Friday, October 29, 2010

Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice.

Tim Burton is kind of a genius.

Since it's Halloween weekend, I thought I'd talk about one of my favorite horror flicks when I was a kid. I'm not necessarily sure why I liked this movie - I'm pretty sure I had no idea what it was about, since I watched it when I was, like, five or something - but I always, always watched it when it was on.

The plot is about a "bio-exorcist" who tries to scare away this couple who recently moved into a new house inhabited by ghosts. The ghosts aren't happy with the newcomers and hire the infamous Beetlejuice to do the job.

And this brings me to my topic today: plot. There are so many ways you can twist a conventional story into something new and unique. Instead of telling an average ghost story, where humans try to exorcise ghosts, Michael McDowell (the original script writer) decided the ghosts needed to exorcise the humans and Beetlejuice was born.

So say you get an idea that doesn't sound really original but you'd love to write. One that sticks in your head. It's happened to me several times, and I sat with that idea and talked to it. How can I make you scream, idea? How can I make you unique and witty and zany? And we discuss it over a cup of tea and decide on some key elements. There are a lot of things that can make an unoriginal idea original: writing, characters, the plotting itself, and setting.

So say you have an idea for a romance story. But it's just a romance story, you say to yourself. How is that original? Try setting. Make it in Alaska. Make it in Germany during World War 2. Make it in an entirely new world you create.

Say you want to write a horror story. But it's just a horror story, you say to yourself. Try something new with your writing. Write from the point of view of the horror creature itself. Beowulf's Grendel, written by John Gardner, probably came from this same idea of thinking. Take that monstrous thing and write through it's eyes.

Say you want to write a comedy. But it's just a comedy, you say to yourself. Tell the characters to stop being lazy and speak to the readers. Tell them to do something interesting, daring.

Don't ever not write a story idea that's eating at you because you think it's unoriginal. Make it your own. Spin it, weave it, write it.