Two Ways To Spruce Up A Familiar Story

Well, for today, I though that I’d look at some very basic ways to spruce up a familiar story. This was inspired by a couple of things.

First of all, the novel I’m reading at the moment is an Agatha Christie novel called “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas” (1938) – which seems to be a traditional-style Agatha Christie detective story, but has a rather amusing letter printed near the beginning of the story which shows that Christie responded to her brother-in-law who wanted a story ” […] with lots of blood” by writing this story. And, yes, by Agatha Christie standards, this is one of her gorier detective stories.

The other was when I rediscovered one of my favourite websites – a site that preserves and exhibits old 1940s-50s US horror comics, called “The Horrors Of It All[note: this site may technically be “not safe for work”]. Anyway, I noticed that one of the cool-looking comics on the site, called “Death Came Calling” seemed to be a thinly-disguised retelling of the famous “Appointment In Samarra” story.

So, naturally, this made me think about how to spruce up stories that can become old, stale or familiar in some way or another. Here are two of the many ways that you can do this.

1) Surrounding factors: Despite the rather familiar storyline, the “Death Came Calling” horror comic that I mentioned earlier still caught my attention thanks to Dick Ayres’ utterly amazing artwork. The story itself was nothing new, but the awesome, vivid and melodramatic artwork surrounding it really helped to keep it interesting.

So, one way to spruce up a familiar story is simply to change some of the things surrounding the story. For example, the narrative voice in a novel, the art in a comic, the lighting in a film, the emotional tone of a story etc….

The best examples of this sort of thing can, of course, be found in music. Whether it is musicians covering songs using a different style (eg: A band called Gregorian, who perform Gregorian chant covers of pop, rock, heavy metal etc.. songs) or musicians using very different instruments to play “faithful” covers of songs (eg: PaweΕ‚ ZadroΕΌniak’s “Floppotron ).

2) Add another genre:
Another way to spruce up a familiar story is simply to add something from another genre to it. The best way to do this is to see what two genres have in common with each other and then find a way to emphasise this to some degree.

For example, although it isn’t a horror story, Agatha Christie’s “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas” certainly takes some inspiration from the genre with it’s eerie locked room mystery and (by 1930s standards) gory crime scene descriptions. Since both the detective and horror genres usually revolve around the topic of death, finding a way to bring elements across from one genre to the other isn’t that difficult.

Still, a better example of this from Agatha Christie is probably “And Then There Were None”. About a decade ago, I binge-read this crime novel in a single night and couldn’t sleep afterwards. It’s a story about ten people who are summoned to a remote house and find themselves under threat from a mysterious murderer who leaves riddles and clues after each killing. In other words, it is a 1930s-40s version of the “Saw” movies…. and it is terrifying! After all, both the detective and horror genres rely heavily on suspense – so, they blend really well in this novel.

So, yes, another way to spruce up a familiar story is just to add elements from another genre to it.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Things To Do When You Can’t Write In Your Favourite Genres

When I posted daily short stories here last February, I quickly realised that I probably wouldn’t be able to write in some of my favourite genres. Sometimes this was due to practical reasons (eg: time reasons, research reasons etc..) and sometimes this was due to worries about potential censorship (eg: with regard to gruesome splatterpunk horror fiction etc…).

Yet, despite these limitations, I was still able to feel inspired regularly and to find interesting workarounds to solve this problem to some extent. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for what to do when you can’t write in your favourite genres (whether because of self-censorship, skills, circumstances etc…).

1) Bury it within another genre: I’ll start with what to do if you don’t feel that you have the practical skills to really do your favourite genres justice. Although this can be solved by the right amount of research into the genre (and thinking about it like a critic), there’s also a quick workaround if you want to start writing this genre right now.

Basically, find a genre that you are confident writing in and then find some way to add stuff from the other genre to it. This way, you won’t find yourself “out of your depth” because, if you’re struggling, you can just fall back on the other genre.

To give you an example, I’ve always wanted to write something about pirates – but, this requires lots of historical research, research about ships etc… to do properly. So, instead, when I really wanted to write a pirate-themed story last year, I mixed it with the cyberpunk genre. The short story takes place in a stylised virtual reality pirate-themed videogame, allowing me to add all of the hilarious and/or melodramatic pirate tropes that I wanted to without worrying about historical accuracy, nautical accuracy etc..

So, one way to write in a genre that you can’t write in is simply to combine parts of it with a genre that you can write in.

