Friday, October 5, 2012


Have you ever had a monster good idea? The kind that comes when you wake up from deep sleep and your fingers are itchy to sit down and start writing RIGHT THIS MINUTE.

And then, as you start writing, fingers flying fast over keyboard, you have the odd feeling the idea wasn't as solid as you thought when you awoke inspired and full of fresh energy.

In fact, as you re-read your work, you begin to suspect  your fingers have been temporarily possessed by the FrankenWriter because everything you wrote seems far less fresh and original than you'd thought.

You might discover you've sewn together a left arm from Stuart Little, a leg from Little House on the Praire. The head, you'll realize, is that of Percy Jackson, Medusalike with a thousand snaking plots slowly turning your brain into stone.

As you study it, you'll realize with all the horror resserved for monsters like FrankenWriting, you've thrown in a dash of the Hobbit and pinch of Harry Potter (hello elderly wizard character Gandalf meets Dumbledore).

Your heroine might be Bella-Edward-Jacob love triangled with a werecat and a 50 Shades of Gray kink-obsessed zombie.

I know! It's a frightening prospect. Especially for your main character.

What's the best protection against FrankenWriting? It's not garlic, holy water or staying in after dark behind tightly locked doors.

It might be found in writing groups, unbiased (although the lawyer in me struggles with how to properly verify that word) readers or the all-important marination of time.

Personally, I find time to be the truest test of my own words. Can I read them without cringing? Is the story a compilation of other ideas sewn together with string and electrical wiring that makes my hair stand on end during a re-reading?

Sometimes those are reliable methods for discovering FrankenWriting and sometimes they're not. I'm always desperate for open to discovering new methods. So please, in the spirit of keeping us all safe from the Frankenbeast disguised behind a mask of the written word, tell me yours!


jaybird said...

LOL this was fabulous. FrankenWriting! That's a great way to explain it, and yes it has happened to me before!

I was at a writer's group where everyone agreed that there are no new ideas; old ideas were just reinvented and presented in a new creative way. At first I bristled at that assessment, but in the end, I had to agree (to some extent) they were right.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I know my ideas came from bits of other stories, but I think they worked.

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

You are too funny. I have definitely had ideas turn out to be less than brilliant by the light of day. But I think any writing, even writing the bad ideas, helps you get better for when you get the good ideas. :)

jenny milchman said...

Yea, I never trust those ideas. Or rather, I feel like ideas are a dime a dozen, and the real magic comes when all the wrinkles and confluences of an idea can be worked through and jell into a real, life story. Love your metaphor!

Alison DeLuca said...

Oh my goodness! You just wrote my life in your post.

When I wrote my first Frankenbook, I was convinced I had produced the Next Big Novel. And when I revisited it, I saw those clumsy stitches and the bits and pieces from Enid Blyton, Georgette Heyer, even Lord of the flies was represented.

Johanna, you are amazing! Great, great column.

Anonymous said...

LOL, have you been reading some of my stories? FrankenWriting. : )

Johanna Garth said...

Jaybird, I think that's true, but it can be done well (and so often is) or can be done in a way that's frighteningly bad.

Alex, I think they did too. No new ideas, it's all in the telling.

Rachel, agreed. We have to get through the bad ideas to get to the good.

Jenny, those midnight epiphanies can go either way for me, but yes, they're nothing until you've created a story.

Alison, that's why time is the most important assessment for me. It's so hard to allow the influence of great stories sink in without being tempted to grab on to chunks like a liferaft.

Susanne, nope, just mine! :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That's why many of my short stories will never see the light of day.

Kathleen Barker said...

Yes, what initially bursts with brilliance often tarnishes over time. I can edit a story of mine dozens of times and still think it's great. But the test, for me, is to put it down...distance myself from it for several months...and then come back to it. It looks very different by then!

Anonymous said...

I definitely know that feeling. However, I love when it turns into something good.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Oh my gosh. This made me cringe and nod and laugh. Great post!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

FrankenWriting! I love it!

And the way you can tell it's FrankenWriting is you can't get much out of your characters except, "Uuunnnggghh."

Carol Kilgore said...

I have something akin to this going on with my current WIP. So I stopped. It wasn't exactly this, but close. I have too many subplots. I figured out what to do with one character, and now I need to decide which subplot to yank. And I may need to pull two of them. Great post!

Happy Weekend :)

Tammy Theriault said...

Very cute! Can I just splash some holy water on my work and call it a day?? lol!

Nicki Elson said...

Frankenwriting, haha - a most excellent term! But the dreams I can remember are all highly original...though they'd make truly rotten, incohesive stories.

I subscribe to the notion that there are no completely original ideas, but the new spin we add to those old ideas is what makes them fresh - and sometimes we're more adept at sewing it all together than at others.

PK HREZO said...

Let's face it, Franken-writing is a fact of a writer's life. And I don't think it's bad. We are all products of every story we've ever heard, therefore, we sprinkle in a little to our own stories. There really is nothing new under the sun--just different spins. That's why the fairy tale retellings are so popular.
I find more often than not, when I have a shiny new idea and start fleshing it out, that a movie with a similar idea already exists. Or another book. It's really frustrating. Its seems like everything has been done before. But the trick is doing it different.

Michael Di Gesu said...

I'd have to agree with PK ... if you think about it EVERY writer takes pits and pieces from others to create something new.

Even JK Rowling borrowed ideas from Tolkein. We are all influenced by each others words and stories.

A fresh new idea will usually come from a spinoff of someone else's.

And in all honesty, I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

Unknown said...

What a good word! I don't think it's such a bad thing, actually. I mean, one could take it too far by having very obvious pieces from other stories, but aren't most stories combinations of ideas that we've come across somewhere else? There are so few COMPLETELY original storylines out there. It's the writing and the voice and the characters that make it less Franken-like.
(Well, I think so!)