The Single Best Trick for Originality in Your Fiction

The Single Best Trick for Originality in Your Fiction

This week’s video shares the most important question you can ask yourself about originality in your fiction and how to access it in every single scene.


Video Transcript:

Originality is an important quality test for fiction—although perhaps not quite as much as we like to make out. Pulitzer-winner Willa Cather tells us,

There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they never happened.

But the fact remains that originality is, if nothing else, a tremendous marketing point for our books. So how do we find it?

I’ve talked before about how the most original thing you can bring to any story is yourself—your own unique views and experiences. But it does go a little deeper than that. There are definite techniques we can employ to seek out and take advantage of the potential for originality in our stories.

The biggest one comes as the result of the answer to the simple question: What is originality? Originality, I think we can all agree, is simply the unexpected. It’s something new. It’s something readers haven’t already experienced or thought up on their own before reading it in the pages of your book.

As such, the question you then need to ask yourself is: What would be unexpected in your story? And you need to ask this not just for the premise in general, but for every moment in your story.

George Armitage’s Grosse Pointe Blank is a good example of this. Aside from the generally original premise of a professional killer attending his high school reunion, you’ve also got very original choices at almost every juncture.

  • Do we expect him to visit a psychiatrist?
  • Do we expect that psychiatrist to keep scheduling him an appointment even though he’s refused to treat him?
  • Do we expect the jilted high school sweetheart to kiss him the first time he sees her?
  • Do we expect him to tell everyone the straight-up truth whenever he’s asked what he does for a living?
Grosse Pointe Blank John Cusack

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), Hollywood Pictures.

What you need to do is always double-check your first reflexive instinct for any scene. Question it. If you did the opposite would it still make sense while bringing some welcome originality to the scene?

Tell me your opinion: How have you found originality in your fiction of late?

The Single Best Trick for Originality in Your Fiction

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. robert easterbrook says

    Ok. Thanks.

  2. All writers must delve deep within to find the spark of originality to make their stories engaging and, as you say, marketable.

    So many opportunities exist to find something new in the most mundane areas of life, and the example you provided is perfect: Grosse Point Blank. Everyone goes to a high school reunion, or AVOIDS going to a high school reunion. But what if a serial killer decided to go?

    Therein lies a novel (no pun intended) story premise and also provides the spark of originality.

    I think most writers seek originality tabula rasa. But all they really need to do is start by sketching out five or ten all-too-common scenarios in life (such as the high school reunion), scenarios that would make most people yawn with boredom and then come up with ONE idea or twist that no one would have ever expected to happen in that situation. That can be the spark that helps an entire story develop, again, as you point out above, with all sorts of situations within that also would have never existed without that first unusual twist.

    K.M., you should challenge your readers to try that sometime in an exercise. It really would bring out some awesome and original ideas, I bet.

    Thanks for posting! Joe

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally agree! One of the exercises I always do when outlining a novel (and encourage others to do) is write a list of everything readers might expect from a story such as the one I’m writing. Then I start looking for ways to turn those expectations on their heads.

  3. Hi again….I’ve been hard at it, using a new software ( trial version) to help me be better organized; I’m determined to break my “pantser” ways. The jury’s still out on Dramatica Pro Story Expert, but at times it feels it’s draining the story out of me as well as organizing it. 🙁 I may give Scrivener a try before I buy any version. That’s not my real question, though.

    On the point of having originality in my story… I add a love interest as a throughline character because I know readers expect & favor that, even though it isn’t central to my MC’s arc ? While there are liaisons throughout her life, there isn’t One Great Love that has the requisite happy ending.

    I’m worried that I may be shooting myself in the foot if I don’t include a love interest character for my MC. I don’t feel a love interest is really central to her journey and need to be clear about that, but also want to sell my book. 🙂

    I’d be so grateful for your input; your article this week speaks very directly to me.
    Respectfully, Susi

  4. YoungAuthor says

    I put a lot of work into making an original storyline and original characters, and I think I got that down. Where I’m really struggling with originality is in the relationship between MC and her love interest. I tried to make the love interest something different, since he’s 100% introverted and has a pretty creepy mien. My MC is really protective of her friends, but finding a lover is definitely not that big on her mind. Whenever I read the conversations between MC and her love interest, I want to gag with cheesiness, it seems so…unoriginal. And they don’t even love each other yet, they’re still not totally friends. Any conversations between them seem bland, when I’m trying to develop their relationship.