2) Elements, implications and hints: If censorship or self-censorship is a problem, then one way to keep the enthusiasm of writing in your favourite genres if you can’t write in them is to be a bit more subtle. In other words, use implications, subtle elements from your genre and/or references to it.

This one is pretty self-explanatory really, although the exact details of how to do it will probably vary from story to story. So, the best advice that I can offer is to look at what film and television do. Since these mediums are more heavily plagued by censorship than literature is, they’ve had to come up with all sorts of clever and creative ways to say or show more than they actually do on screen.

Likewise, take a look at slightly older literature (eg: from the early-mid 20th century) too. Yes, this literature often contains elements that are fairly dated when read these days, but it’s also a great way to learn about how to get stuff past the censors too.

Whether it is the way that things are described (eg: in a brief, clinical and/or detached way), whether it is the way that writers create an atmosphere (through descriptions, characters etc..) where it’s obvious that shocking events are probably happening “out of sight”, whether it is what a writer chooses to focus on etc.. Older literature can offer a few interesting pointers for getting stuff past the censors.

3) Metafiction: Finally, one way to write in genres that you can’t write in is to write about them instead. This also allows you to write much more sophisticated stories too.

For example, this story about two ageing 1980s horror writers is a story about the splatterpunk genre, but it isn’t a splatterpunk story. Instead, it’s kind of a tragi-comedic look at what happens when a genre loses popularity, the contrast between modern culture and the 1980s etc… This allowed me to write something about the splatterpunk genre, without writing anything particularly gruesome.

Likewise, this story about the censorship of horror and crime comics during the 1950s was a way about talking about one of my favourite types of comics – but it was also a story about the damage that censorship does to culture (eg: the current dominance of superhero comics/movies can be directly attributed to the censorship of much more interesting horror and crime comics during the 1950s).

So, yes, if you can’t write in a genre – then try writing about it.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Tips For Bringing Old Genres Up To Date

Whilst reading the book I reviewed a couple of days ago, I realised something. It was a book from 2013 that was basically a 1990s-style action movie in disguise πŸ™‚ It surprised me that the type of films that I really wish Hollywood still made still existed… but in book form.

Not only that, the novel had also brought this old genre (eg: 1990s-style action movies) into the present day in a way that didn’t really seem too nostalgic or old-fashioned. It felt totally fresh and new, yet it was undeniably a 1990s action movie in book form.

So, this made me think about how to bring old genres up to date – and I thought that I’d offer a few tips:

1) Timeless elements: The best way to bring an old genre up to date is to look at the basic underlying elements that make the genre so distinctive. The qualities that can be quickly summed up in ten words or less. In other words, the timeless parts of the genre.

For example, with 1990s-style action movies, this would include things like: Ludicrous villain plots, non-topical drama, teams of main characters (instead of a lone hero), an optimistic attitude, interesting location choices, a friendly atmosphere, light-hearted romance, a sense of humour, making mundane things thrilling etc…

With 1980s-style cyberpunk novels, this would include things like: Information overload, jargon-heavy narration, gloomy weather, morally-ambiguous protagonists, alternative worlds (eg: cyberspace), cynicism, hyper-capitalist dystopias, fast-paced storytelling etc…

With 1980s-style splatterpunk horror novels, this would include things like: Poetic descriptions of ugly things, gory violence, the mundane mixed with the horrific, a dark sense of humour, a grim sense of poetic justice, complex background characters who die soon after they appear, lurid titillation etc..

Once you’ve found the timeless elements of an old genre (by studying it), then it’s just a simple case of writing a modern story that includes these elements. Even if your story is set in the present day and has a few differences, if you include lots of the timeless elements from an old genre, then your story will remind people of it.

2) Nostalgia: This is a bit of a complicated one. On the one hand, nostalgia is absolutely amazing. On the other hand, it can get in the way of what makes updated modern versions of old genres so fascinating – namely the feeling of discovering something new in a genre that you thought was long since gone.

After all, many of the original works in an old or forgotten genre weren’t made for nostalgia. They were made to tell stories, to entertain people and as a form of creative expression. All of the nostalgia was added later by fans. So, even if you don’t include any nostalgia, then your audience will add it anyway.

As such, don’t go overboard with nostalgia when updating an old genre if you can help it. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, too much obvious nostalgia can remind the audience that they’re looking at something based on something old – rather than getting to experience the joy of discovering a totally new work in a forgotten genre. So, be subtle about including nostalgia and don’t include too much of it.

