Earlier this week I had the opportunity to interview her, and now she's back to give us some author advice. Great advice too! :)
I look forward to these each and every week because the information – the advice – these authors give is so beneficial to the people who read this blog. It is actually my most looked at post each week and I get emails often thanking me for passing on the wonderful advice these authors choose to share.
Originality is in the DetailsI'm writing this advice in part because one of the best writers I've ever known – and I mean put pen to paper, creating brilliant turns of phrase, literary geniuses – recently gave up writing because she felt she wasn't 'original enough.' This idea steamed from the long, long term internal struggle within herself to feel as if her work was 'truly different' and 'unlike anything out there.' Anytime she came up with anything (and she came up with plenty) she's always eventually come across something else that was 'too close' and then start over with her own work. Now while some of these were legitimate 'need to scrap' ideas, the vast majority were not. There was only a glimmer of similarity, the parallel only discernible if you were looking for things to nit-pick about. But it was always enough to dissuade her, and eventually, as I said, she gave up.
Now, the reason I bring this up is because, at one point, I suffered from the same issue. I've been writing novels since I was very young (first one was at the age of eleven) and well, I did the clichés. I wrote things that I thought were new ideas but weren't, and sometimes I just wrote my little heart out only to discover someone wrote the same exact plot ten, twenty-sum years ago in another country and we were just now getting the translations in English. Heck, I've been doing this so long that ideas I wrote up when I was young suddenly showed up in newly published novels and I had to go back into my manuscripts and change them. It's the way of the business – similar minds think alike, and we're all writers. We all draw from each other and read the same books, and while I'm not saying plagiarism is in anyway okay to go do (because it's not), I guess what I am getting at is that sometimes, as writers, we set the bar too high on what is "original."
And so this is my real advice: originality is in the details. And sometimes, not even all the details. As another good writer friend of mine once told me, "If there's room in the world for 4 flavors of CSI and Law and Order, than there's room in it for Way Walkers and Lord of the Rings." It's good to have a fresh voice, a fresh approach, an original spin, and you should never, ever, copy from another author directly, but to all the aspiring writers out there: really, it's okay if your heartfelt creation is a little bit like another author's story. Just make certain that you've gone the extra mile to add as much of yourself into it as possible. Do research into obscure cultures and bring in details from their elaborate courting rituals. Look up the fashion of western Poland in the 1300s and describe their shoes. Make your characters vibrant and alive with hopes, dreams and unusual flaws.
Most importantly, read outside of your chosen genre. As readers, we tend to get comfortable with certain patterns within a specific genre – as writers, we need to shake it up. There's no rule that says a romance novel can't suddenly have space aliens bust into it, so long as you do the work to have it make sense, and enrich the story. And it doesn't need to be large plot aspects – take the details, the minutia, and sprinkle it throughout your tale. It will be stronger for it.
Do whatever it takes to make your story feel full, full of details and circumstances that you know only you've come up with. And then don't panic if there's still something similar out there. It will happen. But you know what will also happen? You'll have had that moment of true originality somewhere in there, that spark of you, and that will carry your story.
Your advice today really hit home with me. I have been working on writing a novel for the last two or three years (here and there) and the more book descriptions I read, the more I think it may be like everyone else's. What you have said here is SO true. (See, you not only helped my readers, but me too.)
Until next time y'all …