WRITING: The Potter Factor: Being original without being original

Hey everyone!

Have you noticed lately that you pick up a book and you find yourself reading a snapshot of every other book you’ve already read? Only there’s maybe a different spin on it, or slightly different characters? It’s not technically plagiarism which is a whole other bucket of fish, but books that are increasingly redundant don’t help readers grow as people.

Every book I pick up has to have something that connects with me, that shows me a new side to myself. I want to feel like a different person after a book, like my insides have been carved out and arranged on a pretty dinner plate – I’m sorry I started resembling a serial killer there for a second.

I’m not that creepy I promise.

Either way, there’s a few things that a book has to do to be original without being original. There are plenty of things it could do to be original and actually be original too so I’ll mention those ones too.

1) Voice

Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls wouldn’t have been what it was without Chloe’s voice. She’s a very unique and mysterious character and the fact that she’s telling the story is even better. I found it awesome being in the head of a girl who isn’t sure whats’ real and what isn’t. And who notices the small details and the gritty and dirty details too, all the while walking through her life like it’s a fog.

Your book, that WIP sitting over there on the desktop needs to have its own voice. It might have characters and a plot and even a setting, but it needs to have a voice. Is it a sad book? A tragedy? Is it an action book? (and if it’s a book that reads like an action movie, I’ll say it now that I probably won’t like it) Is it philosophical? Intense? Mysterious? You need to come up with the emotions of you book.

When I was writing Flame of Justice, I used to think about where my characters were living. This was a figure of speech, “where this lives” and I think I got this phrase from music class actually, surprisingly enough. The question in my mind was about the tone of the book, it was the level of emotion within each character I touched. I write in third person limited and so it goes without saying that I had to go through a bunch of character’s minds. Not unlike my day job mind you, but it I had to be clear about where everyone lived. And it was “on what level are they living?” that was important. Were they in the basement, in the gutter, shocked, angry, disturbed? Were they lost, broken? As you can tell, this is a sad book, most of this series is a sad series.

But your book might be light and fluffy, it might be like Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which is about triumphing over adversary and coming into your own. It might be like The Hunger Games, which is about survival even through the worst case scenario.

Once you decide the theme of your book, and “where it lives” then you’ll be able to breathe originality into the pages that you might have otherwise missed.

As an added bonus I also relate this to astrology and energy patterns. I always tell people that if I know someone’s zodiac sign then I’ll know much more about what the energy is saying. If you think of energy as words on the page, then you can make the correlation. If this book were a Pisces it might be written in English but the words would be strung together differently than if this book were a Leo. You sort of predetermine your word choice when you choose your voice. You also choose your analogies, and believe me, the way a Pisces sees the world is a lot more beautiful than the way a Leo sees it.

Ex. (because I’ve read a good number of Pisces) Pisces: “The sky was like a symphony of coloring, all string quartets of white blues and brass of deeper sky blues. I could get used to this sky, a never ending sky that reached into the horizon with ghost like fingers.”

Leo: “The sky was blue, with those wisps of clouds that make you think of ice cream dripping down the side of an ice cream cone. Speaking of which, I needed to get ice cream today, that would make me feel better about what was going on.”

2) Scene Choice

This isn’t one you’d readily think about, but it’s important. Please don’t write a book about werewolves and vampires that go to the prom. High school scenes are overdone, kissing on beaches is overdone.

What you want with your scene choice is to surprise the reader. You need those slightly different scenes that make that light bulb go off in your reader’s head, thinking, they’ve never been here before.

And touche, they haven’t read another book where the characters first kiss is in a greenhouse on the top floor of a church. (That scene care of City of Bones by Cassandra Clare)

Also, you want to surprise the readers and catch them off guard. So you need to get creative. Your characters might be teenagers, but if you ever find yourself writing a scene that’s making you yawn because you can imagine at least three other characters in the same type of location and you keep running over their lines instead of the lines your characters are supposed to be saying, you need to skip that scene and come up with something a little more unique and different.

With Flame of Surrender I had the advantage of thick forests, waterfalls, merfolk, castles, orchards and cabins to go with. Yes, there were bedrooms and stables and bushes but I liked my choices in terms of where things happened, where the characters went, the things they saw, etc. etc. I always found myself thrilled by it, instead of bored.

Copy me on that one.

3) The Little Things

Your characters need to have awkward quirks. I loved it when Maggie Stiefvater was talking about Samuel Roth and what makes him emo. She said that to get readers to really love him she had to add things about him that were just heartbreaking. Hence his musicality, and his poetry, and his childhood memories. They were all things that made readers hearts knot a little more for him.

Think about the little things that make your characters who they are. Sure, you might have a super hot guy as a character, but the little thing about him is that he could also be a total cheating jerk, or he might have a fear of cats. Again, go back to voice, decide what would apply and then apply it.

