I don’t worship originality. To paraphrase Roger Ebert, a story is not what it’s about, but rather how it’s about it.
I believe that there’s a time and place to retell old stories with new words — to let your hair down and rock out with your cock out.
A good basic genre story is like a three-chord pop song: simple and to the point, with something about it that makes the familiar fun again. Too much innovation can break the comfort-food pleasures of genre in ridiculous ways, like a prog musician mistaking complexity for depth. (I’ll take The Ramones over Yes any day.)
One of my ongoing projects is to write riffs on familiar genre stories to see if I can wring a few fresh drops of blood out of them — some of them are tongue in cheek, with the familiarity of the tropes as part of the joke.
It’s a fun thing to do. Pointless, of course, but most fun things are. So why not.
I’m not a very prolific writer of short stories. In the past five years, I’ve completed some thirty-odd shorts, including flash fiction. That’s in the ballpark of 15,000 words a year. Not a heck of a lot.
There’s a reason for that.
My mantra is: Don’t repeat yourself.
It’s a compulsion. Every single short story I write has to be very different from those I’ve already completed, whether in technique or genre. I want to learn something new from every piece I write. So I hop from traditional horror to avant-garde wordplay to crime to literary fiction, whatever feels interesting to me at the time.
This comes with a downside. If it looks like a story I’m planning will end up being too similar to an earlier piece, I lose interest in it and go back to the drawing board. I can’t even guess how many short stories I’ve started but then scrapped.
But why not? The short story, as a form, is perfect for experimentation.