In a sense, the Web ruined storytelling. With so many reviews, fan sites, and analytical dissections clogging up that series of tubes, an Internet dweller can easily become jaded to something he or she has never even read. I’ve never so much as opened a page of The Twilight Saga, but I’ve witness the online world beat that story to a pulp so many times that I could write a hit piece about Meyer’s prose faster than a procrastinating student in the hour before grades are due. Not one minute of my life on that saga, and I can already tell you why calling those books a “saga” is hilarious.
Point is, it’s easier than ever to say “I know what this will be like” or “Seen it!” before you, you know, see it. This circumstance of cynical customers isn’t bad, per say… you could argue it’s the sign of a more intellectually mature audience. But then this ever-present truth— that you can go to TV Tropes and find out that nothing is original nowadays— brushes up against the uncomfortable truth that authors have known for a while: nothing is original nowadays. We writers struggle with the concept of “nothing new under the sun,” and it was bad enough when only writers had the time and insight to notice that. How can authors make something new? Could they ever?
My suggestion: take inspiration from modern sources! A fair amount of entertainment nowadays requires an active participant. Do they not create their own story each time they step into the field/card shop/Xbox opening menu? With that element of randomness thrown in, it won’t be hard to find something new, if you know where to look and you already have some ideas to work with.
If you’re looking for inspiration to supplement your concepts, or give structure to your story, why not study…
- Video Games: Not the plot or cutscenes or description text, but the stories that come about from playing the game— otherwise known as the ludonarrative. Did your favorite Let’s-Player, distracted by her co-host, end up throwing a grenade at her feet during the climactic showdown at a fireworks store? If that was the start of a story, instead of an end, you can open an entire world from that point. Did a lucky button-press glitch you past half a game’s content, sending you to a hellish volcano armed with only a super soaker? I’d love to know where that tale goes from there! Remember, sanding off the serial numbers is only illegal in the real world. You can change the costumes, setting, and backstory of this video, but you write something just as goofy and funny, you’ll get about the same number of viewers.
- Sports: This is one experiment, fellow writer, which you must do without me. I’m not a sports fan, and any sports-related ideas I’ve dreamed up tend to fit the plot of a sports movie. The same might happen to you… unless you apply metaphors. What if your McGuffin is passed around the galaxy like a hockey puck is passed from player to player? One can compare football to war, but what if each player on your favorite team represented a different army?
- Board Games, Card Games, and Roleplaying Games: Like within video games, a player’s input can take a story in a direction never seen by man, woman, or writer. You can do the same with Settlers of Catan or Dungeons and Dragons… and you’re free to recontextualize. For example, most official sources would consider a game of Magic the Gathering akin to, within that universe, two wizards throwing spells at each other. I never saw it that way. All those creatures and lands and politics with other players… I always imagined fantasy nations sending their brightest and mightiest into battle. Not a brawl, but a mythological war epic. I’m a nerd and a loser, and I’m sorry.
You can fight monsters of all kinds in these games, from wyrms to wraiths to writers. Once in a while, ask yourself how you’re fighting them.
- YouTube: I don’t know, just yet, how to base one’s writing on a YouTube video. All I know is this: someone will, and that someone will make a lot of money. Think of how much love people like Toby Fox or George Lucas receive from taking then-dismissed “junk” media and creating a homage that’s also something meaningful. From one man’s trash, you can make your own treasure. And if that doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will.