Was chatting with a few other writers about writery stuff and we decided to do a writing exercise. Everyone would read the same passage and then rewrite it in their own style.
It made me think. So often, people worry whether or not their story idea is original. They think if they can just come up with something super unique and interesting then they'll have a guaranteed hit. But there are no original ideas. What helps make a story feel unique is how it's told. Two writers can take the same exact idea and end up with, what feels like, a wildly different story.
As this exercise will demonstrate.
The sample that was used was by Michael Crichton. I'm not sure which work of his this is from, as I didn't select it (I was rooting for Twilight). But I think it's PIRATE LATITUDES.
Alright, and here's my unedited attempt...
Hunter had hangnails older than the freckle-faced guard yanking him down the dim hall. And as far as he was concerned, the hangnails made for better company.
“Where are you taking me now? Hunter glanced to his cuffed wrists as they passed his cell.
Freckles snorted and tightened his hold. The elbow of his dingy guard uniform hooked round Hunter’s like the world’s ugliest bride. Hunter would have jilted the boy if not for an older guard waddling behind them with a rifle pointed squarely at his spine.
It’s your lucky day, prisoner.” Freckles curled his thin lips into a sneer.
Hunter sniffed the musty air. He doubted that. The three of them walked lockstep over cracked stone past shadowy cells, their barred doors tinged with rust. The old guard wheezed and coughed. His unsteady breathing amplified by the close quarters.
“You going to make it, Wally?” Hunter called over his shoulder.
“Wally? Why is he calling me Wally?”
Hunter pressed his lips together to stop himself from answering. He had to behave. Keep his cool. It’d do no good for his situation to explain to the man how he resembled a large aquatic mammal. His best chance for survival was to win one of these two nincompoops over to his side.
“Ignore him.” Freckles released his grip and pulled a set of keys from his belt. They jingled with the sound of freedom as the young guard swung open a cell door. “Another night in the finest accommodations Marshall sea has to offer.”
“This isn’t my cell.” Hunter peered into dark. He’d dug graves more generous. The tip of the rifle stabbed into his back.
“Get moving.” Wally coughed.
Whatever, if the guards didn’t care about what cell he ended up in, why should he. Hunter stepped inside and the door swung closed behind him.
“You know,” said Freckles as he removed Hunter’s manacles through the bars. “I’ve seen this act a hundred times. You’re type always ends up blubbering in the end, calling out for Mama.” He clicked his tongue against his yellow bucked teeth. “What would your mama say if she saw you now.”
“Oh, I know,” said the fat one, rifle over his shoulder. “Good Riddance.”
The pair chuckled as they strolled away down the dark hall.
“That’s no way to speak to your father,” Hunter called after them. “And by that, I mean you’re Ma’s a tart!” Hunter scooped up a handful of damp straw and hurled it at the barred door. “Come ‘er and say it to me again, I’ll shove this up yer bloody arse!” Hunter’s chest heaved. So much for staying cool.
The new cell smelt of piss. He wiped his hands on his trousers and kicked the straw around before finding a dry corner to lean in. As hours passed, and the darkness bloomed into black, he slid down into a squat. “Bloody freckled-face fartling thinking he knows me,” he grumbled to himself then closed his eyes allowing the rhythmic whistle of snoring inmates to lull him asleep.
“Hunter, is that you?”
That nasally voice could only belong to one man. “Whisper?” Hunter pressed his ear to the cool stone wall. “How long are you here?”
“A week. You been tried, mate?”
“And judged guilty?”
Hunter closed his eyes. “Aye.”
(Let's ignore that the original is a well polished piece from a critically acclaimed author and I wrote my version in 10 minutes while waiting for water to boil.)
The details are all, more or less, the same. But Crichton is direct to the point and my version is not. What he was able to say in one paragraph, I decided to make about sixteen. Partly, because I was having a little fun, but I suspect, our differing styles reflect the genre we choose to write.
Crichton wrote action. Action Sci-fi. Action Thrillers. Action Adventures. The man penned Jurassic Park. It doesn't get much more actiony than that. Action stories are all about building tension, creating excitement, and suspense. Crichton's efficient style of writing is brilliant for that.
I'm a big fan of Speculative Fiction, especially fantasy. My version might fit well in a fantasy story but not so well in an action thriller.
In the end, two authors writing the same idea (with the same characters achieving the same thing in the same setting) can end up creating something so different from one another that it ends up on two entirely different sections at a bookstore.
So there is no need to worry about coming up with the jellyfish-unicorn of all ideas.
"Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant."
(65 bce - 8 bce)