September 16, 2016 by Petrea
A young writer said to me, “I feel discouraged because it feels as though any type of original idea has been done to death. Vampire fiction, romance fiction, high fantasy fiction… Whenever I try to think of something of my own, it seems like someone’s already done it before.”
She’s right. This stuff is daunting.
First: “Vampire fiction, romance fiction, high fantasy fiction,” these are already unoriginal. Pick up a book about a woman escaping her life. Say, to a lonely cottage. In Scotland. With wine. By the end of the first chapter she has met a gorgeous man whose charms get on her nerves. He’s her polar opposite. I know where this is going and I’ve already put the book down.
Second: The young writer is correct, all stories have been written.
(I probably wasn’t very encouraging.)
Third: Genres aren’t bad. They’re useful guides for readers (he likes historical! she likes horror!) and booksellers (this one gets shelved in sci-fi, that one in mystery).
So how can you create something unique?
Voice. Yours. You. Get your voice on the page.
I’m preaching to myself here. It’s easier said than written. When the young writer asked me how to get her voice on the page, all I could tell her was to practice, practice, practice, write, study, read, practice, write, rewrite and rewrite some more. That’s what I do, anyway. I don’t think it’s what she wanted to hear (she hasn’t gotten back to me, and it’s been days.) What do you do?
Some of my favorite strong voices are Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Daphne DuMaurier, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway. The stories are great. What makes them genius is the voice.
How about some voices from live people? Cheryl Strayed, Lisa See, Sherman Alexie, Junot Diaz, Alan Bennett, Kazuo Ishiguro, Marilynne Robinson, Muriel Barbery, Margaret Atwood…we can go on forever. Good books are told by great voices.
Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces is very telling. See how many stories you can apply it to. A lot, right? Yeah, a lot. Like maybe most. So I try to tell my tale and not worry. Once I get the story down—the beginning/middle/end—then my rewrites are all about voice.
Got a favorite voice? Tell us in the comments.