Too often in fiction writing, especially short fiction, tired old ideas get recycled more often than grandad’s underpants when nanna goes on a coach trip. We’ve all heard the old, “And then he woke up and it was all a dream” example. That’s probably the most famous of the overused tropes and I fervently hope that no-one beyond grade 3 ever uses it again.
But there are a lot more tired old ideas that many people seem to think are still valid. You can take an old idea and put a new spin on it, but that’s a lot harder than you might imagine. I try it all the time and I often have to abort and start something new because I just can’t find the angle I’m looking for. The better idea is to try to come up with all new, original ideas.
Of course, there are only seven plots in existence (or whatever version of that old cliche you prefer) but there are numerous new ideas to play with. It’s the worn out old plots and twists that you should really avoid if you want to have a distinctive, original voice as a writer.
Strange Horizons is a weekly web-based magazine of and about speculative fiction. They have two great lists on their website of old ideas writers should avoid. One list is in general storytelling, the other is specific to horror. These are the best examples of lists like these that I’ve seen, so I’m linking them here. If you reproduce this post, be sure to credit Strange Horizons. You can find the general list here and the horror list here on the Strange Horizons site – they get updated, so check back from time to time. Take a while to read these – you’ll be doing yourself a favour.