In my instance, Kaliel is rather inquisitive and curious. She’s also wistful, like she knows the secrets of the universe and she’s a lot older than she physically is but she never lets on in her actions, it’s just in gestures, the way she moves through the forest and trips over her own foot sometimes. It makes her endearing.

4) Villains

You know how I said it’s all been done? Well in this category it has really all been done. You can’t surprise your audience with a villain anymore, and so you need to choose once and for all what type of villain you’re going to go with.

a. it’s the stranger nobody knows.
b. it’s the butler, it’s always the butler.
c. it’s voldemort and everyone is afraid to say even his name.
d. it’s the best friend that betrays.
e. it’s the creepy guy across the back lane that has no nose, just a hole where his nose used to be.
f. it’s the new friend to the pack, the one that tries to turn all of you against each other.
g. it’s your arch nemesis at school, the one with the too perfect skin, turns out, she’s an alien after all.

This list damned well goes on, and on into infinity I think. The point is to pick your poison because it’s all been done before, and THEN, avoid doing certain things with your villains.

a. Cheesy lines. They always get the worst lines ever. “Ready to die?” uh, HOW many times have I heard that one?
b. Monologuing. I hate it when the villain has to explain their evilness. We get it, get it over with already.
c. Taunting. They don’t do anything evil but they talk about it incessantly.

In my books my villains are either of the creeptastic kind, you never know that they’re poisonous until they are, or they’re the come at you and don’t top to talk variety. I rarely give them lines unless I can think of something good. And in some cases, I go for twisted or fierce if they do need to talk.

5) Logistics

So you want to write something supernatural but you don’t know the rules. You need to know the rules. You need to know how your characters become vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, whatever, and it has to be compelling.

You also need to figure out how your supernatural characters act. I mean where do they live in this book, what type of supernatural characters are they? I mean we can’t have blood sucking vamps or romantic vamps all the time. We can’t have emo werewolves, and trickster faeries. That doesn’t always work. Having one stereotypical secondary character is great, but then the rest need to have some clearly defined rules.

Life is different for everyone, there are thousands of perspectives to choose from, and you need to choose your perspective. You need to choose how these people see sucking blood, or playing tricks, or doing magic. I loved the Sookie Stackhouse books because it was very southern. Same with Beautiful Creatures, that southern feel was there. But vamps in New York or even elven vampires would act differently.

Choose your poison on the supernatural, get your facts straight, and get your angle on them quickly.

And that’s it for the original without being original section. Here’s three things you can do to be even more original.

1) Write in a style that nobody else will write in. Moira Young has capitalized on this in Blood Red Road and it works for her.

2) Write about characters that are off the beaten path that nobody writes about a lot of the time. Like Kraken, or Chupacabra, or Zulu tribe masters, or Santeria priests and priestesses. Again you’re picking your poison and you’re choosing to learn about their culture, but if you want to be original don’t go with the norm. Don’t write about a normal girl discovering vampires, or a vampire slayer falling in love with a vampire, or actually, just don’t write about vampires. Anything but vampires. There’s plenty of folklore out there, and why haven’t we seen a lot of it? There are plenty of good giant stories from the Norse and even more awesome stories of the heroes in Ireland. Pick up some of the old myths and write something original. I personally went with Ferrymen and Flames.

FYI: Ferrymen are sexy.

3) Create a plot that’s unique. Don’t use the usual story arc where it builds, finds a climax and then tapers off towards the end. Spike randomly, do things nobody else does, think outside of the box. What I usually do is watch my scenes, I usually have an idea of a beginning, middle and end and then I put in scenes that entertain me. That’s right, I think about them, I watch them in my head, and those scenes make me feel something, I squee, it’s great. I then write them out and usually it results in more squeeing. Write scenes that make you squee. Think of things that could happen that would be random (Like cows crashing into the lab on the day you’re supposed to be cured, Lauren Oliver, Delirium) Be daring and different.

And that my friends is how you’ll be noticed in the book world. My last piece of advice is my motto and this is what you should all be doing with your writing.

“Is it better to write for the self and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”

Make yourself happy with your writing first, make it a book that YOU can’t put down, a book that YOU want to read again and again, a book that YOU think about and dream about, and literally have pouring out of your veins ALL the time. Write a book that makes you think about your characters when people ask you who your favorite book characters are. If you can’t do that, then ask yourself why you’re writing in the first place?


Comments ( 2 )

  • Catherine Stine says:

    Very wise post. I like to read about creatures that are freshly made up, not cyphers of existing myth or folklore. And yes, enough with the vamp stuff already.

  • Samantha says:

    Hello Rhiannon. I stalked you on Twitter and read this post and decided I don't feel creepy at all for doing it. My muse lef me here and I'm gobsmacked if I know why, I'm just thrilled he did. (my muse is a hunky Greek God in a tiny, tiny little leaf) I don't care where or why, I just need to be your friend. Find me somewhere please. I'm an author and we are supposed to

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