Hello Writing Challengers and guests! The 90 Day Daily Writing Challenge is almost over! Many of you have written to me letting me know you’ve finished projects that were languishing for years, and some of you have racked up literally hundreds of writing hours! I’m so impressed with all of you.
I’ve gotten several requests this week for my popular online class FREE YOUR CREATIVE MIND; this is an action packed 2-week class on how to tap into your powerful subconscious mind for maximum creativity. A new class is forming to begin on Monday, March 26. I’m running a special during the Writing Challenge of $37, which includes a free 10 page critique in any genre. You can sign up by emailing me or sending the money to my Paypal account (Kelly@KellyLStone.com).
Now for today’s Writing Challenge guest! I’m thrilled to have my friend Dianna Love on the 90-Day Writing Challenge Blog; Dianna is an award-winning author of the BELADOR series as well as co-author with Sherrilyn Kenyon of the fabulous BLOOD TRINITY and other books. She also wrote BREAK INTO FICTION with Mary Buckham, a must-have book if you’re trying to write a publishable story. Dianna’s advice is always useful to aspiring and established authors alike; today she offers a chance for you to get feedback from her on YOUR story! Leave a comment to get help with your story premise and to be entered into the giveaway.
What makes YOUR story different?
How often have you heard editors say they want something fresh and different… but familiar? Understanding what they mean by that statement is key to figuring out what makes your story different.
Supposedly, every plot has been written in one form or another thousands of times. I’ve heard it boiled down as: There are two stories in the world – “One day, our hero went on a journey” and “One day, a stranger came to town”…
Still, there are books and movies that break out, because they resonate so powerfully with a large portion of the reading and viewing public. So there must be new ways to spin the many plots floating around into something fresh.
I once asked fans what they thought made a story different and got comments like the following:
“Even a clichéd storyline can be given new life with good characters.”
“I think if a writer, even if they use a similar premise (vampires, shapeshifters, etc) but make it their own.”
“One of the things that makes a story stand out for me is what characters say to each other.”
From just those few points, we get that you can spin a clichéd storyline, make the premise your own or take the same premise but spin the way characters interact with each other. All good suggestions.
So why, when you pitch your ideas, are editors and agents constantly asking ‘what makes your story different?’ Because even if they love your voice they still have to sell a new book to their marketing team…a team faced with trying to position a new book on a shelf, be it virtual or real, and differentiate that book from every other book in a glutted market.
What if you go the self-published route? Does that mean you won’t be faced with answering the ‘what makes your book different’ question? Yes and no. You won’t have to answer it for an editor or agent… but the reader is the next, and most important, gatekeeper. That reader will take a look at your book and decide in seconds if they’ve “already read something like that” and move on to the book that spurs their interest.
Readers now have to navigate that same glutted market on their own, especially the ever-increasing online market. They may take a chance on a $.99 book, but what will make them spend even that much if they’ve just read a book that sounds like the same old same old? There were 3 million – yes, that’s million – ISBNs issued last year. How many do you think will be issued this year? Far more.
Now that we know WHY your book needs to stand out, how do you determine if your current story does or not?
First, I’m going to give you some examples of stories that are different in ways that make them fresh and compelling. We know this because they’ve all been massively successful. Since we each have different reading tastes and movies are more universal, I’m going to use movie examples to make it easy for you to quickly see what I’m talking about.
If you were pitching these stories, below, and had to answer the question – ‘What makes your premise or hero/heroine different than h/hs and premises in similar stories that are currently on the shelves or in the movies?’ – you might answer as follows:
My hero is a dangerous undercover agent who wants to open a hair salon. [This was the Adam Sandler comedy YOU DON’T MESS WITH ZOHAN, and just the idea of a dangerous undercover agent wanting to style hair sounds funny.]
My heroine is a stripper who has a week to charm a billionaire into falling in love with her. (Cinderella story turned on its ear in PRETTY WOMAN with a female character who was far from the fairytale version)
My hero is a vampire who can walk in the sun, but avoids it because he sparkles and his coven is the catalyst for local werewolves changing/evolving. (Book and movie of Stephenie Meyers Twilight series that introduced a new look for vampires)
My hero is a gorgeous, arrogant young male who humiliates a witch who then casts a spell, turning him into a hideous-looking teenager with a deadline–convince someone to love him as he is now or stay that way forever. (A spin on Beauty and the Beast in BEASTLY where the Beast is a young man who has to lose everything that matters to him to gain the only thing worth having.)
