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BookClubEditor
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Finding Ideas: Old Storylines

In Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy, read "Good Writing is Not Enough" and "The Ideas That Wouldn't Die" by Stanley Schmidt.

Can you think of storylines other than those listed in "The Ideas That Wouldn't Die" that are also old and trite? If so, list them. Describe any ways that "old" or "trite" storylines can be made interesting.


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Josh_Crowe
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines

A few Burned out ideas:

Similar to the “fall in love with robot” is the “character who you think is human but turns out to be a robot.”

Any variation of “alternative lifestyles are ok theoretically, but monogamous man-women relationships are actually the best.”

A cure for cancer is discovered but pharmaceutical companies suppress it.

Almost any variation of “A secret Society that has lasted through the ages and came from the knights templar.”

Espousing the nonexistent virtues of vegetarianism, Q- ray bracelets or other modern myths. Check to see if an idea has been debunked.

***********

The most obvious way to “fix” these topics is with humor. Something of a cheat I admit, but there are a variety of levels of humor. One successful novel is “Illegal Aliens” this novel is all about first contact, a very well worn concept. The twist is the application of humor to a genuine Science Fiction story.
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LindaE
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines

I can't think of any offhand as I haven't read much science fiction lately. I guess I'll have to revisit this topic.
I've avoided the glut of vampire/werewolf novels on the market - which I don't consider science fiction anyway.
If we were covering fantasy, my answer would be: swords, talismen, magic, wizards/witches and constant rehashing of the hero's journey.
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Cluecorner
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines

Please don't say magic! That would throw out so many of my favorite authors - de Lint, Tim Powers, Jonathan Carroll. Goodbye Harry Potter!

What I'm tired of seeing is the endless travel/adventure fantasy story. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy meets wizard and other traveling companions, boy finds out he's heir to some throne or other, defeats dragon and gets girl.

I've read a number of stories on a theme of "experimental group of children gets away from the lab and causes trouble." I think that one's been overdone now.
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book_worm
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines

I don't read much science fiction either, fantasy is more my forte.
So a couple old fantasy ideas that people do way too much are:
dragons, vampires, werewolfs
although it all depends on the authors new twist of dragons, vampires, werewolfs because there are some very good ones out there.
There are more but I can't think of them right now.
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marta_randall
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines

I think that "magic" is really more of a sub-genre than it is a specific story idea, right? After all, what we mean by "magic" is whatever we're point to at the moment, whether it's Galadriel's ring or a close-up magician pulling cards out of your ears.

Which reminds me of another old storyline: the magical-trick kind of magic that turns out to be (da da DUM) real!

So, here's a game: take one (just one) old, used-up, trite story idea, and think of what you could do to it to make it new. Don't post the story itself, just an idea of how you would go about standing the trite storyline on its head.
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anne2
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines

I was just thinking that the Matrix movie seems to be a twist on the "it was only a dream" scenario. "Welcome to the virtual world." Or was it Real world...
That's one of those old ideas I could never get to work in a story. People just didn't like reading that or didn't seem to understand it.
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LindaE
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines

There are tons of ideas about dragons and tons about cloning - so how about adding the two together and setting it in the near future? I saw a photograph once and an article snippet about 'The Dragon in the Jar' - but couldn't find any more information about it, but it struck my interest and led to this what if? What if man did manage to clone a dragon or dragons - what impact would that have on society? Dragons are, in my opinion, far more interesting than dinosaurs any (and more mobile)!
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seekingreader
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines


LindaE wrote:
What if man did manage to clone a dragon or dragons - what impact would that have on society? Dragons are, in my opinion, far more interesting than dinosaurs any (and more mobile)!




Linda,

I grant you that dragons are more interesting than sheep, cattle, corn, tomatoes, etc., but the problem with your question is that cloning requires you start with viable DNA. Unfortunately, I don't believe any remains at all, much less those with viable DNA, of any dragons have ever been uncovered.

However, all is not necessarily lost. We have just scratched the surface of gene engineering, the science premise behind my own writing sample, and extrapolation could lead one to imagine beginning with reptile DNA and building something wholly new. Still have to figure out how to make them breathe fire, though. It's not an impossible task -- Anne McCaffrey has done it very well for almost 40 years!
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seekingreader
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines


marta_randall wrote:
So, here's a game: take one (just one) old, used-up, trite story idea, and think of what you could do to it to make it new. Don't post the story itself, just an idea of how you would go about standing the trite storyline on its head.




