“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
I’ve given some thought lately on the problem of being original with my fiction. A few things brought this on. Earlier this week, I talked about the Hero’s Journey and what could go wrong, how the hero could get off track and then we don’t quite have so much of a heroic story anymore (but things get more interesting). So one hand, Star Wars. Darth Vader.
And then on Twitter I came across this from literary agent Amy Boggs. From time to time she holds a #querylunch where she shares the manuscripts she’s reviewing. Well, this time around she had this excellent advice:
The key phrase there is “the right writing.” I talked about Patrick Rothfuss’s The Slow Regard of Silent Things, which is all about mundane things that are given meaning. And the writing is beautiful enough to produce tears (happy, melancholic ones). So there’s proof in the pudding on that one. At least from where I’m sitting.
Finally, I reviewed the first book in Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series yesterday, Furies of Calderon. His premise is a blend of two normally disparate things–Pokemon and the Lost Roman Legion. Much like Harry Dresden is a fair blend of one part Gandalf and two parts Magnum PI, transplanted to present-day Chicago. I’ve come to call this the “Butcher System.”
In the case of the Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins attributes the story idea to linking together reality television and footage of the Iraq War. Katniss Everdeen was born out of these two things coming together, competition and violence. By the end of the first chapter, I feel compelled to find out how Katniss is going to save her sister from the horrors of the Games. The setting is interesting. Katniss herself I wasn’t so sure about at first. She wasn’t particularly “likeable”–but her situation was compelling, which is more important. Her sister Prim was all kinds of likeable, but the story would have been less compelling if it focused on her. It was Katniss’s story, and I wanted to go along for the ride.
Where this leaves the fantasy writer is to focus on writing and what you do with your themes and characters rather than the originality of the themes and characters. What I think you should go for is clear and good writing, compelling characters that readers will care about, and a consistent world. By the end of the first chapter, you need to establish the main character–so avoid putting another character in the driver’s seat–and what the major problem is.
The basic story problem does not necessarily have to be all that original. An object is missing, someone is murdered, a journey is undertaken. How you make your readers feel, the emotional impact of your writing, as Maya Angelou said, is what people will remember, more than the action scenes or the words themselves. Successful authors have borrowed heavily from their contemporaries, from history, from literature, from mythology and folklore. What matters is that your readers care about what happens to your characters from the first paragraph to the last one. And still want more.
CREDITS: Fairy in the windowsill courtesy of elsapret.deviantart.com She looked very contemplative and so seemed good for a thinking piece. Check out her wonderful photo stock collection. Quote by Maya Angelou courtesy of Goodreads.