Thoughts on Writing – Originality in Writing

As writers, we constantly try to write something original, or something with a unique twist. But how often do we come up with a super cool idea, only to discover there are already dozens of similar ideas out there already? (Looking at you, Marvel. Every time Isaac and I think we have a unique story idea, your next movie covers something really similar. All I need to say is “dancing baby tree.” *Sigh.*)

It can be depressing.

But here’s the thing: having similar ideas is okay.

That’s why genres and sub-genres exist. That’s why certain tropes show over and over again. We enjoy them. We like being able to follow patterns, and we’re delighted when those patterns fulfill their promises in unexpected ways.

For example, readers of romance know that the stories they reading will have a happy-ever-after or a happy-for-now ending, no matter how dire things may seem at the moment. They enjoy seeing how the two characters finally get together, despite the odds.

Readers of horror know to expect chills and moments of tenseness… and that the little kid down the road might very well not be a little kid. But the joy comes in seeing how the characters succeed or fail to tackle the issue, and what kind of monster is really lurking in the dark, not quite seen.

These tropes and ideas play into reader expectations, and if you know how to play your genre cards right, you can use those cards to add a new twist on an old idea.

Readers enjoy the familiar. Why else do we read hoards of dystopian books, or try to get our hands on every thriller we can find?

It’s after you consider genre conventions that you want to add a new twist, a new environment, or a new type of character to an old arc to see what might make it different.

This is the reason there are so many takes on different fairy tales. For example, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, puts the classic Cinderella tale in a space-age environment with robots.

You’ll find all the classic plot elements, but in a new setting, the old story takes on new life.

I’ve come to terms with the idea that nothing is ever completely original, and that really, the best we can do is know (to the best of our ability) what is already out there, so we can play on what exists and make something even better, or more unique, just a little bit different.

Have you ever watched a movie and wished it had turned out a bit differently?

What twist would you have added? What direction would it have gone?

(For Distant Horizon, one of the major changes of typical superhero stories was the idea that the supervillains won the day during the age of superheroes, and now the villains are secretly in charge of what otherwise seems like a perfectly functional society).

We enjoy the familiar, but we enjoy seeing how a different author spins the tale.

A while back I was reading a superhero book, Elevated by Daniel Solomon Kaplan (a fun book–I recommend it if you like YA superhero stories) in which the main character is in school (high school), preparing for a potentially life-changing event (getting her superpower–or choosing not to), and then she goes to a history lesson (which benefits us readers into knowing what’s going on in the world and how she feels about it), before moving on to the day of the big event.

At the time, it got me to thinking about the book I coauthored, Distant Horizon. The main character is in school (college), panicking about a potentially life-changing event (testing to see if she has a hallucinogenic disease… but the event secretly tests for super powers), and then she goes to a history class (which shows a little about the world so the reader knows what’s going on), before moving on to the day of the big event.

At first I was discouraged by the similarities, but when I started thinking about it, I realized that those similarities weren’t a bad thing. They help the reader get their bearings before going two completely different plot directions. Those starting events are tropes of the genre. Even the similarities were different (example: both characters have an interest in plants, but the difference is that the main character gets plant powers in Distant Horizon, whereas in Elevated, the main character gets a completely unrelated (but interesting) ability (I’m not going to spoil the book for you).

In Distant Horizon, the big day is secretly testing for superpowers in a world where people don’t know superpowers exist. In Elevated, the big day is a rite of passage where people are zapped for powers in a “Russian Roulette” of sorts (which is instantly different, and automatically leads to different plot twists). In Distant Horizon, powers are genetic. If a parent has a specific power, the odds significantly increase that the child will, too. In Elevated, the powers are random (though the book hints that there may be an unseen pattern). Both stories involve radiation in the explanation of powers, but hey… so do quite a few other superhero stories.

Where does this lead us?

Both stories have a similar start (albeit in different locations–Distant Horizon is dystopian, Elevated feels more near-modern day). It’s a result of both having superhero elements. But those similarities are what drew my interest into reading Elevated in the first place (which I again recommend reading if you like superheroes and young adult fiction. It’s a fast, entertaining read). These similarities are why I read other similar books in the genre, like Minder by Kate Kaynak, though it has a much heavier romance plot.

Do writers often have similar ideas at the same time? Certainly. Do writer’s absorb ideas from other books they’ve read and movies they’ve seen, then delve into them with their own twists? Yep.

Try not to be discouraged if you read something that reminds you of something you’ve written or plan to write. Look to see if the differences are great enough to constitute being their own story. If so, you’re good. (And beta-readers can help you here).

