Monday, March 2, 2015

Making Your Work Stand Out

So this is something I've come across in my Nonfiction workshop, but the more I thought about it the more I realized it can be applied to fiction, as well.

Anyone can write a story; what matters is how you make it yours.

Let me talk Nonfiction for a moment (I'm learning a lot, by the way; if ya'll ever get the chance to learn about writing different genres, do it). We've read many nonfiction articles (magazine essays, lyric essays, and magazine articles), and now we're at the point where we've turned in our own essays for workshop. I've been really nervous about critiquing since I've never studied nonfiction in-depth, but I've been doing my best. And I've realized that my most common comment has been: expand.

See, in Nonfiction, I'm not quite sure vagueness works. Here's why:

While everyone in the world might suffer the same kinds of thoughts/emotions/situations at one point or another, there's always a distinct something that makes it unique to the person telling the story. What's the reason that this story can't be told by anyone else but you? It's the author's job to make their piece stand out, to bring something new to those situations that most people are already familiar with.

Which brings me to how this applies to writing fiction: it's the author's job to bring something new to the kinds of plots and themes that most of us are already familiar with.

Some say there's only seven basic plots to fiction, constantly being told and retold. Whether you believe this or not, something else to think about is that there's only so many conflicts (man vs man, man vs self, man vs nature, man vs society, etc). There's also only one hero's journey.

There's thousands of books that get queried from hopeful new authors every year. It's a very small percentage that actually get accepted by an agent, and it's an even smaller percentage that get picked up by a publishing house. It's not good enough to simply write, especially if all you're doing is following (or copying) the trend that's making its rounds in the market.

You need to stand out and make your work different. To use a phrase from Big Hero 6 (which, psh, no, I have not been watching on repeat all weekend): "Find a different angle." You need to make your work so obviously you and so obviously dazzling that it stands out from all the rest of the books that are probably similar to yours in some way or another.

So how do you do that?

  • Voice
  • Characters
  • Setting

Those are just to name a very small few. Why didn't I include plot up there? Because I've already mentioned that many plots are the same (star-crossed lovers, rags to riches, a quest, rebirth). And, besides, adding plot might even limit you.

A book is made up of many, many, many elements besides the huge ones that we tend to talk about (I tend to talk about plot and characters a lot, for instance), and it's how you approach them that makes all the difference. Capture the personalities of your characters; set your plot in a place nobody would expect (for example, many agents are looking for settings that aren't in the U.S. but rather somewhere exotic and just plain different). Think critically about what happens and which character is responsible. Take care with your narrative voice; whether you're writing in the first person or third (or second, because that's a POV, too), write it with flair (an example of some really good narrative voice is THE RAVEN BOYS books by Maggie Stiefvater; in fact, for any of those bullet points I'd recommend checking her out because of the life she breathes into small-town Virginia and the huge and very distinct cast of characters).

The thing you want to do is take a step back from your manuscript, cock your head to the side a little bit, and say, "What makes mine so different? What's the reason that nobody else could have written this?"

Something that I also do a lot (and if any of my CPs are reading, then, well, the truth is out): I look at what I'm writing and compare it to the kinds of things my CPs write; two of them write in almost the same genre (conspiracies and science fiction and thrillers, oh my), so I ask myself what I'm doing that they wouldn't.

**Note: it's a totally different process than sound-boarding ideas off them and asking them for help in fixing plot holes; they might help fix a problem you're having, but when you enact that fix, it's all yours in the way you sew it into your manuscript.**

So that's my little general rant-ish thing. In a nutshell: anyone can write a book, but it's up to you to make it stand out from the crowd, whether it's through excessive reading and research, nonstop practice, a keen eye for detail, the personality you put into it (or, preferably: all the the above).

Have anything to add? Thoughts or questions? I'd love to hear your take on how to make a book stand out. What do you do to add some sparkle to your pages?

Tweet It:

"Anyone can write a story; what matters is how you make it yours." (Click to Tweet)

Blogger @Rae_Slater talks writing, and how it's up to you to make your novel just a little bit different. (Click to Tweet)

No comments:

Post a Comment