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Old 02-28-2013, 02:41 AM   #1
crich70
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Keeping ideas fresh?

What are some tricks that seem to work well for keeping ideas fresh? I mean take Science Fiction or Horror or even Westerns as an example. They each have standard props based on the genre. Science fiction has robots, space ships, etc Horror has ghosts and Vampires and other such and Westerns have cowboys, indians, rustlers, the open range and such things. Just wondering how others have found ways to keep their writing fresh while still within the boundaries of the genre's. I mean there are standard types of stories within each genre. Westerns would be things like a ranch being in danger of a hostile takeover by another rancher or the hero vs. the local gunfighter or something for example.
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Old 02-28-2013, 08:36 AM   #2
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I've just finished reading H.G. Wells' "The Sleeper Awakes" (aka "When the Sleeper Wakes") - first published 1899. So the first thought that popped into my mind when I saw this thread was that the times keep changing. I could sit down now with the same basic plot (man goes to sleep for 200 years and then wakes up to find that he's master/owner of the world) and come up with a totally different story. Not just the language used, but the society I live in now is so different that the world I would envisage in the future would be very different. (I remember having similar thoughts when I re-read "War of the Worlds" recently, I got to where the artillery-man describes what the world might become under the Martians and I wanted to write that story.)

The immediate follow on thought is that a dozen of us here could pick up that same basic plot and come up with stories that felt completely different. Even if we tried to duplicate Wells' tendency to comment on trends in society - we all see them differently and have different priorities.

It's easy to look around and think that everything has been done, that there's nothing new under the sun - and much of the time it's true. It might be a new idea to one author, but it's a reasonable bet there's a book out there that's touched on the idea in one form or another. There isn't all that much that comes out that's completely, or even significantly, original - even the absolutely wonderful Harry Potter series fed from many things that had gone before, and yet the mix was original.

It can also be argued that building on what has gone before is to your advantage. One of the things I've heard people complain about with fantasy is that they get frustrated waiting to learn enough about the new world so they can get involved in the story. When you build on what people already know you get to jump into the story more quickly. One of the things that always surprises me when I pick up Pride and Prejudice is how little description is given, it is assumed you know (and thanks to TV, I do ).

(Good) Stories remain feeling fresh and original not because the ingredients are necessarily original, but because the author has found their own way to present the story, and found their own mix of ingredients.

I don't know if Meyer's were the first sparkly vampires (I've not read widely enough in the genre to know), but they were certainly different to the more traditional forms I'd read before. Some mix ideas from different genres: vampires and werewolves in space; magic and science-fiction; the whole steam-punk genre. Some look at (essentially) the same story from a different participant - the serfs rather than the kings ... and so on.

And then there's just the difference in what sort of story it is at its heart. It may be set in space and still be a romance, a horror story, a murder-mystery or whatever. Is the story about the idea, the situation and environment, the relationships, or the events. Good stories are usually about all these things, but each writer has a different emphasis and that makes each story feel different.

Hmm... getting carried away here. I'll let someone else have the floor.
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Old 02-28-2013, 12:51 PM   #3
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Well I mix genres in my writing so guess I am not qualified to answer!
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Old 02-28-2013, 03:28 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by crich70 View Post
What are some tricks that seem to work well for keeping ideas fresh? I mean take Science Fiction or Horror or even Westerns as an example. They each have standard props based on the genre. Science fiction has robots, space ships, etc Horror has ghosts and Vampires and other such and Westerns have cowboys, indians, rustlers, the open range and such things. Just wondering how others have found ways to keep their writing fresh while still within the boundaries of the genre's. I mean there are standard types of stories within each genre. Westerns would be things like a ranch being in danger of a hostile takeover by another rancher or the hero vs. the local gunfighter or something for example.
Start by loosening up your ideas of what constitutes genre. Standard props / tropes / themes may be hallmarks of their respective genres, but they aren't fences.

I find it interesting that you include Horror in your example, because it's pretty wide open. You can write Horror in any setting, with any character types. In Horror, the antagonist can literally be nothing except the protag's own mind / emotions. Sure, spooky house with ghosts or vampires, but also the innocent looking old lady at the corner grocery store. ANYTHING can be scary.

Genres serve a few purposes, but the primary one of value to a reader is finding books that match what they are looking for. As long as you stay within the wider definition of a given genre, you're not required to stick to an arbitrary checklist of story elements.

Do you feel a particular need to write in genre? I ask because, sometimes, a story just doesn't want to be pigeonholed on the front end. Write it, then decide where someone might go to find that story.
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Old 02-28-2013, 11:29 PM   #5
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You can always try taking some old tropes and turning them on their heads. Of course, that doesn't necessarily work because turning those tropes on their heads may already be a trope itself, but I'd say that might be a nice place to start if you want to play around with some ideas.
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Old 03-01-2013, 12:41 AM   #6
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I don't feel that I have to write within genre though I imagine most people who write do write in the genre's that they enjoy reading in. I just wondered what ideas others might have for coming up with original ideas within the genre's that they write in. I mean if a person is writing a romance for example (either a short story or novel) there are some traditional elements and well used plots usually. I mean basically romance is plot 28 of Polti's list (obstacles to love) so there are two lovers and something which keeps them apart. What that obstacle is of course varies as does the relative roles of the characters (rich girl, poor boy or vice versa and so forth). And I don't doubt that all the basic configurations have been used before. Two lovers vs the obstacle of others being opposed to their union for example is in both Romeo & Juliet and West Side Story and probably in other stories as well.
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Old 03-01-2013, 07:41 AM   #7
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I do not think it is that hard honestly.

