How To Stop Following Trends And Write An Original Story Instead
In 2012, back when I started to really take writing as a serious craft instead of something I did for English literature classes in school, I made it my mission to read as many books as possible in the shortest amount of time. My focus was on fantasy (due to my interest in the genre) and, every night, I would burn through at least two books before sleep finally overtook me. What I’ve learned from swallowing books every night like a buffet at the Hilton was how similar some books are to each other. This may come as no surprise to some, or at least make your eyebrows arch a little, inviting more clarification from my part. What I mean is that, especially in fantasy, there are a host of novels, written by a wide variety of authors in different parts of the world, that share the same themes, characters and story beats as another book that was published on the other side of the world.
I understand that there are solid reasons for this. For some authors, although they may have a brilliantly original idea, may be too skeptical that it could ever be accepted by the online community, a mishmash of opinions, comments and criticisms that usually evolve into Goodreads reviews that could either be really good or really bad. For others, taking inspiration from an idea that is already out there may have been what they started with but, before long, they realised that what they set out to write, an original tale with just hints of ideas and themes taken from other stories, has morphed into the exact same story they had taken inspiration from in the first place. For me, this ‘take and create’ behaviour destroys the rich variety and voices one comes to expect when exploring your next great read. When all books are alike to each other, why bother reading when you’ll know the beginning, middle and ending anyway?
By listening to what’s ‘in trend’ at the moment and writing that, instead of giving life to the unique and individual story that you have in your mind, authors contribute to a sea of regurgitated storylines that may make waves in the Kindle store but will never strike out as being the unique one of the bunch, which may prevent an author from ever being minted as ‘best seller’ material.
There are a few ways in which authors can look for authenticity in their writing, rather than following the well-trodden path of what has come before:
Research to find your originality
To determine if your idea is original, first you must figure out what exactly is original to you. There are hundreds of ideas poured over thousands of pages published in over a million books each year. I must admit, at some point, some of those ideas are bound to have identical traits and one may suspect plagiarism or ‘inspiration’ taken by one author to another.
That’s why its important to read — read as many books as you can in the specific genre that you are intending to write for. By reading and understanding what is currently being put out there to readers in the mainstream, you can make a mental checklist of ideas that have already come before you and to ensure that your own story avoids the usual generic trappings in a particular genre of novel.
For example, when I started writing Codebreaker, I was keen to avoid any themes, characters or story arcs that would usually be utilised when it came to writing the main plot of a crime-thriller novel. As such, I set myself a target of reading at least one crime thriller novel a week, just to get a sense of where most authors were pivoting towards in the case of character personalities, motivations, setting and the style of writing. All of these are traits I could’ve easily copied over into my own novel but I wanted to make sure that what I was writing stood out as a beacon of originality in a sea of derivity. By researching, I managed to pivot my novella into a cyberpunk style crime fighting story that was set in Australia (and not New York, which would be where these crime novels are usually set) and to give it a little bit of a futuristic spin, which deviated from the usual theme of present day technology which is heavily used in most crime novels today.
By researching and deviating from the norm, it was clear that my novella stood out and is one of the main reasons why its currently rated highly in Goodreads and on the Amazon store.
Beta readers are key
Readers are your ultimate customers — they’re the ones you’re trying to sell your idea to and to find validation for your story. Hence, readers are key in determining if they have seen something you’ve written in a previous story or if you’re writing something fresh & new, something that was unique and would bring them back to your story again and again due to its freshness and bold take on a particular genre.
That’s where the beta-readers come in. These are your test subjects, the group that will give your manuscript a read through and provide feedback on the parts they liked, didn’t like or what needed improvement. This group usually consists of your family, close friends and one or two professional writing contacts that will usually give you the time of day to critique what you’ve written in an objective manner. Finding a group of beta readers that you trust and whose opinions you would implement as constructive feedback to your work is key in not just improving your own writing but to also ensure that they aren’t reading anything in your writing that sounds derivative or consistent with an idea or theme that has come before.
For example, when writing some of my Medium articles, I turn to my long-term partner (who is an avid Medium reader) to ask her to have a read of what I’ve written and to tell me if she’s seen something like this on the website. She would take the time to read through paragraph by paragraph, line by line, to ensure that whatever I’ve put down on the page hasn’t seen the light of day on Medium. Once she’s given me the green light, I’m confident enough to publish, knowing that my content is something unique and fresh on the platform, that would stand out on its own terms instead of being a bad copy of another article someone else had written previously.
Confidence in your idea
Finally, the key to originality lies in the way that you think and feel about the story that you are currently intending to publish. There are many authors out there with amazing writing styles and brilliant ideas, but some are scared to publish them from fear of getting the dreaded backlash from the writing community or, worse, plain indifference to what they thought of in the first place. It can take the form of turning brilliance into straight mud — someone changing their original idea so many times from fear of going against the flow that, in the end, it would share similar traits to what has come before and the author shouldn’t have made the effort to think of something unique in the first place.
To those authors I say only this — write whatever you want. Think of an idea, research its originality, bounce it off with close friends and family. If it’s something that truly hasn’t come before, you have an amazing opportunity to show the world what you’re truly capable of and to stand on your own two feet in the literary field. Never give up on what you thought was brilliant and never give in to ‘couch critics’ that wouldn’t have it any other way but their way.
My hope is that this article inspires more and more writers to pursue the authentic voice in their mind, instead of trying to follow the voices of others, when it comes to writing their own novels. Until next time, write away!