3) Streamlining: Simply put, get rid of whatever doesn’t work whenever you’re updating an old genre. Be ruthless.

But, be sure that you have a good understanding of how an old genre works before you decide what is worth keeping. To use a videogame-based example, a lot of “awkward” design choices in old survival horror games (eg: strange camera angles, limited inventory, clumsy movement/combat controls etc..) are deliberately there to make the player feel vulnerable, and therefore even more scared.

But, if you find something that used to work in a genre (but which doesn’t work these days), then get rid of it and replace it with something that does work. One example of this that I briefly mentioned in an article a couple of days ago is how older and newer thriller novels handle things like sentence length and linguistic complexity differently.

One of the main differences between a thriller novel from the 1970s and one from the 2010s is that the old one only had to compete with films/TV, but the new one also has to compete with boxsets, smartphones, the internet, videogames etc… too. So, things like more matter-of-fact descriptions, shorter sentences and shorter chapters might mean that new thrillers aren’t the same as classic thrillers. But, they work!

These changes mean that they’re efficient and readable enough to hold their own against boxsets, games etc.. They still evoke the same emotions as older thriller novels do, but they’ve had to cut out the excess in order to keep doing this in the 21st century.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Two Very Basic Ways To Create A New Sub-Genre

Well, although this is a short article about creativity in general, I’m going to have to start by talking about music briefly. This is mostly because I seem to be listening to slightly more heavy metal than usual at the time of writing.

Anyway, one of the defining features of the heavy metal genre is how many different sub-genres of heavy metal there are.

There’s symphonic metal, classic metal, power metal, thrash metal, speed metal, black metal, death metal, pirate metal, folk metal, trance metal etc…

Yet, all of these sub-genres are still very recognisable as heavy metal. So, although I’ve probably mentioned all of this stuff before, here are two very basic tips for how to make your own sub-genre (of art, fiction, music etc…).

1) Have a wide range of influences: Generally speaking, many new sub-genres are created when someone takes inspiration from something outside of their chosen genre.

For example, the Symphonic Metal sub-genre probably began when someone thought “what this opera really needs is some electric guitars“. Likewise, the Folk Metal sub-genre probably also began when someone thought the same thing about folk music.

Likewise, the Zomcom genre of films probably began with a brilliantly hilarious film called “Shaun Of The Dead”, which is a mixture of a romantic comedy and a zombie movie. If the creator of this film had only taken inspiration from one genre, the film wouldn’t be the distinctive, genre-defining classic that it is.

So, having a slightly wider range of influences will make it much easier for you to find new things to blend with your favourite genre. And, this is how you make a new sub-genre.

2) Know your tastes: Another way that new sub-genres can be created is when a person realises exactly what they really love about their favourite genre and then decides to turn it “up to eleven”.

A good example of this would probably be Splatterpunk fiction – this is a sub-genre of horror fiction that was popular during the 1980s/90s and it probably just stemmed from several horror writers thinking “why can’t horror novels include more blood and guts? Horror movies can include this stuff, why can’t we? Best of all, we don’t have to deal with film censors either….“.

So, if you’re a massive fan of a particular genre, then look carefully at which elements of the genre you really love, and then emphasise them more. I mean, you’re probably going to do this anyway (it’s a part of taking inspiration) – but if you do it prominently and distinctively enough, then you can end up creating a new sub-genre.


Sorry for another short article, but I hope that it was useful πŸ™‚

Three Quick Thoughts About What To Do When Making Stuff In Your Favourite Genre Feels Less Exciting

The night before I wrote this article, I was making a painting that will be posted here in a few days’ time. Since I was feeling mildly more inspired than I had been over the past few days, I decided to make a slightly more detailed painting in one of my favourite genres – the cyberpunk genre. Here’s a preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 14th July.

Although the painting turned out ok, it felt a bit like I was just going through the motions. I thought back to how the times when I’d started making cyberpunk art more regularly (in 2016/early-mid 2017) felt a lot more interesting and exciting.

So, what do you do when making stuff in your favourite genre starts to lose it’s “spark”?

1) Move to one of your other favourite genres: This is the obvious one, but if you find that making stuff in one of your favourite genres isn’t evoking the feelings of excitement, fascination and “this is awesome!” that it used to, then move to a genre that does evoke these feelings in you.

Whether it’s just a passing fascination with some random topic, or another genre you really love, you probably have more than one thing that really fascinates you at any one time. So, focus on one of the other ones.