    I know one shouldn’t include romance in a story that has no time for it, but the romance subplot in my story seriously emphasizes the theme and is important to MC’s overall arc. Any tips on spicing up a romance relationship?

    • thomas h cullen says

      As with all things, YA, just remember that your character’s conversations, and their experiences with one another: this is the story, not the set-up nor the theme-instilling material for the story.

      Let the characters be who they are (if even that means scrapping future story beats).

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s always worthwhile to examine the characters’ motivation. What are they doing in the same room together? Why do they want a relationship? Why are they attracted to one another? And then throw in some conflict. Where do they disagree? Where are their personal goals conflicting?

  5. robert easterbrook says

    I read everything. 😉 I’m re-reading your books this week, including the Workbooks. 🙂

  6. Love it! Thank you! I will be using this as a test!

  7. thomas h cullen says

    After imagining it, a character’s whole evolution, can they then go back and forth, implementing the emotional behaviour needed to chart it all down on paper? The evolution itself, can they even imagine it in the first place? Knowing where to begin. Knowing where to digress, and then knowing where to end. There are all kinds of tests, to mark out a true great storyteller..

    The greatest however I would say is related to this post: telling a perfectly valid, rational story, in parallel to telling a consistently surprising one!

    (Which is what The Representative is.)

  8. thanks for this article! While I find it a bit overwhelming to contemplate turning every scene on its head or every action, just for originality’s sake, I’m Gonna give it a shot today in what I’m writing.

    I guess the biggest thing I’ve done lately for the sake of originality was add in a plot twist that completely changes the one of the characters–Another layer to the story that even I wasn’t expecting when I wrote the original outline and first ten chapters. We’ll just to wait and see how it turns out!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s important to remember you don’t *have* to turn *every* scene on it’s head. After all, there’s nothing new under the sun! But it’s always worthwhile to explore the options and see if you can’t come up with a slightly different take on the old tropes.

  9. When I was writing my second novel, I was rather surprised to how many books there already were about the subject of school shootings. Therefore, I read five of them out of fear of being accused of plagiarism. The result gave me assurance that mine was original in the sense that unlike all the others, my story didn’t begin with the shooting or its aftermath and work backwards. That was my selling point on originality.

    • Susi Franco says

      @8osmetalman—I had a similar experience. I’d been researching Scottish myths-customs-Gaelic language etc for my book and tripped across a NYT bestseller whose very popular books were involved with Scottish history. ( I’d never heard of them prior) I freaked out, got ALL her books and read them, just to be impeccable in the certainty no one could accuse me of plagiarism or idea-stealing. That author has many elements that differ greatly from my book, but the only way I could know that was to read them. The research took alot of time but I’m relieved I did it. In the beginning when I first heard of this author’s books I was deeply despondent; I thought maybe I’d have to abandon my premise altogether. I talked to Miz Weiland about it and she clarified some things for me, thankfully. It’s all to the good; working hard on my novel now and have a better perspective. I was worried about originality; turns out I have plenty of it, just got hung up on one aspect, which was a needless worry on my part.

      • Thank you Susi, it’s great to know that I’m not alone in this respect. Discovering that other authors have already written about the subject you’re writing about can be discouraging at times and while I never entertained the idea of abandoning my project, I did worry about my book being “just another story about a school shooting.” It’s great to know that you can write about something another author has touched on and still be original and make it your own. Best of luck with your novel and keep writing!

      • Whenever I have a panic attack about unoriginality I just remind myself how many authors out there are writing books about someone falling in love with a dashing young, attractive vampire…

        … And relax!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Some authors resist reading their own genre for fear of subconsciously absorbing other people’s stories and regurgitating them. But I encourage authors to read all sorts of books that are similar to their own. It’s a great way to figure out what’s already done and *avoid* repetition. So – smart move!

    • Might like to read that book 🙂

      • Thank you Garrett. It’s called “He Was Weird” and my real name is Michael D. LeFevre. It’s published by New Generation Books in London and is available on Amazon.

  10. Grosse Point Blank continues to be one of my favorite movies. I wish Joan and John Cusack had done more movies together.

  11. I wonder why I’m suddenly not receiving email notifications of your blog posts Katie. I came here through a Twitter link 🙁

  12. Finding the unexpected…I really believe that practicing it on regular basis is a crucial part of success in this career. That’s why focusing on the world around us help, since it is filled with so many unexpected things.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally agree. Freshness is in every day, in every detail all around us. We just have to get in the habit of looking for it.

  13. This article is great. Hoping for some great new articles coming soon.


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