How about you? Have you read something that reminded you of something you’re working on? 🙂

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Behind the Scenes – Star Sword

A cover for Melange Books. For this cover we wanted to keep with the theme of the previous books: Dragon SwordSword of Doom, and Sword of the Quest.  I used the same model (piece-parted to get the pose we wanted). In order to try speeding up the process, we fully discussed the author’s vision for the cover before I started piecing everything together. I asked him to clarify a few of his ideas, and we managed to get this put together withing four proofs (minor tweaks on each. I toyed with the idea of the flames pouring over into the series title to add more drama and flare.

This is the result:

Behind the Scenes - Star Sword - Book Cover

Stock images from The Dollar Photo Club (Site now defunct):
katana and three images of the (same) model

Stock from Dreamstime:

https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-bonfire-flame-fire-forest-autumn-flames-image34236555 – fire
https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-meteor-shower-isolated-black-background-image49030556 – meteor
https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-roche-rock-ancient-ruined-chapel-perched-top-rocky-granite-outcrop-known-as-located-mid-cornwall-dedicated-to-st-image32326080 – ancient ruins
https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-black-smoke-red-flames-photo-special-nature-protection-action-intended-to-make-better-habitat-rare-heathland-image39123676 – lower fire

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Thoughts on Writing – Speaking on Panels

In my previous blog post I mentioned that I was going to be on a few panels at ConQuest, and I had a blast! It was a lot of fun getting to speak on panels, connecting with other authors, and sharing writing tips and knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to moderate a panel on creating languages (because creating languages is a lot of fun), and I hope to do so again in the future. Of course, I still have a lot to work on in order to be a better panelist and moderator, but I felt like this was a good start. (I’ve done a couple smaller panels before, but this was the first one focused solely on writing that was pre-planned).

If you haven’t spoken on a panel before and are looking for advice, I highly recommend listening to Writing Excuses’ podcast, Season 10: Episode 37. It had excellent tips on how to be a good panelist and moderator. Those tips helped me feel a lot more prepared–and thus more comfortable, on the panels.

Number one tip from the podcast: Allow panels to be conversations (build on what other authors have said rather than “waiting to speak,” and don’t hog all the talking time).

The second tip was preparation. For each panel I was on, I went through and read the description, then made a list of notes that I thought might be interesting to bring up or ask questions about, as well as relevant information. In a couple cases, I had to go do a short bit of research so I could remember the exact details. Having a few of the processes and rules written down made it easier for me to look back during the panel and make an exact quote, rather than stumble over something I suddenly can’t remember. And even though I really didn’t reference the notes often during the panel, it was a great refresher to read through before the panel started.

This was especially helpful for being a moderator, since I was able to form a list of questions that I could use if there was a dead beat… and also to segue conversations and go deeper into a topic once a panelist brought it up in the natural course of things.

Plus, I now have a whole set of notes of things I want to write blog posts about, and how I’d like to connect them back to my own writings (since using examples makes it a lot easier to understand).

Needless to say, I had a lot of fun both being on panels and listening to them. But now that the convention is over, it’s time to get back to writing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. 🙂

Have you had any experience being on panels, and if so, do you have any tips for authors who want to be panelists?

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ConQuest 48 – Panels and Readings!

Hey guys, I’m excited to announce that I’m going to be sitting on a few panels at ConQuest 48 in Kansas City, Missouri! The convention runs from May 26th-28th (that’s this weekend), and it’s a great resource for fantasy and science fiction writers. Definitely an event to check out to gain all sorts of writing information.

If you’re going to be in the area, and you want to see me on a panel, these are the ones I’m scheduled to be on:

Saturday, May 27th

3:00 pm || How to over-think your way out of writing

5:00 pm || Fantasy and Science

Sunday, May 28th

10:00 am || Creating Languages (I’ll be moderating this one)

12:00 pm || Reading

Thus far I’ve been enjoying practicing a couple different selections I’m considering for the reading, and tomorrow I’ll be brushing up on the panel topics to remind myself of all the awesome things there are out there.

The times I’ve gone to watch the panels in the past have been really informative, and a lot of fun. Plus, there are several other authors and speakers there worth listening to. I hope to see you there! 😀

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Behind the Scenes – Sojourn: Enclave

A cover for Melange Books. For this cover, we wanted to match the style of the previous books, The Wildlands, The Deadlands, and The Beastlands. We considered adding the other companions from this book onto the cover, but the cover looked crowded and lost the consistency of the previous covers, so we chose to stick with the two primary characters. This one used several stock images in order to achieve the effect of the dilapidated, overgrown city. Masking was super-useful for this one, as I removed parts of the skyscrapers to make them look broken, and then cloned in bits of the sky on a separate layer to make it look more natural.

