Elizabeth: This is Your Story

IMG_0673In Jilly’s Sunday post, we had a great discussion about what catches your attention when reading about a new book and what causes you to say thanks-but-no-thanks.

In the name of research (I couldn’t possibly have been looking for more books to add to my TBR pile), I logged on to BookBub and read the blurbs for a vast number of books trying to clearly identify my try-this-book triggers. I’m still trying to nail that down because I got distracted along the way by the basic plots that I saw over and over.

I started keeping track (in a spreadsheet, of course).

Of the 100+ titles I read through, these plots were the most popular:

  • Trying to break free from a dark /troubled childhood/past and discover love
  • Former sweethearts/exes/ childhood friends meet again
  • Forced into marriage / marriage of convenience / mail-order bride finds love
  • Governess / caretaker / nanny falls for the boss

I even noticed one or two where I thought “hmm, that sounds like what I’m writing.” It reminded me of the observation, generally attributed to John Gardner, that there are only two plots: A stranger rides into town and A man goes on a journey.

I thought about that while I considered moving to a small town, since they are apparently rife with old boyfriends, childhood sweethearts, and handsome neighbors.   If plots are not unique, then what differentiates one book from another? If I read a dozen marriage of convenience stories, will they all be the same?

Well, of course not.

The authors may all have started with the same basic plot, but each will have put their own spin on it. Their characters, delivery, style, and a host of other things will be different resulting in stories that, though they may have a common thread, are unique.

“Don’t worry about being original. Originality is overrated. The one thing that’s unique about your story is that you’re the one writing it. Your voice is the original thing.” ~ Chuck Wendig

Honing your craft and voice, making sure that the story you are telling is one that only you can tell, is what makes your writing stand out from anything else out there that might have a similar plot.

What the individual writer brings to the story is something that I’ve been thinking about this week as I anxiously await the RWA Golden Heart entries that I’ll be judging.

“But I do crave an original telling—one of our shared stories done again, ablaze with new detail.” ~ David Long titled “Notes from a Contest Judge”

Like the Contest Judge above, I’ll be keeping an eye out as I read for original telliings and new details. If I’m lucky, the process may trigger some creative thinking of my own.

“Original minds are not distinguished by being the first to see a new thing, but instead by seeing the old, familiar thing that is overlooked as something new.” Friedrich Nietzsche

In my own writing, no matter what type of story I’m telling, sarcasm and a bit of dark humor always seem to come through.  What have you noticed that is “uniquely you” in your own writing or “uniquely them” in some of the authors you’ve read?

11 thoughts on “Elizabeth: This is Your Story

  1. This week, I fell in love with James Thurber all over again. There’s something about the way that he takes absolutely normal happenings, and then lets them pile up and pile up until they turn into a grand adventure. The Night the Bed Fell on Father still makes me laugh, even after reading it a dozen times. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1933/07/08/my-life-and-hard-times-i-the-night-the-bed-fell

    And my favorite still remains the crazy adventures of Thurber and his White Russian gardener in France. http://downwithtyranny.blogspot.jp/2010/12/thurber-tonight-ride-with-olympy.html I have many of the same problems (second language gymnastics, an inability to automatically distinguish left from right even in my own language, etc.), and it makes me laugh out loud.

    Write what only I can write. I’ve done a short story this week. Only about six thousand words, but timely for the season, and while the plot is as old as story (woman meets snow goblin), I think I’ve added some twists that only I could come up with. There’s something deeply satisfying in finishing something. I came to realize, for the past three years, I may have been trying to fit my writing into a mold it doesn’t belong in. We’ll see what the rest of the week brings.

    • Yay! for finishing something. That’s a great accomplishment. As for Thurber, I’m not sure I’ve ever ready anything of his. Off to follow your links to remedy that. Just what I needed to round out the day. Thanks.

  2. I’m not sure “woman meets snow goblin” is exactly an old-hat plot. Although I agree that one does see the plot tropes over and over again. I went to an RWA presentation some years ago, given by a Harlequin editor, and she was very insightful about the usefulness of romance tropes—giving readers some of what they are known to want and like, but each author writing those tropes in a different way.

    Which reminds me that I downloaded a book from BookBub that I thought I’d like, but it was too similar to The Grand Sophy. I wouldn’t have thought The Grand Sophy plot could be a trope, but perhaps it is…

    • That’s true Kay, tropes do have their usefulness. They can provide a good foundation and can eliminate the need for the writer to do a lot of explaining so they can focus instead on putting their own imprint on the story.

      A book that was too similar to The Grand Sophy – I wouldn’t have thought that likely either.

  3. I absolutely agree with the judges who said that where originality counts is in the telling. It’s not unlike music, in that regard. We all know “Summertime”, from Porgy and Bess. Some of us know Janis Joplin’s version so well that it’s practically all we can think of when we hear the title. But the Preservation Hall Jazz Band shows that you can play the same tune and have a completely different (and wonderfully fresh) experience.

    We rarely invent a new myth, but that in no way reduces the power of the retelling of our myths.

  4. What a useful exercise, Elizabeth. I’m so glad that you did it – so we didn’t have to! – and quite fascinated by the ones that came up most. I have to admit that I’ve given up Bookbub because I found the quality so variable (being polite) of the books I’ve download – I’d be very interested to hear if anyone else has had a different experience (because, if so, I might start using it again).

    • Hi Rachel–I subscribe to Bookbub, but I rarely download anything from it. I appreciate that they give unknown writers a shot, but—harking back to Jilly’s post about blurbs—I am almost always put off by the blurbs. Reduced to bare bones, almost none of the books sound interesting to me. Sometimes a well-known author whom I’ve read before is having a sale, and I’ll get that, and sometimes I just give something a flyer. But usually no. We must be in the minority, though, since Bookbub has millions of subscribers.

      • Thus far I’ve only given books that were “free” a try since the blurbs are too bare bones for me to really get a good feel for the books. Bookbub may have millions of subscribers, but I’m wondering how many of the books they actually buy. Thus far the covers and catchy titles have snagged my attention with more frequency than the actual book descriptions. I’ll give it some time and see how it works out. If nothing else, it is good research.

  5. The RWA enotes had an article awhile back, ranking romance tropes for popularity. I don’t remember most of them, but I do recall that “Second chance at love” was high in the rankings. I kind of love reading the same stories over and over, with different voices, and characters and takes.

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