Originality

I recently had someone tell me they didn’t read in the genre that they were writing in. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this.

It seems that it stems from the fear of possibly writing something so similar that future readers will cry, “Ripoff! Copycat!”

Really? Is that all? So, I should never have watched my DVD collection of Harry Potter movies because I was writing about a teen witch (The Book of Lost Souls). I guess I should be concerned that my character has red hair or blonde or black or brown. Unless I give them green or something else, there will always be a comparison. Does that mean that my critique partner should never read about vampires because she writes about vampires? No. That’s, well, silly. That would mean there could never again be a novel written containing a rich, handsome, dark-eyed, dark-haired vampire. Or a lawyer bent on proving his client’s innocence, only to find out the truth is bigger than the both of them. There never again be a story about a cop named Joe, or an FBI agent with baggage who sets out to save the woman he loves from the clutches of a serial killer. Geez, if the last example were true, it’d be the end of romantic suspense.

It’s not the idea, folks. It’s the execution. It’s not wrong to have teens in love and one of them is a vampire. It’s probably not a good idea to set it in the northeast and have one of them sparkle, though. It’s not the best idea to have a school for witchcraft and wizardry where the student stay there during school terms and a parentless main character. Don’t name your wizards Harry nor your teenage girls Bella and you’ll be fine. And even then, I don’t think either Ms. Rowling or Mr. Butcher care that they both have wizards named Harry.

But, you can certainly have a teen vampire and a teen wizard. Just make their story different. Make the setting different. Give them different risks and motives. Give them different backgrounds. Give them their own unique personality, quirks and all. Invent new things!

It goes without saying that every word you write is entirely your own. But it’d be a lie to say that someone else’s work didn’t help you become a better writer. It’d be a lie to say that certain authors or works haven’t influenced how you write. Stephen King was clearly so impressed with Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House that he created Rose Red. Both are haunted houses. In both stories, there’s a character that heads up a parapsychology expedition. Both houses want to keep the occupants forever – bwaaaaahahaha! Both succeed. They are entirely different stories.

By reading other authors, you’ve picked up on new dialog tags, how adding emotion and the senses bring out pivotal scenes. But, the words are yours and your characters.

So, keep reading what you love! Keep writing. Keep coming up with your own spin on cops, agents, vampire, and what-nots. Make the story your own in only a way you can tell it.

—-
On a separate note, I’m still promoting my debut, The Book of Lost Souls. Today, I’m over at author David Burton’s site, Random Musings. Please come say hello!

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17 thoughts on “Originality

  1. Writing YA, you will inevitably get a review that compares your book to Twilight whether there are similarities beyond having a female main character, a love interest, and some paranormal happenings or not.
    I’ve had a couple of such reviews and at first I wanted to say, “I’m not copying!!!” but now, I take it in stride. If someone wants to compare my book to Twilight – send all the Twihards my way. 🙂
    I definitely read within the genre I write and I find it helps me generate new ideas. If I like the way someone else wrote something, why shouldn’t I give the technique a try and put my own spin on it?
    Interesting post.

    • True. So true. I know I didn’t sit down and make an outline based on anyone else’s book. But, if someone thinks my character Ivy is really Harry Potter, I’ll take the publicity – misguided tho it might be. Even agents tell us that everything is in the execution and in the voice. That’s when concept, no matter the similarities to other books, is king.

    • So, case in point – it’ll happen anyway. What’s even more weird, I’ve heard writers get mail that says, “a REAL vampire wouldn’t act that way.” Really? And, there’s the whole world-building rules when it comes to our fictional beings. I know Meyers got a ton of flack for making her vampires sparkle. Look, they were HER creations. She should be entitled to make them glow in the dark if she wants.
      Long story short – you can’t win. Write what you love. Love what you read. Don’t worry about reading while you write or reading about things you write. Life’s too short.

  2. I’m actually shocked when someone tells me they don’t read the genre they write in. But. . . how will they know their market? I’m sure someone else could give me another good reason not to though. 😉

    And I agree with Stacey – I think now that any YA paranormal with a love story will now be compared to Twilight. It made me feel a bit icky when my YA novel (or rather, the query for it) was compared to Twilight. Come on, if anything it would be more like the original three Vampire Diairies – that’s what I read obsessively when I was actually a teen!

