The Official Portal to the Madness of Dark Fiction Author Patrick C. Greene

Writing:The Illusion of Originality

It’s safe to say most writers aspire to create work that’s considered “original.”

If you believe you’ve happened upon an untouched concept, just ask: what are the chances? If I had a Spanish doubloon for every “fresh idea” I had – only to discover it had already been done, I’d have a soggy treasure chest full of worthless currency.

In the horror genre it seems, originality is highly praised — and barely read. The key is to find unusual angles for the usual tropes.

Let’s take the zombie sub-genre. Clearly it has reached a saturation point in every possible medium. Like the ambling corpses that populate it, it keeps hanging on, long after there’s any point or purpose. That’s not to say zombie stories are no longer relevant. If anything their persistence is testament to their relatability. Even before Romero, we vaguely understood the implications of an afterlife far removed from our idealized concepts — for both sides of the deal. We see how similar our neighbors seem to these mindless decaying machines of consumption. So what stories are there to be told within its framework?

Survival, loss, hardship and terror.

All humans made equal by a shared crisis. Plenty of room for stories within that framework, right? Yes, actually. People will still fall in and out of love, have children, make friends and enemies, compete for attention and position, strive for better lives. These are human stories, about life. Originality is rendered irrelevant.

Ridley Scott’s ALIEN was hardly a brand-new concept, having culled most of its basic story elements from IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE and PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES. The characters, blue-collar types performing tedious, unfulfilling jobs (in space, by happenstance) are not written to be admired for their intellect, toughness or discipline. They’re you. me and our neighbor, coffeeing up to go punch a clock every day till Kingdom Come.

Whoa! That lame-ass job just got real sketchy with the addition of an insidiously predatory element which none of them (us) have any hopes of predicting or understanding.

Ripley’s story is that of a good worker doing a thankless job who may or may not have hooked up with her superior at some point, and just really wants to stay alive. Saving mankind, thwarting her employers’ evil plot, and eliminating a grave threat are just unexpected breaks she was lucky enough to catch. Nothing wrong with that.

It’s different from its forebears only in that it’s more about characters than scenario. Is that original?

In Craigslist LA’s writing gigs category, it was common a few years ago to find this basic post, with little variation:

SCRIPTS WANTED: Low budget,1 – 2 locations, minimal FX. FRESH, ORIGINAL CONCEPTS ONLY!!!!!

Putting aside the multiple layers of irony, it’s fair to say most horror film producers posting on craigslist, don’t really know what they mean by “original.”

The “original story concept” is an illusion, or at least so wispy that chasing it requires time and energy better spent writing the billionth haunted house yarn, and then imbuing it with the depth and meaning of experiences we all share.

I once spent a lot of time wracking my brains trying to think of original horror concepts. I was missing the point. Horror is ancient, primal, even predictable in its way. When you gaze upon a rollercoaster as you stand in line to ride, you have an understanding of what it’s going to do — but you’re not prepared for the depth of what it does. I now understand that it’s the depth that is most important — as long as it’s built on a damn sturdy framework.

One of the reasons I made RED HARVEST’s The Chalk Outlines a horror punk band is that I’ve never seen characters from such a niche musical genre in prominent roles. The Halloween parade, hallucinatory treats, weird, tech-less (yet modern) setting — all part of an effort to do something unusual with common tropes. Experimentation, but with known components.

Likewise, with the upcoming followup GRIM HARVEST, I chose to steer away from too closely mimicking the structure of the first. Some may find this jarring. But this is horror. If it’s not jarring, then something’s wrong.

If lack of an original concept is jamming you up, then let me suggest doing the opposite. Choose to write the cliche’s rather than not to write at all, and write them better. There’s somebody out there for whom every formula is a new experience, and just as many who relish crawling into the same warm bed night after night, under the same comfortingly disquieting darkness.
One of the reasons I made RED HARVEST’s The Chalk Outlines a horror punk band is that I’ve never seen characters from such a niche musical genre in prominent roles. The Halloween parade, hallucinatory treats, weird, tech-less (yet modern) setting — all part of an effort to do something unusual with common tropes. Experimentation, but with known components.

Likewise, with the upcoming followup GRIM HARVEST, I chose to steer away from too closely mimicking the structure of the first. Some may find this jarring. But this is horror. If it’s not jarring, then something’s wrong.

If lack of an original concept is jamming you up, then let me suggest doing the opposite. Choose to write the cliche’s rather than not to write at all, and write them better. There’s somebody out there for whom every formula is a new experience, and just as many who relish crawling into the same warm bed night after night, under the same comfortingly disquieting darkness.

One of the reasons I made RED HARVEST’s The Chalk Outlines a horror punk band is that I’ve never seen characters from such a niche musical genre in prominent roles. The Halloween parade, hallucinatory treats, weird, tech-less (yet modern) setting — all part of an effort to do something unusual with common tropes. Experimentation, but with known components.
Likewise, with the upcoming followup GRIM HARVEST, I chose to steer away from too closely mimicking the structure of the first. Some may find this jarring. But this is horror. If it’s not jarring, then something’s wrong.
If lack of an original concept is jamming you up, then let me suggest doing the opposite. Choose to write the cliche’s rather than not to write at all, and write them better. There’s somebody out there for whom every formula is a new experience, and just as many who relish crawling into the same warm bed night after night, under the same comfortingly disquieting darkness.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s