Thickening (the quality of) plots…

It’s been said that there are only so many story plots out there, and that essentially all the tales that have ever been written revolve around one or other of those plots. And yet, writers continually come up with new and inventive ways of saying the same thing.

And that, allied to any innate talent that you as a writer possess, is one of the means by which to get noticed – your writing has to have at least a modicum of originality. But that’s a lot easier said than done, isn’t it? And given that no-one can ever read all the books and stories that have been written, even just within your favoured genre, even if you come up with something ‘original’ there’s no guarantee that someone hasn’t thought of it first.

I have plenty of ideas for stories, but very few of them, as initially envisaged in my head anyway, are entirely original in scope and theme. It’s what I try to do to them afterwards that’s more important. My most recent story, “Sentinels”, is, on reflection, hardly cutting-edge and the vampire story I have in mind started off quite pedestrian (after all, it’s fairly difficult to come up with new stories of the undead ones that are no more than rehashes of existing stories). But I have been thinking a lot about both and I am slowly resolving them into stories that I hope WILL have a little more originality than when I first thought of/wrote them.

It’s not just about being able to write well, I’ve discovered, although that undoubtedly helps. There has to be something more, something ‘other’. And any writer who is serious about wanting to write needs to find a way to tap that vein of imagination, that little seam of something extra that will help to lift them that much more above the heads of others. Yes, there are some authors who have made a good living out of rehashing the same plot over and over again, but ultimately they will more often than not be the ones whose names will be forgotten quickly. It’s those whose imaginations transcend the normal confines of genre, or who have something new to say about what’s gone before, who climb the mountain and attain the summit.

It is very hard to get noticed these days, without a doubt, even with as great a tool as the internet.  But. as wonderful as it is, the internet is both a help and a hindrance. It’s easier to disseminate your material but it’s also awash with utter crap, infinitely more so than your average bookstore shelf or airport departure lounge newsagent. Coming up with inventive plots, or new twists on old themes, is the only way of helping propel you forwards.

There’s no advice that anyone can give to help you dip into that particular wellspring of ideas, either – in other words, you either have it or you don’t. Some people naturally see things very differently from the rest of us, while others read something that especially gets their adrenaline pumping and want to write something very similar. I seek to write stories that avoid cliché as much as is possible but inevitably it’s a great deal harder to think of something new and original than it is to revisit a story you particularly like and write your own version. And I never want to go for the easy option, as tempting as that might be.

So far, I reckon I float somewhere between the no-hopers and and the giants. I can certainly write, I do know that, all I need now is to come up with the ideas that’ll lift me up a little higher. It’s all part of the plan, though. I may never actually achieve it but, hell, I’ll enjoy my road to nowhere anyway.


One Response to “Thickening (the quality of) plots…”

  1. You can write, absolutely!

    A quick little story to illustrate your point. When I started my “Strange Tales” (this would be back in 1999/2000), the estate that we lived on was only half built. As we walked along in the evening, from the pub or shop or just a wander, we’d pass compounds with machinery in them. One night, the fence rattled and my mind took off. I wrote what I thought was a fun little story called “The Compound”, about a security guard who is doing his rounds and goes to the machine compound and the bulldozer sparks into life and edges up to him, scaring him half to death before – we assume – running over him (it’s been a long time since I read the story, I can’t really remember). I was thrilled with it, hoped it wasn’t too close to “Maximum Overdrive” (or “Trucks”) and sent it to Interzone. I got a furious, hand-written note a month or so later (by someone I’d never heard or – and, indeed, never heard of again), saying that if I was going to plagiarise stuff, Theordore Sturgeon’s “KillDozer” was not the story to go with.

    I was, as you would expect, gutted. I hadn’t plagiarised anything (to my knowledge, I have never committed that foul act) and, if I had, I certainly wouldn’t have sent it in to a respected periodical. I’d never heard of “KillDozer” (in fact, to this day, I’ve not seen the film or read the story), everything in that story was mine and although it did eventually get published, it always had a little tarnish that I could never shake off.

    So with “Sentinels”, the story is there for all of us to pick over (like my “Ha Ha Ha” as I mentioned), it’s what you do inside it that counts. But recognising that is a step along the road!

    Keep it up, as if I need to tell you that!

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