monsters and going through it again and again until some original angle occurs to you. Are there any questions you have about their natures that are unanswered? Answer those questions and discover some cool stories.
Here are some questions that I asked and answered:
—How does a little girl deal with a bullyish ghost? (Day 43: Isabel and the Ghost)
—How is Frankenstein’s monster adjusting to the modern world? (Day 278: Interview with Frankenstein’s Monster — 1-2-3-D!)
—What is so horrifying about a werewolf’s transformation that his friends won’t talk about it and refuse to take a video? (Day 295: The Burdens of a Werewolf)
—Who among acquaintances at a dinner party is the werewolf? (Day 32/33: Dinner at Horton’s – Part 1 & 2)
Occasionally I would find a second story for a particular kind of monster, like Day 311: Don’t Blaspheme the Mummy, but most only gave me one. Attempts at sequels didn’t work well for me, either. Although monsters were a finite source, they provided happy moments when I discovered them.
I don’t know if these stories were truly unique, but they were new and original to me. They benefitted the development of my craft, and made this project well worthwhile. And, wow. Look at that. My navel is fuzz free.