Tag Archives: R. J. Anderson

Developing Fresh Story Concepts

couple in love1384968-mAs most writers know, there are no “new” plots. That doesn’t mean there are no new stories, however. An oft-done plot can still be made into a fresh and entertaining story.

Take romance for example. Everyone knows that the traditional plot form of a romance is boy meets girl and they fall in love, but Things happen to keep them apart. In the end, however, they conquer, or their love conquers, and they get together.

No real surprise in a romance. Then how does a writer make a romance seem fresh? The easy way is to create seemingly insurmountable barriers–cultural or religious mores that keep the couple apart, personality quirks, misunderstandings, irreconcilable (until they are reconciled – 😉 ) differences.

Perhaps one character is a faery and the other a human, in a wheelchair, for example. Those are obstacles! Who would even see romance coming? Which is precisely why R. J. Anderson surprised and delighted readers with Faery Rebel: Spell Hunter.

But what if the couple is already married–a union of convenience or position–and they barely tolerate each other? What if, in fact, the wife holds her husband in contempt because she admires a mysterious someone else who does gallant, selfless deeds to help others?

That set-up describes The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, one of my favorite novels. I suspect one reason I love it so much is because of the surprise I experienced the first time I read it.

ShrekBut now those two have been done, so how can a romance writer find a new something? One idea is to merge elements of “already been done” stories. Take Beauty and the Beast, for example, and merge that with Sleeping Beauty, and you have Shrek.

Of course, the brilliant writers who created all three Shrek movies did much more than staple two threads together, but the point for this discussion is that they worked from familiar storylines. By starting with two that seemed unlikely to fit together, they made a movie (three actually) that seemed familiar yet wholly new.

Sometimes the newness isn’t in the plot but in the characters. An interesting character, quirky, engaged to someone else, perhaps single longer than most, with a family who values family and marriage above all else. Add in humor (which comes from the quirky characters), and you have the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding which turned out to be a surprising smash hit.

Or how about a widower not looking to remarry, with a little boy who longs for a mother, so much so that he makes a call to an all-night talk show and pours out his heart. Interested women start to write. MANY interested women. Now we have distance, reticence, an engagement, the many others, all standing in the way of true love. And that’s Sleepless in Seattle.

Fresh stories can also come from different settings. What would a romance look like set in Louisiana as the state battled the worst oil spill in history?

What would a romance look like between a 9/11 widow and a firefighter ten years after the Twin Towers attack?

New places, odd places, uncomfortable places can be fuel for fresh fiction just as much as plot twists or off-beat characters. The important thing, I think, is to imagine beyond the list of “first responders”–the plot lines, characters, or settings that first present themselves when we writers start contemplating a new story.

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Filed under Characters, Concept And Development, Plot, Setting or Story World

Fresh Writing

This week at my primary blog, A Christian Worldview of Fiction, I wrote several posts about “fresh” fiction. I started out thinking of the subject primarily from the view of the story premise, but soon realized there was a lot more to writing fresh fiction than coming up with a fresh approach.

One thing I didn’t tackle, however, was fresh language, but that is at the micro level of writing.

The obvious first step is to avoid using cliches. Author and editor (Harvest House) Nick Harrison wrote a blog post a month or so ago about cliched character mannerisms in which he gave a list of the ones he finds particularly trite. Author Sharon Souza, blogging at Novel Matters, also addressed the issue of cliches in writing.

But I suggest, fresh writing is more than avoiding hackneyed expressions. Bread that isn’t moldy still might not be oven-fresh, and when it comes to writing, oven-fresh should be the goal.

A caution, however. “Oven fresh” does not come about by loading sentences with vocabulary that only a spelling bee contestant has heard of.

Rather, it is a twist of phrase, an unusual detail, a term perfectly fit to a particular character. Here are a few examples from Wayfarer (Rebel in the UK) by R. J. Anderson.

    In the glare of the streetlamp Veronica’s hair was pale as tallow, her skin the color of ashes.

Notice the phrases “pale as tallow” and “skin the color of ashes.” Both are more interesting than her hair was yellow, her skin, gray.

Here’s another one.

    Beyond the cracked window the sky was still dark, the streetlights glowing eerily through a haze of mist. He felt dislocated, as though he had wakened on some alien planet.

The word that captured my attention here was “dislocated.” Usually we think of a joint being dislocated, but an entire person? It was a powerful word to communicate what this character experienced.

One more:

    Knife burst through the gate into the front garden, swung up her rifle, and fired.

    It was a spectacular shot. Black feathers exploded into the sky, and the lead raven shrieked and straggled downward.

Here there were a couple amazing verbs. The first was “exploded” in connection with feathers. What a perfect image that created. The second was “straggled” to show the way the bird moved toward the earth. With that one word, the reader gets a picture and knows the bird isn’t dead, without having to be told.

So I guess that sums up fresh writing: it creates images and frees the author from telling the reader what’s going on.

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