NaNo always kicks my butt, and it always takes much longer to recover than I would like. Here we are, a month from Nov. 30 and I’ve posted one little article. On the upside, I have been working on my manuscripts, but there’s always a balance that needs to be struck.
A while back, I stumbled across an interesting site that claimed to have THE exam any would-be fantasy writer should take before committing words to pages. The premise of the questions was that most writers (read: novices; read: all of us) only write with the intent of ripping off great minds like J.R.R Tolkien.
While the exam and intro were structured all wrong, the author does present a few interesting questions that any writer, regardless of genre or skill level, should be asking herself. We’re always struggling to come up with new material that will captivate readers and establish ourselves in the literary world. Creativity comes from within and without, but originality comes in part from knowing what and how something has been done before.
Firstly we must learn to…
Remove the story from the source idea. Most of us get ideas from the world around us. An idea strikes, forms, mutates and—voilà! We have a workable concept. But take a second and compare your idea to its source. How similar are they? Could someone see the connection between the two? More importantly, if another writer was struck by the same source, would the two stories look anything alike?
Create circumstances that don’t necessarily belong. There are a lot of stories set in medieval-like villages with peasant boy heroes and fairytale princesses. I’m not saying don’t write that story… Just write it with a Lightsaber instead of a long sword.
Provide a quest that isn’t linear. Readers hate a plot that they can predict almost as much as they hate characters they can predict. You need to have the basics of the plot (intro, rising action, climax, falling action and conclusion) but they should not be so straight forward. Maybe there’s more to one of those pieces than meets the eye—two goals are contradictory or one action might have unwanted results that muddy the water.
And then we must evaluate…
Are my characters stereotypical? Is anyone heir to a secret throne? Has he come from an isolated farm or not known his parents? Is your main character just coming of age to seize great power and defeat some big bad guy?
Are my concepts borrowed? Objective is to obtain an ambiguous magical staff? Been done already. Character is the last of her kind, or the fabled “only one?” Try a less obvious approach.
Is the conclusion like what your readers expected? You want readers to be happy by the end of the story, but you also want them pleasantly surprised. Twist around an old ending so that your readers still get what they expect, but in such a way that they feel enlightened. Give them goosebumps as they close the book—that’s what will bring them back.
Consider these bland plot twists that should not be used the way they are. How many of them can you jazz up into a witty short story?
- The king of the land is kindly, but old and easily manipulated by an evil wizard.
- The antagonist is secretly a relative of the protagonist.
- Do any of the characters exist solely to be captured, rescued or used as pawns?
- Is there an evil step-mother?
- Are there talking animals?
- Do any of the female characters exist solely to embody feminine ideals?
- The story follows a knight in shining armor.
- Your elf is ageless and infinitely wise.
- Your dragon is a pillaging nightmare.
- Your dwarf is a recluse who eats stones dug from deep within the earth.
- Your centaurs are at war with the Amazon nation.
- Your witch is an old hag who cackles over her boiling cauldron.
- Casting spells that could be called a fireball or lightening bolt and look exactly like what you’re thinking right now.
- The protagonist has traveled to a different time for the adventure.
- Half-bloods are considered impure versions of full-bloods, and your protagonist is keenly aware of this.
- Two fully armored warriors have been fighting for hours and are still going strong, with neither a clear victor yet.
- The thieves’ guild is the unofficial peace keeping force in the city.
- Your characters always stop at the local inn, and always end up in confrontations.
- Characters are always on the road, and never in one place long.
- The protagonist is pushing his horse hard all day long without any real repercussions for the animal or thoughts of exhaustion.
- The bard is along for the ride, and plays such sweet songs.
- One of your characters is carrying a magical, cursed, or somehow empowered weapon.
- The main love interests are in impossible situations that prevent them from being together.
- A nomadic, barbaric people live just on the other side of the river, always threatening.
- The antagonist is over the top dramatic.
- The antagonist is not smart.