When we first begin writing or painting or playing music, we tend to imitate those who influence us. And, yes, we are constantly influenced by what we read, what we listen to, who we hang around with.
But there's a difference between being influenced by others and copying them. On the latter, the thinking goes like this: If Game of Thrones is a huge success, and I reverse engineer how it's structured, then I can also write a successful story. It's the pursuit of the guarantee: we minimize risk of failure and rejection by copying what's been successful before.
I know writers who will take a novel and map out every scene change, every switch in viewpoint, every plot twist - minor and major - in an effort to reproduce someone else's success.
Can this work? Sure, I suppose. A Quest is a Quest, right?
Will it guarantee success? Not at all.
Of course, you can write a novel or two this way, and maybe that's okay if you're learning the craft. But at some point, you need to stop copying and start creating a story with your voice, your characters, your themes and plot twists. And that means giving up any kind of wish for a guarantee.
I've tried to "like" Christian fiction.
I'm not talking about Narnia where the message is couched in allegory. No. I'm talking about the pablum that gets served up by contemporary Christian writers who see the world (or, perhaps more truthfully, their publishers see the world) as a sugar-coated, no one swears, namby pamby, smiley-faced place.
There's obviously a market for that kind of story. To those who like their Christian fiction sweet, have at it and enjoy. To those who write that kind of story because certain publishers will only pick you if you follow the rules, enjoy.
I'm not your audience.
I want the grit. I want the protagonist to struggle with these ideas of Good and Evil, to make them real. A lot of people curse. A lot of people are violent and nasty. I want to see them struggle. Give me the grit so the characters are forced into decisions they may not be ready to make yet. That's okay. Show me how people struggle in their own lives.
That's the kind of Christian fiction I want to read. If that's the kind of story you write, tell me about it and share a link to your book.
There are the ubiquitous risks you know well as a writer.
The risk of no one liking your story. The risk of your story "not working" the way you had hoped or intended. The risk of spending all those hours, crafting journey that no one cares about. Being ridiculed. Judged.
Every writer faces those, sometimes on a daily basis.
As a result, it's easy to convince ourselves that we must play it safe. Follow a proven path with proven tropes, archetypical characters. But I'm not sure the world needs yet another YA dystopian novel, or yet another vampire romance. That's what happens when fear infiltrates our craft. We end up with ridiculous shows on TV (Real Housewives of _____) playing to the lowest common denominator.
You're better than that. Your voice, your message is more important to me than how well you can copy Sarah J. Maas.
So. Will you take on the biggest risk there is? Will you write your story, the way only you can tell it, irrespective of the outcome? Something that will connect with only a handful of readers who are waiting for you? That's the story I want to read.
At first blush, you may think, "Of course it does. I've written a story that readers will enjoy, so the purpose of the novel is to entertain. Maybe even inform them."
Is that it?
It seems to me that all novels - once an audience finds them - can be entertaining and informative, so that's almost a given. Don't tell me that. Instead, tell me what the real purpose of your novel is. Think about exploring controversial ideas, exploring the possibilities of hope, connecting like-minded readers and giving them a reason to follow you.
Sure, write a quest. Slay the dragon. Retrieve the rings. Pure entertainment is fine (space opera, anyone?), but I think you can do more. You must do more. Find the real reason behind your writing. Write it on post it notes and stick them around your house. Help me trust you to deliver the goods.
One of the fun exercises we do in the Poetry Workshop is incorporating juicy word pairs into our work to bring out the flavour in our words.
Like word spices :)
You don't have to be a poet to incorporate this technique into your own writing, and maybe - just maybe - you'll discover aspects of your voice you never realized you had.
Here's what you do:
Make a list of as many juicy verbs as you can. What I mean by "juicy" are those words that feel interesting. Words like: scrabble, brittle, hush, cringe, screech... there's no limit.
Then, pair them up with nouns or other words in your work.
You get the picture. Now take a look at one of your paragraphs or poems, and see if you can strategically add some juicy word pairs to your work. Then note what happens.
The brittle sun shone half-heartedly through a gathering of clouds scorching overhead. Stone sauntered along a fine gravel path, fitting in seamlessly with the tweedy, professor crowd, attracting ineffable stares of scrabbled undergraduate girls.
Of course, you don't want to overdo this (like I did above, for the purpose of demonstration). Be thoughtful and sparse for greater impact.
Hi, I'm David. I write science fiction from a Christian worldview that promotes hope. Want to know the darker details? Click here.
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