So one of the fun things I get to do as an editor at Writer’s Digest is read stories submitted for various short story competitions. Not a bad gig, huh?
The stories are occasionally based on a specific writing prompt and it’s interesting to read the different stories that people come up with–as you can imagine the scenarios are as varied as people’s imaginations. But, occasionally people try too hard to be original and therefore end up doing the exact opposite. You’d be surprised how many “surprise” endings we read where someone turns out to be an alien or a vampire, runs off to join a circus, or in a shocking twist ends up killing everyone else in the story.
As a writer it’s tempting to go for a story twist that seems extraordinary, but keep in mind that a lot of stuff has already been done (a whole lot). To be truly original is tough, and sometimes the best way to do that is to include elements that ground your characters in reality. I’m not saying you shouldn’t write a vampire or alien story or a even a story about mimes… by all means, I say the stranger the better. But, keep in mind that if you are going to go that route you need to make the characters feel real. By adding more humanity to your strange or supernatural characters you’ll get your readers to care about them, instead of just giving readers a “shocking twist,” which is usually nothing than a cheap gimmick.