Monday, August 27, 2012

when it springs upon you.

 "We should take care not to make intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality." 
-Albert Einstein

When an editor, agent, or publisher looks at your novel they are looking for many things. The feel of your writing, your talent in playing out a story, your plot, your characters...but they are also looking for a elusive little thing called Originality.
As a general rule I define Originality as "that spinning out of an idea that is not commonly seen, and which sprang upon you, rather than you springing upon it." You know when you've hit something original, because it will probably have very little to do with anything else you've ever read. Sometimes it will resemble in some way another author's work because after all, there are only so many basic plots. BUT--an original idea won't be concocted of bits of Jane Austen's novels smashed together and called your own. Publishers don't need more conglomerations of what they've already seen. They need an idea that stands out of the hoards because of the fact that it is exotic and rare. Nobody, walking through a park, would stop to look at pigeons when there was a swan floating on the lake. You want your novel to be that swan--that one book that catches the eye of the Lofty Ones so that they take a second glance.

So how do you make sure your work smacks of originality? By avoiding a host of things, some of which I've listed below for your benefit and mine.

Stop Using the "Different Girl"-- Rookie Mistake No. 1 is making your protagonist a willful, headstrong, freedom-grasping girl who only wants to "be different" and spends the whole novel fighting with tooth and claw to prove herself. If I have suddenly squashed your little character-bubble, forgive me. But instead of wasting a whole novel saying your character's different, why not make her different from the start? After all--being different is all a part of that self-same Originality. But show it--don't tell it. We are tired of the Different Girl--and her horse. Which brings me to Point Two:

You Don't Have to Include a Horse: Not that there's anything wrong with a horse, but honestly--if you tallied up all the books that have ever been published, I assure you that books with a strong horse-character are already crowding neck and neck with romance to claim Most Used Ploy. Try something new.

If you write fantasy, find another letter to use:  The letter that is overused? "Y." I assure you that from experience, and from the reading of blog posts of several friends on this topic last year, the letter "Y" is another technique young and old writers alike use to make their names "different." Somehow names like Brynn, Wyfur, Kyla, Nyanna, and Hyr have crept into the average novel of today so that I wince when I crack the binding and peer through the pages, bracing myself for the inevitable. Try a new combination of letter so that you don't earn a grimace when I read your book next!

Let your voice play out: Instead of trying to be original, just write as fast and furious as you can. Your natural voice will develop and mature in this way, and a good natural voice is another thing publishers look for. If you are trying too hard your writing will feel stilted. Just write and let it lie. Tighten things that need tightening, and cultivate your craft, but always keep your voice intact.

Pay attention: The thing is, there are thousands of stories crowding around us every day in the form of People, yet because we are so absorbed in our own troubles, our own business and hey--even our own imaginations--we fail to gather anything from this treasury. Go out, get coffee or a doughnut or something and just watch people. If you are in an airport and waiting for a flight, don't grab your book. Sit there and watch life go by, taking stock of things for once.

Do the things your characters are doing: Trying something yourself will add an authenticity to your descriptions that is lacking in most fiction. Of course you can't go off to war or get lost in a fjord or get kidnapped by gypsies and forced to read things to them, but you can light candles at dinner and watch the play of the light on your family's faces. You can make the food of the culture you're writing about. You can tour a battlefield or visit a farm or go to a dance. Getting you and doing things bring your one dimensional, blah descriptions and breathe life into them...literally. Read your dialog aloud with a friend or sibling--tweak where needed, and get them to adlib with you. You might come up with something hilarious.

Keep a notebook handy: Anytime an interaction, description, or event pops into your mind, go to that notebook and catch the idea on paper. You don't have to have any definitive plans for the pieces you catch, but I can assure you that they'll be helpful. You see, originality largely depends on the expanse of your mind. If you can turn your notebook into a second mind for yourself that can remember things you would have forgotten, then so much the better!

"Keep it secret; keep it safe": I recently heard another author speaking about the fact that your characters need secrets. Yes, you know the character well, but just as you don't know everything about your friends to begin with, so your characters should reflect that maxim. Keep your readers guessing. Let your characters have motives and secrets they might keep hidden even from you for a time, only to let them fly at a crucial moment in your story.

These are my tips and things that I have found helpful in cultivating a sense of originality in my writing. I hope they'll help you, and that someday I'll get to read dozens of original stories pouring out of publishing houses as we all strive to have fresh, new ideas! :)


Rachel Hope said...

Love this post ! Your so right about the Y thing, I think its funny that someone else said so. Thanks for your tips, I shall read and re-read.
blessings ~ Rachel Hope

Emily Chapman said...

My goodness, Rachel, this is wonderful! I think I'll have to keep returning to this post from time to time! :)

Jack said...

Advice always helps. Thank you 8-)

Casey Capra said...

Ahhh, this is so inspirational! My kudos ;)

One of my pet peeves includes the first point and the last point. Authors seem to assume that their readers have no imagination, and would rather throw up a bunch of descriptions, or reveal all their deepest struggles, in the first chapter. So annoying...

I'm so glad to know someone sees these problems too!

Rachel said...

Yes, Yes, YES! Thank you! As a reader more than a writer, I can tell you...almost all of those first few drive me NUTS about books. And that is one reason many fiction books get put back onto the shelf because I don't wish to waste my time reading another mediocre average book that sounds the same as ones I've already read. :/

I use that note taking idea too. That works for non-fiction too! I just need to put it into practice more. ;)

Thank you for the tips and thank you for being a voice and helping other young writer's! :D

Love and Hugs Rachel darling!
~The Other Rachel~