You start with an idea, and build from there. "Bob loves Sally, but Sally is part zombie part werewolf and wants to eat him" Then you give some personality traits to them , toss them in a scene and let it fly.

The difference is in the telling and the details. Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings are the same story, but you would never consider them to be copies of each other.
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Old 03-01-2013, 09:49 AM   #8
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It also depends on where you're starting from. As already suggested, you can mix a few things together and see if you find it inspires thoughts for a story; or, as happened to me in my current series, you start with a situation and have to look around for a setting. In my case it wasn't just a setting, but an explanation for the scene that I needed. Looking back on it, I can now see many different ways I could have explained that first scene. If I had sat down to write in a different frame of mind the whole story would have been different.

One of the constraining factors that writers of fiction face is the need to satisfy the reader. Very few writers are good enough to carry off something that isn't a traditional: "introduction, build tension, one or more climaxes, big finish and quick wrap-up" style tale. Looked at in this light, the vast majority of stories are the same. There are exceptions, but if you're hoping for success in fiction you have to pay serious attention to reader expectation.

One of the "tricks" is to obscure that standard layout so that it doesn't feel quite so standard:
  • The tempting or mysterious prologue. (Though this is common enough to be almost standard now.)
  • Interspersing your text with snippets of separate text relevant to the story. I've seen this done in various ways:
    • definitions or reference texts (eg: Encyclopedia Galactica references in Foundation etc.)
    • what the aliens/enemies/others are doing now
    • what's happening now versus then
    • narrator observations/interludes/interruptions
  • Tell the story out of sequence
  • Swapping character perspectives
  • Have multiple threads going at once.

And these are all options that have little to do with what sort of story you're telling, they're just ways to give a tale subtly different feel.

Another way to make a difference is the style of language you choose to tell it. For example I love the way Neil Gaiman wrote "Stardust" - that almost childlike sense of a fairy tale about the story. Others have done it too. Or you can go the other way and take a fairy tale and tell it for adults.

There are so many choices it's a wonder a writer ever makes a start.
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Old 03-02-2013, 02:30 AM   #9
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Most plots have been retold since Ugg was telling stories around the campfire. It's the characters who matter, and how a writer responds to the genre's cliches. In romance there is always the overheard misunderstood conversation. It almost always results in tearful recriminations. It would be a fresh change to have it result it the opposite; misplace adoration that ends in the usual boy gets girl. At one time it seemed as if every romance had a scene where the villeiness threatened to destroy the reputation of the hero and the heroine tearfully chose to give him up rather than let this happen. Then Julie Garwood wrote the same scene except that in her case the heroine pulled out a knife and threatened to cut the villeiness' nose off. A humorous refreshing change. So much science fiction is on a huge, grand scale these days. No wonder so many of us long for a simple Heinlein juvenile.
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Old 03-04-2013, 10:52 PM   #10
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"It's the characters who matter, and how a writer responds to the genre's cliches."

I couldn't agree more.
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Old 03-06-2013, 04:58 AM   #11
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In my experience, ideas feel fresh when you flesh them out with interesting and unexpected information.

If you simply say that Jake was a vampire, readers will rely on their mental hoard of stereotypes to fill in the details. The result will feel flat and predictable. But if you make it clear that Jake is a high-profile political adviser to the President of the United States who wears sunglasses and black leather gloves to conceal his vampiric nature, things begin to get more interesting. Add in the fact that Jake has a human girlfriend with an adorable three-year-old daughter, and that he's being blackmailed by political adversaries of the president, and you're on your way to a fresh, new take on vampires.
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Old 03-06-2013, 10:10 AM   #12
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Random House just now posted this...

Quote:
"I don't have a method. All I do is read a lot, think a lot & rewrite constantly. It's not a scientific thing."―Gabriel G. Márquez, b 3/6/27
Sums it up very well I think.
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Old 03-06-2013, 04:25 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by VydorScope View Post
Random House just now posted this...
Quote:
"I don't have a method. All I do is read a lot, think a lot & rewrite constantly. It's not a scientific thing."―Gabriel G. Márquez, b 3/6/27
Sums it up very well I think.
Indeed. Though I imagine some people seeing it will say,"That's it? No special rituals or formula's of any kind?"
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Old 03-06-2013, 05:42 PM   #14
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Indeed. Though I imagine some people seeing it will say,"That's it? No special rituals or formula's of any kind?"
They are welcome to use them... then write about them. Could make a could story...
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Old 03-10-2013, 12:53 AM   #15
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Is this not half the battle, coming up with new ideas (plots or themes)? The other half is the manner of expression, whether you call this style or construction. Ideas require imagination, and prolific writers (Stephen King or Charles Dickens) seem to have an unlimited fountain of ideas which they can tap. Let your dreams be your guide. Don't ignore precognition, either. King's novel, Misery, preceded his debilitating accident (1990) by at least three years. Although the truck that hit him was not evil like Christine (1983), there are strange connections with that book, too. Some need a life experience to write a book. Others can reach into the future and bring back an experience. Think of yourself as a reporter or observer. Use that wonderful brain of yours to build a library of events, both conscious and subconscious, and then twist it so it can become the basis of a story.
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