1. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Reinventing the Wheel

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by 123456789, Jul 19, 2013.

    Lots of people here have asked something along the lines of "how original does my story have to be," to which the response is most often some variant of "it's not what you write, but how you write it." It's that latter statement I want to take a deeper look at for a moment.

    Does "how you write it" just mean that you get to invent the characters, their growths, and their conflicts? Or that the world becomes your invention? I see a lot of samples in the writing workshop that certainly achieve this. Everyone has their own little spins that, arguably, make their plot lines a little bit unique. But I find myself saying, so what?
    Too often I find myself reading the same cliched lines, same common dialogue, and prototypical characters that would fit whatever specific genre the story is trying to fit. It's sort of like one of those video game programs where you get to design your game, or, for old people, legos, where you get to build your own architecture.In the former example, the code and graphics are already there. In the latter case, Legos has taken the liberty of making the blocks for you. You just get to choose which pieces to use and in what combination.
    One could argue that this, at least in part, distinguishes literary fiction from genre fiction, but, I don't think so. I've seen cliched stories in all genres, including, literary, and brilliant stories in all genres, including literary. I've read a small number of novels that have left holes in my heart, and the rest, just blend into the background.

    Back to us aspiring writers, whenever someone says something like, "My WIP takes places in X, and my MC, Y, can be described by A, B, and C, and will go through conflicts, g, f, and h, to defeat the antagonist, M," and then I read a sample of their story, and indeed, all that I am getting out of it is learning about X, Y, A, B, C ,g,f,h and M, I find myself wondering, what's the point?


    Going back to the initial, phrase, "it's not what you write, but how you write it," I would argue that a lot of us (I hope not myself but how can I really know?) are in actuality still attempting to be novel in the "what", by adding in our own variations of x's and y's, while not really doing anything that special with the "how." I have more to say, but at this point I'd like to see other's thoughts.

    Apologies if this is unclear.
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    For me, style is the main thing that separates one writer from another. You'll find that a lot of great writers have their own unique style.

    The second thing is characterization because I tend to like character-driven novels. So I really appreciate it when a writer takes the time to give the reader a character's thoughts, reactions to events/other characters, etc. As an example, I think Dostoevsky is really good at characterization. On the flip side, you have your typical thriller novel, in which a character experiences events and actions superficially; the writer doesn't take the time to expand on the character's reaction to these events. One example of this is The Da Vinci Code. All the reader really knows about Langdon is basic stuff like his profession, what he looks like, etc.

    So those two things (style and characterization) are really what make a novel/story original in my mind.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Um... Ouch! :( And no, I did not just step on a Lego (forgive the meme). I just love Legos and I'm not ready to think of myself as old quite yet.

    For me this is where what I want to say with the story comes into play. I'm avoiding naming the concept because there doesn't appear to be agreement and every time I have used one term or another it gets taken the wrong way.

    Anyway...

    Some people can't see starting a story without having an idea what they want to say with that story, while others eschew the thought as counterproductive. I am of the former camp because, as you asked/said, without it, what's the point?
     
  4. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    A great many elements go into creating a novel. It's not just a question of who (characters), when/where (setting), why (plot), and how (story). There is also authorial voice, character voice, depth of worldbuilding, social context, and more. It is very hard to find something that hasn't been done before, but, with so many variables at play, it is not extremely difficult to combine well-known elements into something which appears to be new. You might find the novel(s) you love are a few changes away from being carbon copies of the novels you hated, never finished, or can't remember the names of.

    I suppose my point is originality is important and achievable, but many authors have fooled themselves into thinking "originality" means "I can't use X, Y, or Z, because they've been used before." (Hence the reason we see so many threads titled "are vampires overdone," "are zombies overdone," "is this cliche," etcetera.) We must remember that, just like a program with thousands of lines of code, changing one or two variables can produce a drastically different finished product... or a very similar product which is, confusingly, better than what it was before. You do not have to reinvent the wheel to be original.

    Naturally, the next question is "what variables should I change to make my vampire story stand out from the other vampire stories?" The answer I keep hearing is, "write it well." But I think this is slightly misguided. Of course you should write it well! But "writing well" won't make your story stand out. There's already a well-written (arguably) Twilight on the shelves, thank you. That's like saying everyone else writing vampire novels is just throwing them together and slinging them into publisher's inboxes littered with SPaG problems and plot holes. You aren't the only one who knows how to edit, polish, and attack with a red pen.

    So, what does it take to be original? The proper answer, IMO, is, "write it the way you'd want to see it witten." After all, if the exact book you want to read is already out there, would you be writing one of your own? Probably not. Just do you. No one can do it better.
     
  5. 7thMidget
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    7thMidget Member

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    What a great example you gave with Dostoyevsky. I don't actually think his writing, by itself, is oh-so-impressive, but the way he develops his characters really, really gets me going. Like in "Notes from the Underground" (not sure if that's the English name); in terms of plot, there's very little happening that is actually interesting, but the character is.

    Anywaaaaay, I agree that there is a tendency to put a lot of emphasis on unique plot twists, intricate relationships between characters, etc., but I also think that those features are to be expected in at least some genres and it would not make sense not to give them the attention they need. Still, in general, yes, I guess it would be nice to worry less about the flashy stuff and more about the real substance of the book that will define the author as just another one or as a truly "unique" voice. I wouldn't assume they're mutually exclusive, though (not saying you did, OP).
     
  6. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's the big question. Is there a gradient, or if you can't write like Mark Twain or Nabokov, is your story most likely doomed to be a mere redundancy?
     
  7. 7thMidget
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    7thMidget Member

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    I want to go for the first option; hopefully, it's not just wishful thinking!
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    not only the details of 'how' but even more importantly 'how well' you can write whatever it is you want to write... the best plot/characters/setting ever can be unmarketable in the hands of a poor writer, while the worst plot/characters/setting ever can be turned into a prize-winning bestseller, by a fine writer...
     
  9. hughesj
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    hughesj Member

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    I think that the characterization is the most important thing. I could be reading a book that is completely copied apart from the characters and enjoy it.

    Say, for example, someone was to re-write the Harry Potter books but instead of Harry being who he is, Harry could be a sadistic psychopath who fantasizes about terrible ways to kill Lord Voldemort. This would make the series interesting to a different audience and, although the story is copied in other areas, it would be completely different.

    Another example is Nelson DeMille's book 'The Panther'. It was a very stereotypical book where the main character, John Corey, was eventually able to defeat the bad guy. The reason I found the book interesting was the characters. John Corey has an amazing sense of humor and the conflict between him and some of the other characters was extremely amusing. This made the book very enjoyable.

    So, even if the book is outlined clearly in the blurb and the ending is predictable, you can still enjoy the book through the characters, as long as they are well done. This reinforces the saying 'good fiction is character driven'.
     
  10. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've been wondering something along these lines, if a unique novel needs to ooze with tone, voice, etc that matches the MC.
     
  11. hughesj
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    hughesj Member

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    i say yes. The MC is THE MOST important aspect of your novel. If the whole novel is about the differences between different types of animal feces but the MC makes it interesting, then it works. (Maybe not quite that extreme but you get the point). I find that the books I have enjoyed most are ones that I can search things from it on the internet (character names and things) and expect to find results. This is because the MC (and other characters) are EXTREMELY lifelike and believable.

    I just wish I knew how to do it
     

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