A great post over at Romancing the Blog today about the difference between good writing and original storytelling. In fact, it's downright scary. Agent Kristin Nelson talks about the good writing she's seeing, but laments that the plots are homogeneous.
I think writers assume that good writing is enough. Well, it’s not. You have to couple good writing with an original storyline–something that will stand out as fresh and original. A story never told in this way before (even if elements are similar to what is already out on the market).
She goes on to point out how scenes in three separate novels could be interchanged because they were so similar. She also notes that the writers don't know each other and aren't in a critique group together. So how does their writing contain similar elements?
Maybe it's Jung's collective unconscious. Or maybe it's just that these plots are so familiar to us as readers that when we go to write our own, we've internalized what we feel are the must-have elements. And then we incorporate them because they are must-haves.
What gives a writer that extra little edge, that twist of thought that takes the story beyond the must-have and into the new and original?
I wish I knew! I think we all think we've got the original element, but then we just don't know for sure until the rejects start coming in. Or until we read enough to recognize the same element in other stories. I read some contest entries a while back that stressed this sort of thing to me. The entries I read were paranormal. Without fail, they were familiar to me, even though I don't read widely in the genre. The “obligatory” scenes were there. And they were so obvious to me.
But spotting them in your own writing is much harder. I guess you just have to read widely and be aware. And if you spot the familiar, fix it. Any other suggestions? Any thing you've done when you've found this in your own writing? I'd love to know!
We are having the same conversation at J. Carson Black’s blog… ummm. Scary, but true. Too many writers are using fill-in the blank stories… kind of like the paint-by-number crowd.
I think we get this idea about what works and what doesn’t and it can be hard to break out of that mindset and take the story to the next level. These days, I’m always asking myself if what I’m thinking is a cliche or not. For instance, I thought of a first scene for a new book, and then I realized it was a popular setting and scenario but I really liked it. So now I have to see if I can move it and make it more of a standout.
I don’t mind scenes that are common… just give them a little twist. Maybe the heroine is on the ceiling or something 🙂