The Christian scriptures were apt to label all humans as “sheep”. Like sheep, we’re notoriously stupid: we do exactly what we want, when we want to do it, we don’t learn from our mistakes, we get ourselves into stupid fixes that we need a third party to get us out of, we’re lazy, selfish, conceited, but most of all, stupid. (Oh, did I mention stupid?)
But we, like sheep, have gone astray. (What does this have to do with writing? Hold on just a second). Most of all, we grow disillusioned, we lose track of goals, we forsake the why in a big world of whats and whos. Even in writing, we often lose track of our original visions and plans.
And this little pseudo-intellectual ramble gives way into the main topic of the article: a return to the original form, or plan, for your project. Likely when you thought of your book, you had more than one idea in mind for it. More or less, however, your book stayed in one main groove throughout most of your early writing.
But popular culture warns us away from changing one’s form too often. Of course, we should always be learning and honing our skills as writers, but once you’ve found your form, that’s one thing you never want to let go. Once pieces of popular media like Halo or the Aliens franchise stray from the formula that made them great, they begin to fall apart.
But what do I mean by “form”? In essence, it’s the most basic form of the idea behind any piece of media (in this case, we’re talking about books). For the film It’s a Wonderful Life, the writers wanted to toy with the idea of a man who was shown a vision of the world in which he was never born. A simple concept that could be explained in ten seconds, but somehow someone made a movie around the idea. Hence, the form.
Groundhog Day is a well-known film because of its unusual form: what if a man were forced to live the same day over and over again until he accomplished some set task? An interesting idea, in fact, so interesting that the films Edge of Tomorrow and Source Code use a similar form to create some pretty cool movies.
Halo is a well-known video game franchise, and the core idea for the game as described by a developer was “a party game”. In other words, a social video game designed to be a shooter and an expansive sci-fi universe. The rest of the concept for the story and universe followed the basic premise that Bungie wanted it to be.
I could go on and on about this, but I think you get the point. Every piece of media has that “form” or initial, boiled-down idea that gave rise to a larger product. Some stories are orchestrated so that one specific scene could happen. Sometimes you just want to have X character bounce off of Y, or you want such-and-such a world to stage an adventure in. In any case, the form was the original idea that inspired you to write your story.
But, just like the sheep we are, we sometimes lose sight of the original form. Remember Halo? After Bungie handed the game off to 343 industries, there has been a significant lack of social features in the Halo games. This should be a red flag: the original form for Halo was to be a social, party game to be played with friends or to make new ones. Now you know why there are only about 5,000 people playing Halo Infinite daily.
Differing from the original form is usually met with disaster. While you may know this to happen on a mainstream level (like traditional action movie franchises such as Aliens or Predator trying to be intellectual pseudo-psychological thrillers), it can also happen in small projects…like a budding author’s work.
Sometimes I see this even in my own work. When you’re starting to introduce new ideas that don’t really seem on point with the rest of the continuity, or overall seem kind of opposed to the mood, setting, or plot of your story, you may notice that you’re starting to stray from the original idea.
Halo was never supposed to be a competitive multiplayer game. Of course, it can have multiplayer modes, but putting more emphasis on competitiveness and less on sociality goes against the core of what a Halo game is supposed to be. In so doing, it loses that original form that made Halo: Combat Evolved so popular in 2001.
The point is that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If you thought your original idea was cool, always come back to your original idea. Don’t write for the sake of writing: write the story your always wanted to write. Don’t add cool ideas if they conflict with the true nature of your story. A book is really meant to fill only one or two niches: trying to make it more than that can ruin it altogether. Stick with your original form.
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!