My premise is different because fairytale characters are cursed to live in the “real” world. (Clever new television series called ONCE UPON A TIME where real people have to “remember” that they are fairytale characters for any hope of returning to their world)
My premise is different because I’ve mixed beings, gods and goddesses of different mythologies in one world. (Premise behind the BELADOR urban fantasy series where there is no one ultimate god or goddesses, which makes for deadly conflicts and interesting negotiations.)
Now it’s time for you to work. Take out paper and pen. Answer the following questions:
A) What is your protagonist or hero (carpenter, teacher, astronaut, cowboy, surfer, etc)?
If you’re writing a romance, what is your heroine (scientist, childcare provider, CEO, waitress, etc)?
B) What is your story premise (if you’re writing a romance, I don’t want any answer that has to do with love or relationships, but the external story that is the foundation for the plot)?
Working with answers to those questions above, explain in no more than 30 words what makes your hero, heroine or premise different from ten books with a similar hero, heroine or premise?
Creating characters that are different or unusual still requires the character to be fully developed with core beliefs and sound motivation. In other words, an unusual character will fall flat on the page if you fail to do the necessary work of building a believable back story that will support that character’s core belief and giving that character a believable motivation that will drive the character toward his or her goal. Start with creating someone “unexpected” then make sure to give your character internal depth.
A) Write down what role your hero or heroine plays in your story (use your answer from Exercise #1) and choose 3 words to describe that character. Once you do, add to the list below
Nurse – Nurturing, disciplined, likes to role play online
Policeman – Dedicated, follows rules, likes to wear superhero costumes
Celebrity – Charming, loyal, obsessive-compulsive disorder
Villain – Ruthless, focused, feeds a rat that lives in the house
________ (your character)_______________________________ (descriptive words)
B) I’ve mixed the first four above descriptions so that all of the character roles are now different:
Nurse – Ruthless, focused, feeds a rat that lives in the house
Policeman – Charming, loyal, obsessive-compulsive disorder
Celebrity – Nurturing, disciplined, likes to role play online
Villain – Dedicated, follows rules, likes to wear superhero costumes
________ (your character)_______________________________ (change out several of the set of three traits above with yours and ask yourself what your character would be like with these traits?).
Take the Policeman in part (B), for example. Would that be MONK?
What if the villain was charming, loyal and OCD? Would that be interesting qualities of a villain?
C) For another spin on the characters, swap the gender of a role from male to female or young with older. For example, when they remade BATTLESTAR GALACTICA they gave the popular character names Starbucks a twist by changing the gender from male to female. How different would your character be if he/she were from another country with different customs than ours? What if that character came from money instead of poverty or vice versa?
Add an unexpected ingredient to a plot. For instance, take a bunch of roughnecks on an oilrig and expect them to become astronauts and save the world by stopping an asteroid that’s threatening earth. That was ARMEGGEGON.
Or what about mixing aliens with cowboys? The television show FIREFLY and the movie COWBOYS AND ALIENS mixed genres.
Tell a story from the point of view of the domestic “help.” If that story is set in a contemporary time period, it doesn’t have the same impact as setting it during the 1960s, which was a far more evocative and dangerous concept, turning THE HELP into a blockbuster.
My point today is in getting you to take a step back from your story and play with it. Leave the original file tucked safely away, then pull out a piece of paper or a whiteboard and start writing down things you would “never” expect your hero/heroine to want to do or characteristics that are “not” your hero/heroine. Pick three places and time frames you can not imagine setting your story in and ask yourself what would happen if you did set your story there.
As a minimum, I hope this has given you at least ONE new idea about your characters or story premise. My goal is to stir your creative juices and to leave you excited about what makes YOUR story different.
Post a comment and you’ll be entered in a drawing for one of the following (giving all these away to three different commenters):
*Everyone can download a free copy of FIRE BOUND (exclusive Belador Short Story) at http://www.authordiannalove.com/bookshelf_firebound.php
For more on Dianna visit www.AuthorDiannaLove.com and stop by her Dianna Love Fan Page to play the Belador Scavenger Hunt for a chance to win an Touch E-reader.