How to ensure your story is original enough (and not too original)?

Specifics about craft, talent, technique, etc.
Andy Dibble
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How to ensure your story is original enough (and not too original)?

Postby Andy Dibble » Sat Jan 25, 2020 5:09 am

I came to trying to write fiction professionally because I gave up on academia and wanted to publish my ideas. All that character and plot stuff came later, and I still have a fondness for writing stories that are thin on characters and plot but have many delightful ideas glommed together. I think most come to writing because they want to tell stories. Some of these (I hope very few) believe that they can't be original because everything has already been done. And I think that's a filthy lie.

What I think is true is that it is incredibly rare for any pro-market to buy a story that is unoriginal unless its execution is brilliant (and for new writers pursuing WotF, brilliant execution is HARD). I also believe that too many ideas stuck together in a short story or novelette (or even a long series--sometimes I think the Wheel of Time suffered from this), can produce a hodgepodge that breaks the suspension of disbelief or produces an inconsistent voice.

Assuming you agree with me, how do you mediate between these poles? Do you think it's productive to consider a minimum threshold for originality? How do you tell when your story tries to achieve too much?

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Dustin Adams
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Re: How to ensure your story is original enough (and not too original)?

Postby Dustin Adams » Sat Jan 25, 2020 8:42 am

I tend think of new/original as fringe/out there. Original for its own sake, or wacky word play.

But every once in a while, something new comes along, like Groundhog Day or Inception.
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Andy Dibble
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Re: How to ensure your story is original enough (and not too original)?

Postby Andy Dibble » Sat Jan 25, 2020 9:39 pm

Let me say a bit more about what I mean by original because I don't want anyone to think they have to be original in some extravagant sense.

Looking through just the current issue of F&SF I see (i tried to avoid spoilers):
* a character faced with the dilemma of choosing to save her life and the DNA of animal species or possibly die and save the lives of mutated animals
* a metaphysics where part of each person goes to an audaciously heavenly heaven and part goes to thinly described hell
* a morphing goo space shuttle that's supposed to get us to Mars but isn't working.
* a sculptor who has to make a statue of a despot and will likely be ritually killed when she finishes.
* a authoritarian future where a virus is made to do marketing using human skin.

can i prove these ideas are entirely original? of course not and neither could the editors, but they all seem original and I think most readers will agree.

the right attitude to have is that originality is EASY. imagine your world and characters deeply enough and it will almost always happen.

what I'm trying to caution against is Medieval Euro fantasy that only has some clever terminology/place names thrown in and no novel magic system, economic/govt systems, terrain, etc.; thinly disguised fan fic; teenagers with swords; space opera we've all read before.

I've seen stories--some finalists for WotF--that are beautifully written and they succeed marvelously at what they attempt, but they aren't ambitious enough. They try to have a speculative idea that only colors the world, but it doesn't drive the conflict. They strive only to entertain in familiar ways, so the story doesn't stick with you very long.

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AlexH
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Re: How to ensure your story is original enough (and not too original)?

Postby AlexH » Wed Jan 29, 2020 1:11 pm

For WotF, unless done in a unique way, I think avoiding the tropes is likely essential. And likely a cross against for the top pro magazines such as F&SF.

Too original? If the story can be understood by the general reader, can you be too original for WotF? I think other pro markets may be more open to something experimental. Otherwise, it might be a story for one of the literary markets.

The one-line summaries you've written for the F&SF stories seem a good way to judge how original a story is. You should write them for F&SF because I'm off to buy that issue right now. If you can't write a summary in one line, is your story trying to achieve too much?
35: R R R | 36: R HM R R | 37: ?

Probably free for critique swaps, but double-check in case I'm away.
If you're a new writer and concerned about giving a critique, you're welcome to send me something anyway. :)

Andy Dibble
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Re: How to ensure your story is original enough (and not too original)?

Postby Andy Dibble » Wed Jan 29, 2020 8:57 pm

AlexH wrote:If you can't write a summary in one line, is your story trying to achieve too much?

This is good and I think the answer is yes because every story should have enough focus for you to pick out that focus. interestingly enough, today I was just asked to write a one-liner for my WotF story.

AlexH wrote:Too original? If the story can be understood by the general reader, can you be too original for WotF?

