Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Writing Fresh

When writing a novel the first question anyone asks is, "So, what is your story about?" Some people answer with an elevator pitch--a sentence that gives the particulars. Such as, "A seemingly random murder leads a blogger into an international race to create a mind control device."
Sounds good-now, what kind of story is it? What is your theme? Who has written something like it before? How does this compare? What type of reader would buy this? How are you going to make it "fresh?"

Those are the questions that always stop me in my tracks. But they are the questions you should answer before you begin to write your story. They are the questions that will ensure the book is marketable. For nearly twenty years I've struggle with the question of theme and fresh. I've experimented with saying things like-"think Cinderella with a twist." But this isn't enough. It's weak. It doesn't really answer the questions. It doesn't really explain the story concept or how it fits in the market. It doesn't tell the editor/agent what makes it fresh.
I've recently discovered three steps that help me answer those important questions.
Step one: write down your concept and then take the time to research. Find two or three books that are similar to your concept. Read them. Dissect them. Find out what worked and what didn't work. Write down how you would do things differently.
Step two: determine what type of book you are writing and make sure you have all the elements for that particular kind of story. A good book to help with this is Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat Goes to the Movies." He lists a variety of story types and their essential three or four elements. For example: A "Monster in the House" story needs a monster with supernatural powers; a house or small enclosed setting and a sin--someone who is guilty of bringing the monster into the house. But another element that must be found in a "Monster in the House" story is a "half man." Someone who has survived a similar situation and warns the hero. In "Harry Potter," the boy, Harry, literally is saved by a "half man" in the form of a centaur in the woods who warns him of dangers to come.
I discovered that two books I'm currently plotting are "Dude with a Problem" stories. The elements are an innocent hero/heroine; a sudden event that comes without warning; and a life or death battle. But also found in this type of story is an "eye of the storm" moment where the hero/heroine "finds a partner who is a friendly ally in a sea of trouble." Now I know the type of story and the readers' expectations.
Step three: determine how your theme fits in your story type.
My theme of survival for one story includes a Law Enforcement Problem. The second is a Domestic Problem. This is how the two stories vary and what makes them fresh.
Taking the time to go through these three steps and answering the questions before you begin your story will help you understand how your story can be "fresh" and still be marketable. Remember we are not trying to reinvent the wheel. Instead we are trying to make the wheel more efficient/funny/fresh.



Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I have never thought of taking these steps before beginning a manuscript, but can see where they might make the road to publication easier. I am also interested in the Blake Snyder book you mentioned and plan to look it up on my next library or book store visit. Thanks for the ideas.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jane,

I borrowed the book from the library-but I'm going to buy it. It is the first craft book that has helped me in a weak area-knowing what my story is really about.

Thanks for stopping by. Cheers~

Clarissa Draper said...

These are really good steps! I'm currently trying to plot my next story and I know these steps will come in handy.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Clarissa,

Thanks for stopping by~I know agents who ask for comparable stories when you pitch to them. So these steps are important. Cheers~

Anonymous said...

I'll chek out the Blake Snyder book. Thanks. It helps to know the plot ahead of time. Me, I have plots coming out my ears all day long.

Stephen Tremp

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Stephen,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. That book does help with plot holes. Hope you findit helpful.


Marilyn Brant said...

Nancy, you know you're speakin' my language ;). I really loved those categories Blake came up with to explain the different types of stories. My books are often "Rites of Passage" and I've done a few "Buddy Love" ones, too. The very newest is a "Golden Fleece"... We'll see how that turns out!

Wishing you a wonderful rest of the week :-).

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Marilyn,

Thanks! And Thank You again for pointing this book out to me. Cheers~

Joanne said...

Great advice here, sometimes we have to get that storyline across in only a few moments. It's nice to be prepared to engage the listener. I clicked over from Mason's, enjoyed browsing here.