Rival Ideas (and irrational fears)

Beneath the Floor - February 2022
Wallpaper forest

Growing up, a lot of my friends were in bands. I had no musical talent whatsoever, but I’d often be around during that initial process of discovery - the guitarist had a new riff that would eventually form the bones of a song, or someone had found a new technique that they wanted to play around with. Most of the time, these little moments would evolve into performances I’d later watch with a beer in hand, but every now and then there was a roadblock - the music already existed.

“That’s from [insert 90’s pop-punk band here],” the vocalist would say.

“Is it?” the guitarist would reply.

The vocalist outstretched his hand and took the guitar, strumming a short sample of the song and singing along. It was normally a little different, but too similar to ignore.

“Shit,” the guitarist would say, taking his instrument back and playing it for himself. “Thought I’d made it up.”

There’s a similar fear that comes with writing. Ideas are rarely born without influence - they might come from random thoughts, dreams, interactions or sometimes just appear seemingly out of the blue. But with almost 8 billion humans sharing this world, none of our ideas are as unique as we might think. There’s a sense of shame and dread when you’re enthusiastically explaining your latest idea for a book or story, and someone suggests “Oh, that’s like [insert obscure fiction here].”

‘Floor Fifty-Four’ was heavily inspired by SCPs - a collaborative internet writing project - but with an intentional diversion away from constant ‘Omega level threats’ and heavily redacted documentation. It was something I wanted to acknowledge but move away from, and I think I’ve managed to successfully make ‘Floor Fifty-Four’ its own beast, with a distinct feel and tone different to my favourite SCP entries. So when I’m explaining the concept to someone and they reply “sounds like an SCP”, it actually gives me a delighted sort of feeling, because that was slightly intentional.

The more alarming ones are the stories I don’t know about. Last year I played a fantastic game called ‘Control’, which came out in 2019. It might as well have been ‘what if Floor Fifty-Four was American?’. It was overflowing with fantastic ideas, flawless execution and fantastic artwork to sculpt a dark, brooding world that made me want to throw my entire concept into the bin. It was as though someone had broken into my mind, stolen all my good ideas, improved on them in every way imaginable, and then built a big budget game for me to explore and die a little inside.

“This world is like your world,” said my brain.

“Shit,” I replied. “Thought I’d made it up.”

But so often, that feeling of dismay is due to the initial shock of discovering your ideas aren’t quite as unique as you’d been led to believe. I would later find out that ‘Control’ was heavily inspired by a book called ‘House of Leaves’ - which I’m reading through now - as well as several myths and the same SCPs that had inspired my own stories. As I finished the game, I was left with a feeling that my own creation was different enough to stand on its own feet, and it pushed me to explore a more ‘British’ feel, rather than adopting American influences I have embedded in my DNA due to endless consumption of TV, music, films and games from across the pond.

Ultimately, our ideas are an amalgamation of our experiences, and we live in a time where those experiences don’t always come from our own lives. Without realising it, we cherry pick our favourite elements from a varied diet of media, mix it in a pot with our own life journey, and spit out the result. Most of the value of that chewed-up tangle of ideas is in the execution, making those ideas the most polished, high quality version we can manage.

So I try not to worry now. ‘Control’ ironically taught me that we have no control over our ideas, just the end product. This month’s story for example began its life when I saw a housing estate sign declaring ‘MORE LAND WANTED’. From that little observation, a creepy concept grew, which I twisted and shaped into a story. As I wrote it, it became almost demonic. A true Eldrich terror that I’d never anticipated. Although by all appearances, the sign in my story is barely any different than that humble piece of cardboard, once I’d finished, it had become something entirely new.

So if, as I’m walking past that sign again, a friend points over to it and says “hey, that’s like your story!”

I can smile, nod and say “Yeah. Yeah it is.”

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