I think "too original" happens when your story begins to lack focus. Originality often comes from combining old ideas in a new way (werewolves are old and angels are old, but angel werewolves aren't!), but if you try to stick too many ideas together, you can end up with a mess (angel wizard werewolves?). it's important to either have one fresh concept or have an ensemble of ideas that resonate with one another. my stories always start with an idea that, quite possibly, no one has ever tried before (and then I have to figure out those pesky characters). sometimes I try to stuff more ideas into the story--with mixed results.

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Dustin Adams
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Re: How to ensure your story is original enough (and not too original)?

Postby Dustin Adams » Thu Jan 30, 2020 6:04 am

Andy Dibble wrote:... my stories always start with an idea that, quite possibly, no one has ever tried before (and then I have to figure out those pesky characters). sometimes I try to stuff more ideas into the story--with mixed results.

Same!
Like, literally.
Idea first, plot, beginning/ending, then characters. wotf018
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AlexH
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Re: How to ensure your story is original enough (and not too original)?

Postby AlexH » Fri Jan 31, 2020 1:53 am

Andy Dibble wrote:
AlexH wrote:If you can't write a summary in one line, is your story trying to achieve too much?

This is good and I think the answer is yes because every story should have enough focus for you to pick out that focus. interestingly enough, today I was just asked to write a one-liner for my WotF story.

If I ever won, I was hoping someone else wrote those! I think it's a good exercise though - I'll try it for my existing stories.
35: R R R | 36: R HM R R | 37: ?

Probably free for critique swaps, but double-check in case I'm away.
If you're a new writer and concerned about giving a critique, you're welcome to send me something anyway. :)

Andy Dibble
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Re: How to ensure your story is original enough (and not too original)?

Postby Andy Dibble » Fri Jan 31, 2020 4:18 am

AlexH wrote:If I ever won, I was hoping someone else wrote those!


Author Services did write the one line description of my story for the anthology and offered revisions of it. I'm not actually sure why I'm being asked to write one. Maybe I should ask :)

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Dustin Adams
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Re: How to ensure your story is original enough (and not too original)?

Postby Dustin Adams » Fri Jan 31, 2020 10:14 am

Years back we did some logline swapping.
I'll create a new thread, because it's something that is always relevant.
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belleriggs12
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Re: How to ensure your story is original enough (and not too original)?

Postby belleriggs12 » Wed Feb 12, 2020 9:15 pm

Dustin Adams wrote:
Andy Dibble wrote:... my stories always start with an idea that, quite possibly, no one has ever tried before (and then I have to figure out those pesky characters). sometimes I try to stuff more ideas into the story--with mixed results.

Same!
Like, literally.
Idea first, plot, beginning/ending, then characters. wotf018


Cliche as it seems but, yeah same. wotf010

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czing
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Re: How to ensure your story is original enough (and not too original)?

Postby czing » Sun Feb 16, 2020 8:09 am

Dustin Adams wrote:
Andy Dibble wrote:... my stories always start with an idea that, quite possibly, no one has ever tried before (and then I have to figure out those pesky characters). sometimes I try to stuff more ideas into the story--with mixed results.

Same!
Like, literally.
Idea first, plot, beginning/ending, then characters. wotf018


I was at a writing event with all kinds of authors giving various talks and almost all of them were "until I know my characters I can't write" and I was having this terrible time connecting with what any of them were saying. Then the author of Life of Pi talked and was like I start with an idea and have no idea who my characters are etc - and I was so happy that finally there was someone saying something that was way more my process!

And I figure if at least one multi-million sold book out there was written that way there is at least a chance for me to have a multi-thousand seller someday wotf007
HM - Q1,Q3 v 36
R - Q4 v 36

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Henckel
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Re: How to ensure your story is original enough (and not too original)?

Postby Henckel » Sun Feb 16, 2020 4:48 pm

[quote="Andy Dibble"][/quote]

Hi Andy, you raise a good point that many of us lose sight of. Dave has said many times that the winning WOTF stories are ten years ahead of the curve in terms of originality. Thus, for those of us submitting, who have genuine intentions to win, why bother going to the effort if our stories weren’t original?

This shouldn’t be perceived as a downer. If anything, it should be just motivating! We aren’t writers because we understand words and grammar. We’re writers because we’re creative (and perhaps neurotic). We should have originality oozing from places that originality was never intended to ooze.

If the contest demands originality, then we should all be giddy at the opportunity to show what we can do.
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(2020) V37 Q2 – ?


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