SBibb - Book Cover - Sojourn: Enclave

Back Cover:

SBibb - Back of Book Cover - Sojourn: Enclave
Stock images from Dreamstime:

https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-long-span-concrete-beam-image11695956 – concrete wall
https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-asleep-image21589475 – vine overgrowth
https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-atlanta-downtown-skyline-scenes-january-cloudy-day-image66709798 – cityscape
https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-beautiful-inspirational-sun-beams-over-ocean-image30676892 – sky

Deposit Photo Stock
http://depositphotos.com/106813230/stock-photo-cheering-successful-woman.html – cliff/grass
http://depositphotos.com/116621478/stock-photo-tourists-walking-in-the-mountains.html – male hiker
http://depositphotos.com/75580811/stock-photo-friends-group-playing-guitar-in.html – male head
http://depositphotos.com/27318771/stock-photo-little-child-carrying-a-suitcase.html – girl hat
http://depositphotos.com/106813710/stock-photo-woman-over-mountain-view.html – girl head
http://depositphotos.com/116999012/stock-photo-young-woman-backpacker-hiking.html – girl body

Destruction in Background:
https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-old-building-image18217109
https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-old-building-image18216992
https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-demolished-building-grungy-detail-partly-image49371768

Weapons:
http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-quiver-made-leather-isolated-white-image34543777
http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-archery-equipment-bow-quiver-arrows-target-image29842224
http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-hunting-rifle-image12746386

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Thoughts on Writing – A Use for Prologues

Writers often hear that they shouldn’t include a prologue in their novel. That, if necessary at all, the prologue should become the first chapter.

I’ll admit, though I’ve often attempted to write a prologue into my stories, I’ve usually turned back around and taken them out later at the suggestion of beta readers. Prologues are often a breeding ground for unnecessary info dumps that really would be better interwoven into the actual story. (Or in my case, prologues were excuses to bring in confusing characters that weren’t ready to be revealed until a bit more foreshadowing has been dropped into the story).

However, there are exceptions to every rule, and most writing rules are really more like guidelines that, if you know their purpose, can be broken.

For example, I’ve become a fan of the writing podcast, Writing Excuses, which is an excellent resource for writers who want to hone their craft. The podcasters of Writing Excuses cover many different topics, and one topic they covered was the effectiveness (and lack of effectiveness) of prologues. An example they gave of a useful prologue was the intro for A Song of Ice and Fire, in which the readers see an example of the monsters in the introduction long before monsters are shown again in the main story. (Note: I haven’t read A Song of Ice and Fire, so I may be misinterpreting their explanation.) The point of this prologue was to set up reader expectations and promises, to say that even though you aren’t going to see these monsters again for a while, they do exist in this world and the reader will see it again.

This is exactly what we see happen in Marvel’s Doctor Strange movie. The introduction begins with a dark ritual and an exciting, mind-bending fight between the antagonist and the Ancient One, and shows that there is a whole magical side to this universe that the viewer should expect to see later. The movie then launches into the beginning of the story for Doctor Strange, which has absolutely no magic, focuses heavily on a medical-science focus, and shows a rather self-absorbed protagonist. If the movie had not started with the prologue to show the magic that would come in later on, the viewer who simply started with Doctor Strange’s part of the story would be in for a bit of a surprise once the mystical stuff shows up (landing quite a punch for both the main character and the viewer). In the meantime, those viewers who wanted exciting action and magical sequences might have gotten bored and decided to skip out on the rest of the movie. Because of the promises made at the beginning of the movie, the viewer knows that if they wait around long enough, their patience will be rewarded.

A different use of prologues is to help set up foreshadowing that readers won’t see otherwise, at least, not until far too late into the story. (The trick here, it seems, is to make sure it is interesting and still drives the plot, despite a difference in time or perspective). One of my favorite prologues is from Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, which is a fast-paced sequence that introduces the concept of “epics” (those who use superpowers tend to go evil in that universe) and sets up the weakness of the antagonist, though it doesn’t explain what the antagonist’s particular weakness is until much later. It does a good job of setting up that this is going to be a novel where the main character is set on vengeance, and setting up promises and expectations for the reader. Another thing I enjoyed about the prologue in Steelheart is that the whole sequence is explained later by starting with the character’s explanation of the events, but cutting before everything is explained and going to the next chapter, allowing the reader assume that the story the protagonist tells is the same one from the prologue. Arguably, this scene could have been shown at that point in the story. But then it would have slowed down the main plot and the reader would have lost knowledge about the driving force behind the main character’s actions, something that helps the reader sympathize with the protagonist (whose original goal is more or less to uncover the weaknesses of various epics so he can assassinate them).

Thus far I have not yet used prologues in any of my published works, but that may change in the future if the right story comes along. What are your thoughts on prologues? Have you used prologues in your fiction? Do you have any favorite prologues?

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Book Signing Today (Saturday) at Sedalia Reader’s World!

Isaac and I will be at the Reader’s World in Sedalia, MO, signing books from 2 – 4 pm. Stop by and say hi! 🙂

 

40654-distant-horizon SBibb - Magic's Stealing Cover The Shadow War - Book Cover

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