Stanley Schmidt lists the totalitarian society as a plotline that has been overdone, and usually not done well. That, and Marta’s challenge above, set me to wondering just how one might develop a fresh take on this old plotline.

Such societies generally rely on governmental police power – obey or we shoot you! – for implementation of the policies of the Leader, whether “Der Fuehrer”, Commissar, or what have you. It would be an interesting mental exercise to envision a tightly strait-jacketed society wherein the carrot, rather than the stick, lay at the root of governmental power. We have seen hints of just such a society in the political correctness movement of the last decades of the 20th Century, wherein certain topics or certain language became “off limits”. Shades of “Newspeak”.

In such a society nothing bad necessarily happens if you fail to adhere to the tenets of “Newspeak” – no jack-booted soldiers hauling you off for rehabilitation, no gulags. Rather, if one wishes to succeed and get ahead in such a society then one must adhere to the doctrines of societal leaders. Educators inculcate these doctrines in the youth, “progressive” leaders select for advancement only those who demonstrate adherence to the new paradigm, and those who fail to subscribe are relegated to the margins of society. In a generation or two, who knows where such a society might lead.

The “new take” here is the carrot approach, rather than the police power approach, to regulating a totalitarian society.
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galenem
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines

cryogenics-What if cryogenics were used as a way preserving animals instead of people, primarily as a way of preventing extinction. Assuming the process is expensive to effect and maintain, how would we choose which animals to save? Would we choose the majesty of a tiger or the utility of a bee? Why would a future society choose to revive a species and what would be the consequences?
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marta_randall
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines

I like this a lot. There have been some "carrot" stories before but as far as I recall, they all depend on the Dreadful Revelation that the carrot masks your plain old ordinary hideous totalitarian state. Writing a story in which the carrot really is the approach is an interesting idea -- as long as you can avoid the carrot-as-mask thing.
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WriterJim
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines

Reading the Schmidt article, I winced. I think I've written just about every cliche mentioned at one time or another.

Just for a hoot, I'll try one that he mentioned which I didn't write.

I'd love to write one about the time-travelling sf writer who goes back into the past and meets Hugo Gernsback, the editor and publisher of Amazing Stories, and warns him about the potential cliches and awful sf stories that won't meet the test of time in the future.

When Mr. Sf Writer, returns to the future, he finds it completely changed. Because of his advice, Gernsback never accepted any sf for publication, the field withers and dies, and so does technology. Bereft of inspiration, many of the geniuses of technology become doctors and lawyers instead, technologies like spaceships and computers never get invented, and Earth is nothing like it is today.

The time machine disappears, a victim of the changed timeline. Our sf writer has to sell insurance for a living.
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seekingreader
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines


WriterJim wrote:


I'd love to write one about the time-travelling sf writer who goes back into the past and meets Hugo Gernsback, the editor and publisher of Amazing Stories, and warns him about the potential cliches and awful sf stories that won't meet the test of time in the future.

When Mr. Sf Writer, returns to the future, he finds it completely changed. Because of his advice, Gernsback never accepted any sf for publication, the field withers and dies, and so does technology. Bereft of inspiration, many of the geniuses of technology become doctors and lawyers instead, technologies like spaceships and computers never get invented, and Earth is nothing like it is today.

The time machine disappears, a victim of the changed timeline. Our sf writer has to sell insurance for a living.




Your post reminded me of a similar story I had read along the theme of the effects SF personalities have had on the future. Took me a little while to remember where I had seen it. The book "Requiem", published in 1992 after the death of Robert Heinlein, contains among the tributes to RAH, an interesting little story by Larry Niven, "The Return of William Proxmire".

The tale hangs on what happens when Senator Proxmire uses a time machine to visit the early 1930's and a young Navy officer suffering from consumption and tuberculosis, and provides the young Lieutenant with antibiotics to cure his illness. The young officer, cured of his medical condition, does not get a medical discharge from the Navy and stays in the service, and Heinlein's contributions to SF from Lazarus Long to "Stranger in a Strange Land" never happen. The new timeline that greets Senator Proxmire on his return to the future is fascinating.

