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Work Out Of The Day: Originality For Time, GO!
Are there any original stories today?
George Polti, a 19th century Frenchman, described the 36 dramatic situations. Nothing in the human condition is unique. No matter what genre your story is, chances are, it has been done. In a world of formulas, focus groups, and high-tech marketing the question needs to be asked: “How can stories be original?”
I did a quick Google search for “Action Thrillers with Terrorism” and came up with 863,000 hits.
The Romance Genre, of course, blew that out of the water with 26 million. Zombie books, shockingly, only got close to two million. So what’s the point? How do we recycle, repackage and rebuild worlds and characters without cranking the same thing out of the Cliché Factory?
Answer: By writing better and going deeper than mere entertainment. Throughout much of history the main focus of writing was to teach a lesson and to educate or stimulate the brain first. Entertainment was the fortunate byproduct.
In my opinion we have developed a “that will never sell or hold the reader’s short attention span” mentality. If you look at the classics: Shakespeare, Orwell, Kubrick, Bradbury, Joseph Heller and on and on back to the Greeks you see one underlying intention – to engage the reader’s intellect.
Talented authors engage the brain and assume that the readers are smart. If a reader is not that smart, then they will be by the time they are done reading. Writers should not dumb down prose for a mass market, just because some agent told them too. Readers are smart. After all, they could be watching puppy videos on You Tube.
Here are three ways I use to help keep originality in mind.
- Don’t be a “hashtag” writer. My definition of a hash tag writer is someone who just hits on popular buzzwords and themes for demographic purposes with out any real connection to a story or point. Create a story that you would love to read. How many times has this been done? How am I going to make it better? I try to take the approach that my reader needs to read my story and then make the case, through weaving realism and giving them the freedom to think. Avoid what everyone else does. See Balancing Act and fight scenes that hit back.
Example: “Hey Beau, hop in the apocalypse vehicle! Let’s chase down them teenage zombie girls in the wet T-shirts!”
- Don’t insult your readers: I have read several books lately that I have had to ask myself, Why am I reading this?
People read books because they have an imagination, they don’t need you to spell out every detail, unless of course it is crucial the story. Do you really need a ten-page description of a hog being butchered? Or five pages of a crime victim being slowly— you get the point. Some tales revolve exclusively around the acts and the shock value of events to the point where that becomes the only story and focus. Now you just have nouns gone wild.
- If you want to be a prolific writer, you must be a veracious reader. Read the great writers from each continent, and various eras. Devour books like a termite would attack a log pile. Check out this large list of bestsellers. Look at the author’s historical and social perspective. How has writing changed over the centuries? You will not only be amazed at what you learn about history and the lives of people, but you will develop a keen sense of what the purpose of a story really is. In the long run, studying the craft of others will sharpen your wits and skills.
Conclusion: Ironically enough, nothing I said here is original or new to any writer. I just think we should crank out better products for our selves and for our readers; heck with the experts who tell us what will sell. As a writer you should have your own techniques and a sense of integrity to shine. There are always new ways to spin and to follow routes over the same old worn out maps.
“For a country to have a great writer is like having a second government. That is why no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones” Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn.
If you would like to check out some of my projects visit: www.jamesgarmischbooks.com
Pick any 1980’s vintage or earlier, for that matter, T.V show or movie and there will inevitably be a scene with someone sneaking up behind their nemesis and hitting them on the head to ‘knock them out’.
Though this is very convenient with commercials and time slots for shows, we all know it’s completely silly.
Today we think, “Oh massive head trauma mmm spinal injury, brain herniation and Death.”
Of course to day we have our own over the top highflying scenes where 5’2 girls in mini skirts and heels toss three hundred pound bikers through windows. “Go girl power!”
SO what about books?
When I write physical fight scenes I try to keep it simple, short brutish and real. I recently read a book where the protagonist charged up a hill and did a spinning back kick to knock down his armed assailant. I don’t even think Bruce would do that.
I follow these three rules when I write a fight scene:
- Know your character: an ex-con, barista at Starbucks and a Navy SEAL are all going to have different energy, motivations and techniques in a struggle. Stay away from the fancy stuff, fight to win or fight to run for your life. A physical altercation is not a usual occurrence in most people’s lives (unless you’re a professional fighter) and should evoke deep very primal emotions in your character. How a character fights for their survival or doesn’t speaks volumes on who they are.
Example: Sara snapped. She channeled every once of pent up hurt, frustration and resentment buried deep within her soul into her attacker. She had never hurt any one before. He became an object, which is how she knew he viewed her. She grabbed a loose beer bottle broke it and grinded it into his face, “Get off me!”
Example two: Frank narrowed his eyes and smirked. He put his back against the wall, “Which one of you two wants to hurt your selves on me first, huh?”
Two different approaches, their actions tell you who they are. I do not randomly make fight sequences for the sake of hurting people, this can be pointless to moving a story.
- Physics: If your writing a super hero story, do your thing. If your not, make your character subject to the laws of gravity and physics. People don’t survive extreme beatings without damage, and there is some one who can beat any one. Chuck Norris said that, so it must be true. A character that barley wins, or gets beat up a little will be seen as more human than lets say Bill Jack. The ‘70’s is over let the cheese go.
- Chaos: When I write a fight scene I like to mesh extreme emotion, some dialogue and lots of clumsy struggle hindered by an un predictable environment.
Fights happen fast and so brutally that often they are over before you know it. Leave lots to the imagination. Not a lot of thinking goes on.
All writers have their ways of describing action. I shy away from long drawn out scenes without a purpose. If a fight scene does not move the story along, ring the bell and kick it out of the ring.
I would love to hear your comments and ideas on what makes a good action scene. Be sure to check back for my next blogs: Writing about the Military for civilians, and Things writers need to know about weapons.
IN the mean time keep your hands up and keep moving!
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Change.”
Imagine crossing the Alps to invade another land. No synthetic clothes, no GPS, no snow shoes, no cable cars.