Posted July 10, 2010on:
Originality, the curse of the writing life.
I suppose most people think it would be the lack of originality, but that’s not necessarily true. Hollywood is much happier making a remake than it is taking a chance on something totally untested. In a lot of the blogs I’ve read, back when I was trying to get agent representation and publication through one of the larger publishers, one of the big things they want is something called a ‘comp title’, a book or books that your manuscript is like. I suppose there are people out there who start writing a book by thinking, “I’ll write a story that’s like Harry Potter, only it’ll be a school for villains, trying to corrupt him.” (And before you think about stealing this idea for yourselves, it’s been done already, and very well, and it doesn’t sound at all like I’ve described because it’s more original than that.) Take a look at the current vampire craze in paranormal romances, every author under the–well, not under the sun, coming up with some ‘twist’ on vampires, as long as they’re fabulous lovers with French accents and silk ruffled shirts. Which spun off the werewolf craze, followed by the ‘witch’ craze, followed by the ‘faerie’ craze followed by…I will resist the cynical observation that this is helped along nicely by the current business model in publishing. But I will say that my publisher has often expressed an amazement at the bizarreness of the stories I have inflicted upon her. She still publishes them, though, because I’m Just. That. Good.
But getting that book published, that movie produced, is not what I had in mind. A movie producer or a book publisher has the option of saying, “Hmm, interesting concept, but I’m not sure it’ll play in Peoria.” Even a writer can do that. An author has no such luxury. To the author it’s His Idea, and he has to make it real, put flesh on the bones, even if he doesn’t know how. Worse, helpful advice and examples are little help, because they are things that have been done before. I have trouble writing blog posts on subjects I’ve seen done already.
I have a folder of such ideas, little documents for the stories I think of that I can’t figure out how to make them work. Sometimes the reason they don’t work is because they’re not especially original. I have lots of ideas that I get from reading other people’s books, and those ideas may become a good scene in my own book but never a book of their own. The heroes of my second novel spent 6 weeks waiting on a forest path for me to come up with an idea for what happened next, so they could tell me what they were going to do about it. I spent 4 years writing St. Martin’s Moon (some of which was lost starting a new job and not writing much), and I had to push the bones of the ending into place just to have them there, so that I could suddenly realize what the ending was all about 2 weeks after I wrote it. I got three story ideas from the Color of Silence contest and five from the Dark Glass contest, and someday I will make them work!
When I figure out how.