That story alone makes the book worth finding in my estimation.
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marta_randall
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines

Write it, Jim.

Ed Fermen, who used to edit The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, was a sucker for stories like this. It might be interesting to find out if any of the modern editors are also tickled by such things.
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mae-V
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines

[ Edited ]
Ooo, I got one: A couple applies for permission not to have a baby. The industrialized nations are diminishing in population due to previous generations' decisions not to have children. Civil wars and famines have decimated non-industrialized nations. The homogenization of food sources has produced debilitating and lethal food allergies which the medical community is only now beginning to understand and try to stop. Robot-fought wars have reduced the size of standing armies. Populations around the world have reached the zero-population growth tipping point toward the negative, and every couple is required to have three to five children. Only I'm not the kind of woman who wants children. I'm an Auntie, not a Mom.

Oh, and they find out that Aunties have an environmental adaptive mutation in their DNA which resists allergens. I was going to say alien, but I thought that was pushing it.

Message Edited by mae-V on 02-20-200712:08 AM

#Play tasty!#
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book_worm
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines


marta_randall wrote:
So, here's a game: take one (just one) old, used-up, trite story idea, and think of what you could do to it to make it new. Don't post the story itself, just an idea of how you would go about standing the trite storyline on its head.


I have an old, used up idea that I think would be fun to write about, although I'm not sure how to write it. The idea is set in space, with space travel. It's about pirates of space travel. This is an old idea I know, and it has been used many times in books and movies. Although I'm not sure it will have the sciency content in it because if you take away the space crafts and replace them with boats it can still make sense. But I just got the idea of a "captain" of one of these pirate space crafts, named Black Anne, or Anne the Black.

Really I just thought of her character and not the story... I'll have to think more about it. I think it was just going to be about her adventures (I'm not sure what those will be), and now that I think about it, it isn't really a new twist to the old idea is it? But there is my idea which turned out to not be a very good idea in the end. :smileyhappy:
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marta_randall
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines

Not bad. Hop sideways: what if space pirates are looking for something other than booty? What if those pirates are aliens -- what would aliens find valuable? What if the pirate craft isn't a space ship, but instead a way of warping light and gravity?

Turning ideas around, shaking them, questioning the basic premises, is a good way to enliven a "trite" idea.
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zman
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines

[ Edited ]
Many years ago, Omni magazine (remember them?) printed an "article" that detailed the discovery of the fossilized remains of a dinosaur that had roughly the same brain-to-body ratio as homo sapiens, and evidently walked upright. It was conjectured that the dinosaur might have been sentient, and the author wondered what dinosaur culture, music, architecture etc. might have been like...

Turns out the whole thing was an April fools gag, but I've always wondered if that could be made into a story. Perhaps it could give a new spin to the tired old alien abduction plot.

The smart dinosaurs would have had the technology to forsee their impending extinction - the meteor that destroyed most life on the planet. They would have sent ships into space in order to save some of their race. They had wandered about the galaxy a bit and after not finding a suitable planet to colonize, had decided to return to earth. They hadn't discovered warp drive, but they could fly pretty close to the speed of light, which of course brings into play the relativistic dilation of time. While gazillions of years passed on earth, they were only a few generations into their travels.

Well, when they return to earth, they find it populated by another, new intelligent species, and on top of that, the climate and atmosphere are no longer what they used to be etc. etc.

Their only solution is to abduct humans and carry on a genetic cross-breeding program so that their children (who would then be dinosaur/human hybrids) could once again inhabit the earth.

That cross-breeding stuff is hackneyed, though, and if they have the technology to cross-breed themselves with humans, they certainly would have the technology to simply alter their DNA without bothering with humans. Oh well, I still like the idea of dinosaurs returning to claim the earth.

Message Edited by zman on 03-01-200703:37 PM

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zman
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Re: Finding Ideas: Old Storylines

Oh, Oh, I have another one!

There's a bunch of teenagers, and they happen to be some kind of amphibians, like turtles or something. And they have superpowers because they've undergone a wierd mutation. Maybe they could also be Ninjas.

Nah, that's absurd. No one would ever buy that.
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Overheard in the Student Union at Brandeis University:
"Man, if I actually had to talk to Socrates, I'd be pissed."
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