  3. If your reasoning is you DON’T want to copy, wouldn’t you want to read all the stuff out there to make SURE that yours was different?

    Don’t get that argument at all…

    As for the Twilight thing, when I first started promoting Breathless, I milked it. I had little ads that said, “Edward is married… Jason’s still single. Support Breathless.” So, um, yeah. I also friended people on myspace who were friends with Stephanie Meyer with a message that said, “Hey, we both like Twilight, you might like my book.” That was really spam, but I didn’t get a lot of negative feedback over it. I wouldn’t do it again, though.

    Anyway, I’m completely in the market for stealing ideas. The trick is only to steal the part that’s the gem and to change everything else.

  4. I write what I love, which means I read what I write. I think some people just say they don’t read in the genre so they can claim everything in their book is totally, utterly, completely original. I don’t believe them.

    • I think it was Carrie Ryan who said she knew of a writer who wrote about some mythical being and because it wasn’t common, was told they’d copied. I can’t remember what the ‘being’ was now. When you consider how long it takes to write and polish, then publish, it’s usually doubtful. Still, the fear someone will think they’ve copied makes some writers a bit uneasy. On the other hand, wasn’t there some college girl who copied parts of several books a few years back? I don’t remember the details.

  5. I totally agree with you! I wouldn’t be able to live without my paranormal romance fix on a daily basis! Not to mention that I get a lot of my motivation from successful authors who write in my genre – without their success I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I have in this crazy publishing world!

    • I’m just too addicted to the stuff I love. I’ve known writers who won’t read ANYTHING while they write. They’re just too afraid people will say they’ve somehow taken another writer’s idea. I’ve had someone tell me that because they wrote a teen romance, someone else told them they were copying fromTwilight. I’m sure I’m going to get plenty of HP fans thinking I have witches and wizards and probably copied from JK. Nope. But my love of HP did get me interested in writing about teen witches.

  6. I read what I love and I NEVER read in the genre I’m currently writing. It’s not a sacrifice: I write in several different genres so it’s easy to find a good book to enjoy. When I write s-f, I read romance or YA; when I write YA, I read s-f or mysteries.

    I don’t do this for fear of stealing someone’s ideas — there are no new ideas, or so I’m told — and I’ve never claimed any of my novels were brilliant or strikingly original. (Someday, maybe, and wouldn’t that be great?) I read in a different genre so that I can bring a new spin to my fiction.

    Generally speaking, for me, romances have a different pace than mysteries, mysteries have a different feel than science fiction, science fiction reads differently than YA paranormal horror (my most recent project) and I love the fresh ideas that spring to mind when I’m outside of my current genre.

    Clearly, nobody else here feels the way I do — but it works for me.

    • I say if it works for you – then go with it. Just don’t ever let anyone tell you that by reading while you write, or that by reading what you want, that you’ve somehow going to (or have) copied from Twilight or Harry Potter, The DaVinci Code or anything else.

  7. When I started out on my writing journey, I was all determined to write in the sort of blockbuster sci-fi meets Jason Bourne genre. Who woulda thought that my first novel would have ended up being a love story w/ subtle shades of the paranormal (reincarnation).

    I didn’t set out to write in any particular genre. It just kinda happened that I wrote a story and I was asked to categorize it. My first response actually was something like “Ummmm…I dunno”.

    Being compared to Twilight can actually work in one’s favor now I’ve decided. Because there are a lot better stories than Twilight out there. I enjoy that genre and Twilight is certainly not the be all and end all.

    Besides…I’m from the Buffy generation 🙂

    Have started reading The Book Of Lost Souls btw – am liking it a lot.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Dean! And you’ve certainly made my day! What author doesn’t love to hear that someone is reading – and enjoying their book?

      Hey everyone! Dean is a fellow author. How about stopping by his site and checking out his book? I really love the premise of The Hambledown Dream, the story of a young man whose spirit refuses to die.

      Just click on his name above.

  8. Great post. This baffles me too. I don’t understand how people think they can know their genre without reading it, and plus there are NO NEW IDEAS. Everyone is influenced by others. * shakes head *

  9. I loved this part the most, it made me want to get up and grab a pen and paper and start writing something!

    “But, you can certainly have a teen vampire and a teen wizard. Just make their story different. Make the setting different. Give them different risks and motives. Give them different backgrounds. Give them their own unique personality, quirks and all. Invent new things! “

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