After a while, when you start to feel temporarily bored with that thing – you’ll have probably had enough of a break from the genre that you were getting bored with for it to start to seem interesting again.

2) Change how you think about it: One of the interesting shifts that I’ve noticed in my attitude towards making cyberpunk art is that it has gone from being “let’s make something really cool-looking” to “let’s making something easy, that also looks cool“. Because I’ve had a fair amount of practice with this genre of art, I can pretty much make cyberpunk paintings in my sleep these days.

Still, this isn’t a bad thing. At the very least, it now means that I can still make good-looking art on less inspired or moderately inspired days. In other words, it is a sign of artistic progress. It is a sign that I’m progressing as an artist. It’s another backup for uninspired days. In other words, it isn’t a bad thing.

If you can find some kind of silver lining to your current lack of enthusiasm for your favourite genre, then this can help a lot. Because, even if it just means that it’s time to find a new favourite genre (and experience all of those feelings of excitement again), then this is certainly better than just feeling miserable about the fact that your favourite genre doesn’t excite you as much as it used to.

3) Find more inspirations: Simply put, the times when I’ve felt really thrilled about making cyberpunk art have been when I’ve discovered something “new” in this genre that I haven’t seen or played before and have been absolutely entranced by it.

So, one way to rekindle your enthusiasm for making stuff in one of your favourite genres is simply to find more stuff in this genre. The only problem with this is, of course, that finding “new” stuff becomes progressively more difficult over time since not only will you have already seen or played even more stuff in this genre but you’ll have already learnt a lot about that genre (and the thrill of learning new stuff is an important part of those feelings of fascination).

So, this approach isn’t perfect. But, if you’re experiencing this jaded feeling for the very first time – then, time and budget permitting, it can be a good temporary solution.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Tips For Getting To Know An Obscure Genre (If You Want To Make Stuff In It)

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before but, for today, I thought that I’d look at how to learn more about fascinating (but slightly obscure) genres of fiction, comics, art, games etc.. This is mostly because, a few years ago, I knew relatively little about the cyberpunk genre. Yes, I’d seen and read a couple of famous things in the genre – but I was eager to learn a lot more about it.

But, whilst I’m not an expert on it now, I know significantly more about the genre than I used to (to the point where it turns up in a lot of my art, and some of my fiction). In fact, it’s probably one of my largest creative inspirations.

But, how can you do this with obscure genres that fascinate you? Here are a few tips:

1) Look at the main genre: Generally speaking, more obscure genres tend to be an offshoot of larger and more well-known genres. If an obscure genre is slightly old (and had a “heyday” in the past), then there’s a good chance that more of it can be found hiding in more modern stuff from the “main” version of the genre in question.

This is mostly because things that are obscure today are often only obscure for the simple reason that they’ve been absorbed into the mainstream version of the genre. Likewise, people can only take inspiration from things that have been made in the past.

To give you an example, “splatterpunk” fiction was a sub-genre of horror fiction that was very popular during the 1970s-90s. At the time, this sub-genre was groundbreaking due to it’s nihilistic attitude and willingness to describe horrific events in high levels of gory detail. This was a far cry from the more subtle horror fiction of past decades that left a lot to the audience’s imaginations. Yet, although some classic splatterpunk authors like Shaun Hutson and Clive Barker still return to the genre occasionally, there aren’t really that many “new” splatterpunk novels out there.

However, if you’ve read a few splatterpunk novels, then the mainstream horror genre might not be as unfamiliar as you think. Leaving aside stories about ghosts and modern vampire romances, one of the major effects of the splatterpunk genre (and one reason it doesn’t really exist any more) was to show horror authors that horror fiction can be gruesome.

These days, no fan of horror fiction bats an eyelid at highly-detailed gruesome descriptions, since such things can be found in “mainstream” horror fiction. Yet, a couple of decades earlier, they would be labelled “splatterpunk”.

In other words, one way to get to know a slightly old and obscure genre better is to look for things that were produced after it. Sometimes, these things will contain some elements of the genre that you are looking for (another good example is the film I reviewed yesterday. This is a modern sci-fi/action/comedy film from 2014, yet the set design is heavily influenced by old cyberpunk films like “Blade Runner” . Likewise, the modern TV series “Humans” has a lot of cyberpunk themes, even if the setting isn’t cyberpunk.).

2) Look at other mediums: Although I’ve only seen relatively few cyberpunk films and read relatively few cyberpunk novels, most of what I’ve learnt about the cyberpunk genre has come from other mediums. In particular, television, comics and computer games.

