Regardless of the creative endeavor, it is unbelievably easy to slip into the habit of doing what you’ve always done, or revamp what someone else has written without realizing it.
Unless your story is paranormal and writing like a zombie has taken on a different meaning because you’ve gotten into character, zombie-like writing means using the same thing over and over by rote. As writers we recognize there are a given number of basic plots, although many variations result in books and screenplays we love. There are a given number of character types plus a multitude of settings. The trick is working with those to keep them fresh while developing the story. Sometimes an author pumps the same story through the channels with a slight change in characters or situations, as though one of the living dead produced the manuscript. When this happens, readers might think they’ve read the book before. Publishers could reject it for the same reason.
What if it’s just the writer being lazy and producing a new story by adding a few quirks or situations here and there? Once they are peeled away the story is almost the same as a previous one.
Where’s the zest? A zombie could write the same thing over and over, changing a few pertinent details without breaking a sweat. Wait a minute—do zombies sweat?
No matter. The point is to breathe life into everything you write. A few examples of not doing that come to mind. Back in the 1970’s one of my relatives by marriage was co-owner of a major animation studio. I happened to be in his office one day when a writer popped in. They had a brief discussion about the plot for an upcoming episode. It went something like this:
“How about using that story from the dogcatcher one we did last year? You know—if we change the dog to a cat, move a few things around, we’ve got a script.”
I don’t recall the writer’s exact answer, but it went something like: “Hmmm. No, I like the runaway story from last November better. Better opportunities for changes and it would feel fresher.”
That happened many years ago, and I have no idea of what they finally did, but from the conversation I’d bet the final script was probably the same old, same old with a fresh application of makeup.
A few months later, with that conversation still in mind, I checked out TV listings. That day no less than three diverse shows, all set in distinctive places with different themes, had the exact storyline and were on within half-an-hour of each other.
Sometimes you don’t even recognize your own zombie-like writing until someone else points it out.
“Hey, Johnnie—that really sounds like your last book. The guy discovers his wife cheating, convinces her to take out a big insurance policy, then hires a hitman.”
“What are you talking about? In this book it’s the girl who discovers her fiancé cheating, decides to cheat on him and winds up plotting to kill him.”
“Uh, oh. On the insurance policy he took out naming her as beneficiary when they became engaged.”
Taking the second scenario, see how many different ways that story could be told without emulating Johnnie’s previous book. Here are a few prompts:
- Is it a comedy, a thriller, romance or other genre?
- Does he actually kill her or does it blow up in his face?
- Does the fiancé who didn’t really cheat on the woman, discover she met with the hitman and turn the tables?
- Maybe she was wealthy and he not only cheated physically but ripped her off.
- What would this turn into a revenge story?
- A mistaken identity story?
- What if they talk it out, discover neither was really cheating and live happily after?
- Do more people enter the equation?
There are a multitude of possibilities to spice it up while still following the same basic premise. That’s zesty writing.
The book “Writers’ Tricks of the Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About Writing Fiction” will be released later this year. Writers tricks of the trade appears in the Los Angeles every Friday and Las Vegas edition every Thursday. Read Spotlight in the L.A. edition on Wednesday and Las Vegas edition on Tuesday for interviews and profiles with local and visiting authors, writers’ events and more.
MORGAN ST. JAMES co-authors the award-winning comical crime capers of the Silver Sisters Mysteries. The latest one, Vanishing Act in Vegas, is due out later this year. Morgan is a frequent speaker, panel member or moderator and presents writers’ and motivational workshops.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Visit her websites www.silversistersmysteries.com, www.morganstjames-author.com, and www.devils-dance.com. Or, check out the new Morgan’s World Blog. It has nothing to do with writing–just her thoughts, memories and opinions about a variety of subjects.