Originality is the key to becoming a successful author. They say there are only 7 basic plots in all of literature: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage & Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Though this can be up for debate, it rings true in some respects; all stories can fall into a common bucket.
And that means, if you want to be a successful author, you need to be original. It needs to be something that hasn’t been done or seen before. Or taking that common plot and turning it on its head, making it seem different than before.
In my case, I had a very basic story, all the common things a fantasy would see, yet nothing breaking, nothing new and different. So what do you do when you write (what you think is fantastic, ground-breaking) novel only to realize it isn’t all that special and original? You write another novel in a completely different genre, that’s what!
Joking aside, this is exactly what I ended up doing. I was so bummed about my fantasy novel, and though it was done in 2007, the genre didn’t yet explode like it has today, thanks in large part to Game of Thrones. The genre was still a big draw, but the books churned out were much better than what I had written. Though it has, and will be, my favorite genre to read and write, I decided I wanted to try my hand at another genre.
I wanted this next manuscript to do two things: 1) enhance my writing skills and 2) get a publishing credit to my name. I can honestly say that I accomplished 2, but number 1 still remained to be seen after all was said and done.
Though I always read fantasy, I definitely liked a good thriller, so I put my brain to work to come up with a plot within that genre. I was a fan of Chuck Palahniuk’s offbeat and interesting takes on the human condition, so why not try to come up with something along that vein? The story I crafted was a great learning experience because I began to write in 1st person (which I don’t ever want to do again) and from a female voice. Looking back on the story now, you can definitely tell it was written by a man…more on this later.
Long story short, my novel was picked up by a publisher in 2011. After a long and winding road, Daddy’s Little Dancer was published. The whole process opened my eyes to the greater world of print and publishing. I never knew about things like marketing the book, the editing phases, the cover design, obtaining blurbs. It was a whirlwind experience and I learned so much from it, and that made it the most worthwhile experience in my writing career. The book didn’t do terrible, it sold a few copies here and there, mostly e-book, but I will definitely say it accomplished my 2nd goal.
But back to goal #1. When reading the book now, even though I had a wonderful editor, I feel that my writing was still in its infant stage. I had the proper structure to tell a story, but I didn’t have the strength behind the words. First person POV makes things more difficult to tell a story, in my humble opinion. It limits the world to being only in that person’s mindset and it is harder to introduce more POV characters. While it worked for this particular story, I don’t see a benefit in my preferred genre. It limited it to how I wanted to write the characters.
It also showed my weakness when understanding a female voice. Even though I specifically wanted the female voice to have a more detached and unemotional thought process, I failed pretty much across the board with writing her as a normal woman. After convos with friends and family, I learned where I went wrong with her voice. It is the little things that are different (how women view other women, how they would describe something differently than a man would, etc.) and I have taken that to heart while working on my fantasy series.
And finally, I was able to learn a valuable lesson on the editing of the writing. My original transcript had quite a few swear words and a sex scene. Though they weren’t overly graphic, I felt they added chutzpah to the story. Unfortunately, my editor/publisher didn’t allow for it. And this is where I learned it was vital to give and take. My editor loved a particular sentence where the word “sh*t” gave real emotional power, but we had to remove and replace due to policy. I felt it took away from the scene, but I did it anyway. All told, I now own the rights to my story completely and maybe someday down the road, I will revisit it and tell it the way I want to, but it was valuable to know where to stand some ground on a piece of writing.
Overall, it was a deep learning curve of the industry, but I would not change it for the world. So how does all of this circle back to originality?
Well, for starters, it made me realize that having something different than the norm was key. My thriller was definitely different and that made me assess the fantasy story in a new light. It also showed me that to break into this industry, I needed to polish and re-polish the tried and true story into something wholly new and exciting.