This zebra was made by me:
Note how I tried to be strictly representational. Note the obligatory stripes, the four legs, the stiff mane. A zebra, yes, just suspended mid-page, trying very hard to be zebra-like.
Now, this zebra was created by my son:
He calls it Zebra Falling into Water. And you know what? It does look like a zebra falling headfirst into water. This is a zebra in motion, a dynamic zebra, a surprising zebra, a zebra with a twist (isn’t zebra a fun word to say? zebra, zebra, zebra! it sounds like an incantation).
I like his zebra loads better than mine. It’s unexpected and charming, and it has character and a story behind it (Why did the zebra fall into the water? Was something chasing it? Is it an exceptionally clumsy zebra? Is it training for the Olympic diving competition?).
That’s what I want to do in my writing. Take well-known plot points and archetypal characters and give them a little twist. Take something familiar and make it something surprising. Add depth and motion and background to my characters,
Not have things lie flat and boring on the page, trying just a bit too hard to be “plot” or “protagonist” or “setting”.