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: Paweł Zadrożniak’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 🙂