One tombstone. Multiple bodies. The tombstone marked ‘they suffered, they died’ could sit at the grave of many characters. Find innovation in the variation.
Chains? What chains? Any restriction you feel from word counts and genre definitions can lead to story twists you’re excited by. What defines doesn’t need to confine.
Your characters will be betrayed, dismayed, waylaid and afraid; as were the characters before them, and the characters before those. Your characters may live in a dimly lit world of despair but their relevancy to readers doesn’t fade with the repetition of a theme. Hurt still hurts, fear is still frightening and splitting up the group to cover more ground still results in a lighter distribution of blood over a larger area.
Being haunted helps. What influences you was influenced by others and your work will be indirectly influenced by the influences on the works that influenced you. Don’t torture yourself trying to unravel this tangled web of influence. Torture your characters instead.
Your characters may die gruesomely but you must live. Preferably less gruesomely. The doom your characters battle against and perpetuate is relentless. However, you must live relentlessly.
Reject the crown if it’s offered. Be humble if you become a recognised genius of the genre. Your contribution was both directly and indirectly contributed to by the ghosts of stories you’re happy to be haunted by.
-plan to steal it later if it’s not. If you don’t get instant acclaim, comfort yourself with the knowledge that you could be a genius in retrospect.
-or claim headwear isn’t your thing anyway. If you’re not considered a genius in retrospect, you’ll have contributed stories to the genre. That’s no small thing, and who knows? Your influence may become the ghost another writer or reader is happy to be haunted by.