WHERE DO IDEAS COME FROM?
I have a bit of a thing for DVD collections of television series. Since I mainly write in the horror (or more broadly, the speculative) genre, my tv show tastes reflect that. I don’t shrug off the fantasy shows like, Hercules, or sci-fi favorites like, The Outer Limits and The X-Files. Even these shows have their horror elements for a person willing to see them.
I constantly have movies and shows playing on my portable DVD player next to me as I write. Right now an episode from Season 6 of The Outer Limits is playing. I play movies the way some writers play music; it sets the mood.
But it also helps to keep me honest and original as I can possibly be.
I can’t read every new book that comes out. Or every short story that hits the pages – print and electronic. I can’t even catch up on all the ones that have already been published.
A funny thing about movies and television series is that they act like a trickle down system. Between the ideas that trickle down to visual media from published fiction and the ideas that trickle down from visual media to published fiction, you find that the most popular of these ideas are right in front of your face.
You hear the old adage from writers to read a lot. Well, I add onto that:
Watch a lot.
You can make quite a bit of cash copying the most popular ideas. Look at the horror boom in the 1980s. Stephen King made the genre profitable again and less of a pariah in the literature circles. So naturally publishers searched everywhere for the next Carrie. In the process they found authors like Ray Garton, Jack Ketchum, and F. Paul Wilson. For every gem, every paperback bestseller, were fifty lunks barely worth the pulpy pages they were printed on.
Speed back to present day, and the new popular ideas are vampires filled with centuries of teen angst, young wizards growing into teen angst, and game show survivors inspiring a nation with their angst. And publishers are looking for the next book that can feed this need. It’s easy to jump on the wagon.
The same thing happened with slasher films in the 80s. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. They inspired in their times and echoed into a new generation with movies like, Hatchet and Saw. As a result of a mass scramble to fill this horror need, studios brought back the 80s success stories and remade them. Smaller studios began to produce extremely low quality knock-offs.
The funny thing about the trickle down effect is that both printed fiction and visual media influence each other, even generations apart. Who can deny that Twilight has been influenced by the movie The Lost Boys? Or that The Hunger Games trilogy was inspired by The Running Man, which was in turn based on Stephen King’s early novella? The difference between these new sensations are that they are inspired by the older works instead of a remake. They took the basic idea and made it theirs, with new places, characters, and enemies. That’s why they are on the bestseller list instead of their remakes.
Will the new A Nightmare on Elm Street ever have the same cult following as the original? I think not.
I read a lot, and I watch a lot, because I want my work to be copied, instead of being a copycat. If I have to write a vampire novel, or werewolf novel, I’ll pull a Ray Garton and sexually transmit the disease. In other words, I’ll put a new spin on the myth. Make it mine.
Where do ideas come from? One answer is, everywhere. Another is, everywhere I watch and read shows me what ideas I shouldn’t write.