This started out as a simple reply to an article that Speculative Faith ran, written by a man who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to writing and you can go and read his excellent thoughts here: Wayne’s thoughts on writing new.
As soon as I had finished reading his tips, a sense of insurmountable dread washed over me. There was absolutely no way that I could do what he recommended.
Honestly, I’m not that imaginative. I can’t play the ‘what if’ game any more. Part of my imagination, I think, has been damaged. Like a limb that’s lost feeling it fumbles and bumbles around in the writer’s plane while I watch other writers imaginations dance and twirl with ease. Mine lumbers along, barely lifting its feet, having as much life as a Golem, but at least it is moving. The tips Wayne gave however made it slow down, slow down, slow down.
To keep my ungainly imagination from sitting down and imitating a mountain for the rest of time, I began to really think about what Wayne said, and a glimmer of hope came and flitted about my dulled sense of wonder.
A writer can’t really write anything new. The Lord, speaking through Solomon reminded us all that “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl. 1:9)
There are between 30-40 plots that exist in the storyteller’s library. Let me say that again, there are no new plots, only new twists on the old standbys. To that, a writer can add roughly 16 master character archetypes, and 3 different narrative points of view (first person, second person, third person)*.
So that means every writer has in their recipe/story box the same ingredients:
16 character archetypes
3 narrative voices
These are the same ingredients that ever storyteller has had to work with since one person sat down at a fire and said to the others “A long time ago in place quite like this one…” And yet from that moment until now, people have told stories. And not the same story either.
So how can a writer come up with something exciting?
There’s one piece which is different in each story, and that is the tale-teller.
We writers each get the same ingredients; plot, character, and narrative voice. It is our unique perspective and experience that makes the stories different. It’s the writers choices of how much of each item, and which of each item to use that makes the story memorable. The writer is the chef who manipulates the ingredients of the story and makes their tale a savory dish, different from all the others. This is especially true within a genre or story type.
Here’s an example:
Dream Treaders by Wayne Thomas Batson
Wake by Lisa McMann
Gossamer by Lois Lowry (author of The Giver)
Dream Hunter by Elizabeth Knox
All of the above books are about characters who can enter/manipulate/use dreams to get to another country. All of them are different, because of their writers took the ingredients and shifted them around in a unique way. Same ingredients, different dishes.
So don’t be intimidated, be bold! Be daring! Study the writing ingredients, create a story, and let me taste your creations!
As for me, I’m going to add a little more drama/spice to the short story I’m working on and see if that doesn’t get my Golem imagination two-stepping. Below, you will find links to resources about the 30-40 plots, 12 character archetypes, if you want to look more into these tools.
Theme & Strategy (out of print but seriously worth hunting down)
The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes (out of print except for eformat)
Now I’ve shared how my imagination is doing (bumbling fumbling Golem) how are you starting out the new year as a writer? Is your imagination hibernating? Is it dancing? Rearing and ready to go? Let me know in the comments.
* Omniscient Narration is a type of third person and there are other types of third person as well that I’m not listing here.