Okay, so one of the things about writing is coming up with something new, a new take, a new twist, something different than the 10,000 other submissions. And while I'm not an expert on this, it's a skill I'm trying to develop.
What you can do is take a common story and work out how you would tell it, including something new. Since it's approaching Halloween, last night's exercise was to take a common scary story and work up something new.
The Ghost Hitchhiker. Almost every state and major local has this story. Basic structure goes something like this; late at night a driver picks of a hitchhiker and drives them to where they asked to go only to find that hitchhiker is really a ghost. Some common variants of this story (and this is good to know, just how have people adjusted the story before you):
- Common pickup points
- Loney road
- Drop off points
- Abandoned home
- Home with older couple (child's parents)
So what are the elements of the story?
- Location driver picks up hitchhiker
- Driver's motivation to help/pickup hitchhikers
- Journey to somewhere
You can play with any of these. Most often people play with the pickup location and the place of arrival, but there's all those other things most people don't play with. So here are some ideas I came up with last night.
- Driver is the ghost. This is probably the easiest switch, so I'm sure this has been written many times.
- Ghost is victim of driver, comes to haunt them - there's a lot that sounds appealing here, but it's a trap. It's easy, and works to common stereotypes. Also there's (serial) killer psychology that they remember all their victims, it's unlikely the driver wouldn't recognize a former victim
- Ghost is a almost victim that escaped, but died from other causes while escaping. This could be a little better, complicates the motivations and gives a (somewhat) plausible reason for driver to not recognize hitchhiker. To me, though, it still feels a little to easy. I really would be surprised to find this hasn't been written many times before.
- In both of those cases, is it the ghost's motivation to seek revenge, or resolution?
- The driver is a ghost hunter looking for ghosts to pickup. Okay, changes the reveal here. Feels a little thin though. Maybe the driver is an emotive who is looking to help wayward ghosts. That feels a little better, more complex. Changes up the motivation of the driver.
- Both hitchhiker and driver are ghosts. Seems silly. But maybe what we're witnessing is repeating haunting for two ghosts who are unable to continue on. Do they realize it, is it a slow realization as they travel. Sense of urgency created by needing to solve issue before end of drive. The need to change the story they seem to be repeating.
- Driver is actually Charon.
- Let's go back to the idea about the ghost being the victim, but both are ghosts, but neither can rest until they resolve their conflict. Maybe the driver/killer/abuser, doesn't realize they're dead and the hitchhiker needs them to confess their sins for both of them to be at rest.
- The driver is alive, but trying to atone for their sins by "settling" the ghosts of other killer's victims.
- Hitchhiker directs driver to new accident. Was the hitchhiker killed in accident, or is this a "service" they do to help others?
- The hitchhiker directs the driver to their home, but on the way the ghost slowly transforms into the decayed body of a missing child, which is left behind in the car. Was the driver the killer or just a way for the child to come home? How could the hitchhiker be the victim of the driver who is tricking the driver to deliver their body home without the driver recognizing then? Could you work in the excitement that serial killers experience visiting the sites if their victims, maybe tie it into the excitement of having a new victim? If the driver is innocent, how does the story end because a stranger just showed up at the parent's house with the body of the victim in their car?
For my money that last one has legs.