In the 1970s, Bob Eberle developed a method of innovative thinking which employed the mnemonic, “SCAMPER.” The theory is based on the understanding that all inventions are merely modifications of things which came before. Which I hope doesn’t bum anyone out. It’s progress. It’s evolution. It’s a new Veet strip which doesn’t actively attempt to rip your skin off. Not that I speak from experience or anything. But, regardless, the concepts it highlights are:
Put to other use
Rearrange ( or Reverse)
As you can probably guess, SCAMPER is particularly geared towards inventing new products and Ze Business World. However, I’d like to volunteer it as a process for creative writers, too.
If you’ve picked up a book about writing lately, you will have no doubt learned that there are only so many story premises in the world and only so many basic plots. It can feel like a major soul-sucker when you first discover this principle. You will suddenly feel, in the words of Tyler Durden, that your story is not a beautiful or unique snowflake because somebody has done something similar themselves in a different genre or setting.
However, SCAMPER can really help you to think outside the box with your writing. It can also help you to look at other books differently, and perhaps generate enough of a distinction that you can turn something into an entirely different novel. For example:
Substitute: What if Bridget Jones’s Diary was written by a man, not a woman? (Not as in it’s a stalker’s notes on his neighbour, Bridget, or that a man actually called Bridget is writing the diary, but you get my meaning.)
Combine: How could one combine Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with The Hunger Games? Would this be a preferable outcome for Foxface?
Adapt: Under what circumstances could the cast of The Only Way Is Essex become a crime-fighting squad of MENSA members who did charity work on weekends?
Magnify: What if Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were trained as a ninja and had a lot of clones?
Put to other use: What if Will’s knife in His Dark Materials cut through tough steak rather than the fabric between parallel worlds?
Eliminate: What if Bella Swan and Edward Cullen were not in Twilight? Wouldn’t it be wonderful?
Rearrange: What if Harry Potter’s parents had been killed by Voldemort during his time at Hogwarts in a cake-related disagreement, rather than before?
Who knows, maybe this tack of “modifying the pre-existing” could ironically produce something far more original?
A more detailed description of SCAMPER, as well as a list of related questions you can be asking yourself, can be found here. Be sure to check out the question randomiser, too.
Now, SCAMPER away, my pretties!