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WORK-OUT OF THE DAY: Originality For Time, GO!

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.

  1. 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!”

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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