Often, if an obscure genre made a bit of an impact during it’s heyday, people working in other mediums will probably want to do stuff with it too. So, if you widen your search slightly, then you’ll find lots of extra stuff in this genre in places that you might not have expected.

To give you an example, the film noir genre was most popular in the 1930s-50s. These days, there aren’t many (if any) new classic noir-style films released by major film studios. Yet, the genre has had a fairly large influence on television, prose fiction, comics and computer/video games. So, if you’re looking for film noir these days, you probably won’t find it at the cinema.

3) Look for commonalities: Of course, if you want to learn more about an obscure genre, you’ve probably already done your fair share of internet research. You’ve probably, time and budget allowing, tried to track down as many things in this genre as you can. But, how do you learn from what you’ve found?

Simple, you look for what these things have in common. You study them carefully for general elements (eg: themes, visual elements, character types etc..) that appear often.

For example, one common visual element in many things in the cyberpunk genre is high-contrast lighting (using artificial light sources). This is where most of the lighting in a given location comes from things like computer monitors, neon lights etc.. and the rest of the background is kept slightly gloomy in order to allow the light to stand out more. This style of lighting can be found in numerous cyberpunk things – here are a few examples:

This is a screenshot from “Blade Runner” (1982).

This is a screenshot from the opening credits of “Ergo Proxy” (2006). However, not all of what I’ve seen of the series looks like this.

This is a screenshot from “Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams” (1999).

This is a screenshot from “Technobabylon” (2015).

As you can see, the lighting in all of these things comes from artificial light and the rest of the background is kept gloomy to make the lighting stand out more. This is one of the visual “rules” of the cyberpunk genre, and you can learn stuff like this by looking carefully at things in your favourite obscure genre and making comparisons.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Ultra-Basic Ways To Come Up With Story Ideas In Genres You Don’t Normally Write In

During a random conversation a while before I originally wrote this article, I was asked by someone to come up with random ideas for romance novels.

Although I thought that this would be an extremely challenging thing (since romance usually tends to be a background element, if anything, in stories that I write), I was actually able to come up with two vaguely ok story ideas within the following hour. They didn’t turn into actual stories, but I’m still surprised that I was actually able to think of the ideas in the first place.

So, for today, I thought that I’d talk about how to come up with story ideas for genres that you don’t normally write in.

1) Work out which part of the genre you like (and which part you don’t): If you have to plan a story in a genre that you don’t normally write in, start by asking yourself what you do and don’t like about the genre in question. When you’ve found the things that you like, then focus on them.

Although this won’t give you an instant story idea, knowing what you do and don’t like about the genre in question will point you in the direction of the basic story types that you’ll be best at planning. So, it will give you part of a story idea, although you’ll obviously have to think of the rest.

For example, in romantic fiction, I prefer stories where the romance is either a pre-existing thing at the start of the story or an inevitable thing. I’m not really a fan of stories that involve love triangles, affairs etc.. since this adds a lot of unnecessary tension and emotional awkwardness to a genre that is supposed to be uplifting and reassuring (albeit with some light dramatic conflict). So, knowing this, I was able to know a little bit more about the basic types of stories that I’d be best at planning.

2) You know more than you think you do: If you’ve ever seen a sci-fi film called “Limitless“, then you’re probably going to guess what I’m talking about here. In this film, the main character ends up in a situation that allows him to access literally all of his memories. This means that, thanks to lots of things he’s seen or read about briefly in the past, he instantly becomes a genius. The basic point of this film is that we absorb a lot more information than we actually remember.

The same is true for genres that you don’t normally write. Chances are, you’ve seen or read more things in this genre than you think – even if it’s just mixed with other genres. For example, if you’ve never read or written a horror story before and haven’t seen any horror movies, then you’ve probably still seen films, TV shows etc.. that include elements from the horror genre.

So, think carefully about all of the things that you have seen or read that include elements from the genre that you’re going to use in your story plan and see if those elements can teach you anything about how to tell stories in this genre.

3) Your own version: One of the best ways to plan a story in a genre you don’t know much about is simply to think of your own version of it. In other words, if you read a story or saw a film in that genre which you actually liked – what would it look like? Once you’ve worked this out, then coming up with a story plan becomes somewhat easier.

Yes, it might involve adding elements from other genres to your plan or it might involve using literary techniques from other genres, but it will help you to think of a story idea that is actually enjoyable to write about.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