Thursday, April 7, 2011

All Things Considered. Well, Some Things...

 What is it about your favorite genre that draws you in, that satisfies?

If it's fantasy, is it the magic? The ability to break the rules of physics and nature, stretch the boundaries of your imagination?

If you like your books realistic, what is it that makes you keep reading? The voice of the main character? The high emotion and angst?

Sure, everyone wants to write an original story. But I'm not sure readers want stories that are too far outside the familiar tropes of their favorite genres. I mean, isn't that why we keep coming back to the same sections in the bookstore, chasing the elusive reader's high we got when we first read our favorite books?

When I think about what makes my favorite books so great, it's usually the characters that spring to mind first. Their witty repartee, or bravery in the face of almost certain doom. The emotions the author made me feel when I was in their head.

It's a pretty universal part of story-telling, that the story is seen through the eyes of someone we sympathize with. Which explains why we remember a quirk like the fact that the character always eats ketchup on their eggs, while it's more of a stretch to recall how they escaped the clutches of the evil overlord.

I'm finally starting to realize the importance of getting deep into a character's point of view. But it's not one of my strengths. Sensory descriptions seem to come easy, but the emotional/visceral ones are still a challenge for me. It always sound clichéed, or overdone, full of too many pounding hearts, clenching fists, and tight throats.

This is where it's difficult for me to be original. I can write you fantastic plots until the cows come home, and eventually get my characters out of a world of trouble, but I can't seem to write how my pov characters are reacting to this trouble without feeling like I've read those words before. Either in my own writing, or worse, someone else's.

How do you keep your writing unique? Can it be learned, or do you think that it's just another element of personal style? What part of novel writing do you feel you need to work on? I'd love to hear it!


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Whoa, that's a lot of questions, Ms. Tere!
I love fantasy, dystopian, etc. because it allows me to leave the realm of the every day, to explore far reaches of imagination and possibility.
But characters are always the most important element, because I have to care why they are in the situation they're in.
I have the same problem you do with writing those emotions. Sometimes, I assume the reader will know because I do what going on inside the character, but that's not true at all.
One thing for sure, when I spend time developing the emotional component, the story gains depth and power.
As for books I read, the ones that stick with me have that emotional depth. Those that are mostly slick plot are quickly forgotten.

Abby Annis said...

While I usually lean toward books with a supernatural/sci-fi angle, I enjoy anything with characters I can fall in love with. The books that stay with me are always because of the characters, not the story.

As for keeping my writing unique? I'm pretty clueless in that area. Like you, it always seems like everything I write has been written before. Finding new descriptions for ordinary things is hard work. I end up with lots of pounding hearts, clenching fists, and tight throats too. Not sure how to fix it other than just keep writing and working hard. Seems like that's the solution to everything, huh? ;)

Great post!

Cynthia Lee said...

Reading your post made me think of the way Neil Gaiman does his emotional/visceral moments, at least the ones I can remember.

He's kinda understated with them.

For example, when little Coraline realizes that her parents have disappeared she doesn't freak out or anything. She does some ordinary stuff and then she does some more ordinary stuff and then she goes downstairs to the two old ladies and tells them that she's become a single child family.

And that was cute but also heartbreaking. I felt scared for her and also totally on her side without any hammering hearts or tight throats (not that there's anything wrong with hammering hearts or tight throats).

Anyway, that's what I thought of. Hope that helps. :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I think unique writing is a combo of natural style and learned skill. I struggle to let readers see the internal conflict of my characters. It's a definite area of weakness for me, but I'm working on it. :-)

Krispy said...

Lots of food for thought here. I guess I'll go top-down.

I do love the magic in fantasy, the idea that there's more to the world than what we see or think we know, but I have to connect to the characters too. Characters are like the foundation; they provide the anchor in reality that's needed for me to suspend my disbelief and buy into the fantastic.

As for keeping writing unique, I agree with Shannon. I think it's a combo of personal style/natural ability and learned. I really feel you on the descriptions feeling stale bit. Lately, whenever I write, I get all frustrated because I realize I'm using the same kind of descriptions as always and I can't seem to get out of that rut. Sometimes reading people whose writing I really admire (or poetry!) helps get the creative juices flowing, but I think maybe I just need to play around with my descriptions/writing outside of the story and see if anything interesting pops up.

Anyway, good luck!

MG Higgins said...

I have the same issues you do with sensory description. It's tough to be unique, maybe because there are only so many ways your stomach can churn or your head can spin. Because we bloggers tend to read A LOT, I wonder if this is such a big issue for more casual readers who don't notice the repetition.

Laura Pauling said...

I basically need to work on everything! But it's a combination of character, voice, plot, the writing, the emotion that makes me love a story.

Jade said...

For me, it's all about the characters. And I love books which are somewhere in the middle of contemporary and fantasy. Like WAKE and BEFORE I FALL.

Well, I don't think I'm great with emotive descriptions. This made writing The Silagree hard because there's a lot of emotions going on in there. But. Because I didn't want to be always describing how terrified Willow is, I tried to make her terror a bit of secondary character. I'm not sure I totally succeeded though.

Great post!

Solvang Sherrie said...

The emotional part is always hard for me to write, too, especially since my main characters are usually of the male species and they like to bury those emotions under a veneer of indifference.

I read across genres and age groups and for me, the characters are what draw me into the story. If I like the MC, I'm happy to go wherever they may lead. It's when I don't connect with them on some level that the story isn't as enjoyable.

The Golden Eagle said...

Lots of questions! Okay, starting with the first:

Science Fiction is my favorite genre. I love it because of the all the room for speculation on technology, society, what the future might be like, and because a lot of SF is based on things happening today--research, development, etc.

I think I need to work on everything. Description, plot, world-building . . . hopefully those will improve while I'm rewriting.

Anita said...

I think it's hard to "make" a unique with a unique voice, characters and premises. It's much easier to make that type of writer a better writer with some basic tools than it is to go the other way, to turn a writer with good skills into a unique writer. Does that even make sense? Half asleep here. :)

Girl Friday said...

It's funny, because everyone always says how important great characters are - and they are, BUT - when I think back to the books I loved as a child, it's the adventures and magic I loved the most, many of the characters have faded away.

Also, I'm with you on sometimes finding it hard to express the way my character feels in original ways. I'm hoping I'll get better at it the more that I write - practice makes perfect, right?

Tere Kirkland said...

Wow, so many thoughtful comments! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one struggling with unique ways to show what our characters are experiencing.

I think it's true--or at least, I hope it is--that like Anita said, there's a high chance of improvement for a writer with good ideas and okay writing style. Being a good writer and having unique ideas don't always go hand in hand, though.

Thanks for adding to the discussion, y'all!