Writing Original Ideas: Ichabod Kills Common Tropes

You love reading. You love discovering new characters and worlds. Big time readers like yourself eventually run into the dreaded ‘common tropes’ monster. After consuming a few hundred books, characters and ideas take on a familiar shade of prose.

Too Familiar Writing

You’re like, ‘Ah yes, the love triangle again. How original’ or ‘Oh good, another character whose childhood abuse has made him into a serial killer. Never seen that before.’

This is why I am so proud of my serial killer thriller ICHABOD, and why I am excited to share its opening with you here.

Ichabod is an upper-class playwright with no brain disorders and a past filled with nothing but love and peace. There are no apparent triggers to explain why he does the things he does (and why he believes what he believes).

These things involve experimental murder, mass disaster, and igniting a city-wide gang war, among other nefarious deeds. All of this is in the name of enacting his philosophy: crime rates will drop as the population is decreased.

Embrace the Strange

Another unique aspect of my novel is its hero. Detective Stephen Van Tassel is not the world weary boozer you’d expect in a serial killer novel. Instead, he is young and horrifically afflicted by the very disorder which makes him the one man uniquely qualified to solve the riddle of the chaos in Philicity.

He suffers from synesthesia, a blurring of the senses; he experiences the world like few humans ever have. And he remembers everything. He could tell you what the weather was like when he was having a conversation with a stranger ten years ago, and why the number 7 is a fat man wearing swimming trunks, or what the color red tastes like on an afternoon of 35’s.

‘Ichabod’ pits these two original characters against each other. Hunter and prey, haunted and determined, flawed and perfected.

Please enjoy the opening passages:

On the wall behind Ichabod Bitterlich, where family photos would hang in most houses, a framed quote declared: ‘The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.’

Lips silently recited the quote while fingers tinkled out Fur Elise on the baby grand. When he was done with Beethoven, Ichabod consulted his pocket watch. The hour was up. He stood and headed for the basement.

This underground realm, spotless and nearly devoid of personality, boasted only a single object of interest: a tapestry on the east wall. Large and ostentatious, the sight of it always reminded Ichabod of his own peculiar appearance.

He drew aside the tapestry of the Last Supper, revealing a steel door.

A few taps on the keypad. The light turned green. At the click of the piston releasing, he yanked on the sound-proof door. A whiff of chlorine greeted him like an old associate.

Darkness and silence ruled for a few ticks before fluorescent lights flickered to life and moaning crept out from under the mask on the man in the chair. Ichabod set a vinyl case down on the only raised surface in the room, a wheeled island he’d built out of maple rescued from a pedophile’s workshop.

The man fell silent. It tried to open its eyes but the lights were too bright; it had been down here in pitch-black hell forever—or at least for the last hour.

Ichabod pinched his nostrils to stave off the astringent aroma. Occupants of this room always received at least one treatment from the sprinkler system. Designed not just to wash away the filth associated with death (piss, excrement, and blood) but to cleanse the occupant of trace evidence, the system had yet to fail its owner.

A reach around the man’s head and a sharp yank removed the spray painted gas mask.

The man gasped.

“Shh,” Ichabod tossed the mask on the island and leaned against the wall, right foot over left, toes pointed down at the floor. “You’ve had one hour to consider my question.” He paused. This was always where things went wrong. “What is your answer?”

The man cleared his throat, still panting. “I think . . . it’s because God wants people to have free will . . . but it’s not right what you’re doing with yours . . . you don’t have to do this.”

Ichabod sighed.

He turned to the case on the island and opened it. He turned slowly to show the man in the chair a small plastic funnel in his right hand, ten ounces of a small black granulated substance in a vial in his left.

Four feet of air separated predator from prey.

“You’re sick!” the man writhed against the metal hasps clamping his arms and legs to the chrome chair. Bolted to the floor in the center of the room, this chair was immovable.

“From desperation to rage,” Ichabod muttered. “Next it’ll be whimpering. Then pleading. Then you’ll try to reason with me.”

Three feet of air separated predator from prey.

He stepped closer, leaned forward—but not enough to smell the fresh piss. “What are you leaving behind? What is your legacy? What have you done for this world?”

The man in the chair quit moving. “I . . . my children. I have two wonderful boys.”

“Aye and they’ll survive without you. In fact, they’ll be thriving once they collect your life insurance.” He cocked his head. “One could argue the only really good thing you ever did for your kids—and thus for this world—was to die.”

Two feet of air separated predator from prey.

“We’ll wait,” Ichabod straightened, peering at his watch.

Sixty seconds ticked by. “It seems God is not interested in stopping this.”

One foot of air separated predator from prey.

That cushion of air heated up as prey strained violently at its restraints and predator shoved the funnel into prey’s mouth.