Monday, January 11, 2010

Cookie Cutter Writer

Uniformity might be nice for cookies, but it's the kiss of death for writers. The last thing we want to do is bore the reader.

Have you ever read multiple books by an author and realized you could figure out exactly what would happen next? Different characters, different setting, same methodology. Granted, some folks like to figure out the ending, but most people like that "gotcha" ending.

Writing a novel that's fresh requires hard work. Am I doing the research, the brainstorming, and finding the new way to express old ideas? Since only two manuscripts occupy my computer hard drive, I'd be interested in your answers. How do you keep your work from becoming the same-old, same-old?

38 comments:

Lily Robinson said...

I have only one on my hard drive, but I've already thought about this. I don't want my books to be the same story in a different setting. I want them to each be unique.

The notes I have for future books are all totally different, so I hope I don't have that problem.

Jessica said...

I don't know yet, but I think about it.
I find myself writing the plots in the same kind of pacing/way, so I'm hoping the plot elements and characters are strong enough and different enough to be interesting.

I know what you mean about books like that. Can be very disappointing.

Have a great day!

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

I try to ask myself the question, "What if?" How can I turn this story into the unexpected? Always an enjoyable challenge!

Jody Hedlund said...

I like what J.S. Bell says in all his writing books--don't stop with the first thing that comes to your mind. Brainstorm and then take the second or third ideas and go with them instead.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Lily -

Thanks for your input Lily. At the present time, I have two manuscripts with a third in the research stage. Even though they're part of a series, each one is different and has a unique focus.

Brainstorming is a great way to keep things fresh. Currently, I'm working out "what-if" scenarios with another writer. It's amazing how something she says triggers ideas in me and vice versa.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jess -

Strong plots and characters go a long way toward a satisfying story. Pacing is tricky. We want to keep the story moving along without exhausting your reader.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Cindy said...

I think when I first started writing, I actually tried for a specific formula, just to get the hang of it all. But now that writing is more comfortable to me and I understand the craft a bit better, I try really hard to think of creative settings, interesting jobs for my characters, and more unique characteristics to keep the story from sounding boring. This also helps a familiar plot line seem different.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Donna -

Ah, we think alike! The "what-if" scenario is a valuable tool.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jody -

Great advice! Sometimes an idea is exciting, but when you try to stretch it into a story, it sputters and dies.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Cindy -

I like what you said about working within a pattern until you had a grasp of the basics. So far, my characters have been carpenters, government officials, doctors, and farmers.

One way to keep characters from sounding the same is to plunk them down in a different time period. In that setting, different circumstances, social expectations, and values influence their behavior and decisions.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Shmologna said...

I sometimes look at local history and go from there. Sometimes, reality is STRANGER than fiction. Once I have an interesting "real life" fact, I build a fictional story around it. Life can be colorful and unexpected so why not use our experiences? Then, with some unique twists and turns, you have a great story!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Yes, I have noticed that! I want my stories to be unique too. So far they are, but it's something to keep in mind with each new one.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

My husband complains about this all the time. He gets so frustrated because when he finds a good author so often they disappoint with the cookie cutter writing and it's such a dissapointment when that happens.

Something I really need to consider as I move from one story to another. I may be guilty of being one too. :(

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Shmologna -

Yes, real life is often stranger than fiction. Whenever I weave real situations into my work, I make sure they're changed enough that they become fiction.

Even something as simple as choosing names can be a minefield. I don't want to name a nasty character after a favorite relative. I also try to watch for repeating names from book to book unless it's the same character.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Kristen -

I keep thinking how upset I'd be if my story was almost perfect from and technical standpoint but lacked the spark of originality.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Eileen -

This problem isn't limited to writers. I've heard excellent speakers only to discover they have a few set talks they rotate. It's like canned veggies versus fresh produce.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Terri Tiffany said...

I have two going but I find if I have unique characters going, that mixes it up well enough.

quietspirit said...

This is an interesting discussion.
I'm sorry I can't add to it.

Sharon Ball said...

I need to get a little more experience under my belt before I can truly answer your question, but I will be on the lookout to make sure my writing is as fresh as I can make it. I'd hate to bore readers by being predictable and scripted.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Terri -

Unique characters always help give a story freshness. I'm working harder at developing my characters' personalities. My latest research included looking up Type A traits.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Quiet Spirit -

I'm glad you're enjoying the discussion. Thanks for letting us know you're listening in on it. :)

Blessings,
Susan

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Sharon -

I've read a bit of your first book. Your MC is anything but scripted and boring. She'll keep readers on their toes. :)

Blessings,
Susan

Karen Lange said...

This is a good thing to think about. I'm working on this very thing:)
Blessings!

Katie Ganshert said...

I don't think I'm at a place in my career where that's a valid worry. But it's definitely interesting/good to think about. i hope my writing is always fresh. That's a lovely goal to strive for!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Karen,

Me too! Cindy Wilson had a good post on plotting today. Might want to take a look-see.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Katie -

It might be one of those "file for future reference" items. :)

Blessings,
Susan

Carla Gade said...

I am trying to learn not to be discouraged when I hear of a story that is so close to some "marvelous" idea that I thought up on my own. As Solomon said, there's nothing new under the sun. So I'm trying to explore ways to keep my stories unique with original characters, goals, quirks, and plot twists. It's a challenge, but its also a fun part of writing. Even if my stories seem a little cookie cutterish, I can still decorate them with my own flair!

Jeanette Levellie said...

I pray. A lot. Things like: "Give me words;" "Help me think of a new idea for...;" and "I don't want to do this; give me motivation."

If God's not in it, why bother?

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Carla -

Don't get discouraged. I read someplace that there are only a specific number of story lines. We take those basic ideas, and make them ours in the exact way you indicated.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jen -

Prayer is my starting point with all my writing. When the creative juices dry up, I go back to that place. "Lord, what do I do next?"

Blessings,
Susan :)

Nancy said...

All of my children's novels have been quite different in style and setting. I used to write all kinds of things: short stories, novels, poems, non-fiction. So whatever else you might say about my writing, you couldn't say I was in a rut.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Nancy -

It sounds like you've got a good mix there. Thanks for joining the discussion.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Patti Lacy said...

Sigh. That's the million dollar question, isn't it?

A pinch of romance, a Tablespoon of current hotspot issues, a lifetime of reading/writing to cultivate voice and grammar and so on, a flood of the Holy Spirit's wisdom, a stream of constant study and critiquing...

A lifetime of learning.

Patti
www.pattilacy.com/blog

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Patti -

An excellent recipe for success!

Blessings,
Susan :)

Heather Sunseri said...

I love this thought, Susan! I hope that my writing never gets predictable. I agree with Jody in looking to Bell when he says to brainstorm different outcomes and go with the best one.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Heather -

Brainstorming with another writer is so much fun! Cliche alert: Two heads are better than one. :)

Blessings,
Susan

Rosslyn Elliott said...

What a great question. The quest to make it fresh is probably the biggest challenge in writing. I just keep remembering that freshness comes from capturing LIFE, not from imitating other books.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Rosslyn -

Great advice! You might want to consider doing a blog post on the subject.

Blessings,
Susan :)