how to write wildly original stories

How to Write Wildly Original Stories

Ideas swarm from the writer’s brain like bees from a hive. At any given moment, most of us have snippets of inspiration floating around in the netherworld between our conscious and unconscious. Some of those ideas we develop, some we abandon; some will turn out to be gold, some will be trash. We’ll probably never have time to write the vast majority of these ideas, which is why we must prune so carefully through our hive, attempting to focus our attention on only the best.

For myself, I know that no matter how many years I live, I will die with unwritten stories clattering around inside my brain. So, for now, I write like a madwoman. With so many stories to tell and so comparatively little time in which to tell them, I have no time to waste on repetition. I cannot tell the same story twice.

Why Authors Should Strive to Write a Totally Different Story Every Time

As much as that may sound like a no-brainer, it’s not. And it’s not as easy as it first appears either. All of us are confined to a certain degree by our own experiences and beliefs. Our writing is molded and directed by those beliefs. As a result, we find a boundless variety in the larger world of literature. You and I could conceive the same story idea, we could even follow the same outline, and the end result would be two entirely different stories. That’s a good thing.

What’s not such a good thing, however, is the extent to which these individual experiences and beliefs tend to funnel our stories into repetition. Anyone who’s written more than one story has probably noticed certain emerging theme/character/setting/plot twist that tend to consistently crop up in his writing. Maybe you’ve even had to trash a story or two because it ended up sounding too much like something else you’d already written.

The more-or-less rigid formulae of most genres only contribute to the problem. Romance and mystery writers, for example, are definitely constrained by the general guidelines of their genres (the hero and heroine must always fall in love; the detective must always solve the murder). In fact, readers generally seek genre fiction because they know exactly what they’re getting. Unfortunately, as the plethora of excellent writers who have carved themselves a niche in genre writing could no doubt attest, finding ways to deliver original stories that follow predictable guidelines is a challenge to say the least.

How to Write Broadly

Being the eclectic (and occasionally eccentric) person I am, I’ve never been able to restrict myself to one (or even two) genres. I’ve written everything from historical to fantasy to contemporary. All this genre hopping may allow me more flexibility in my plots, but it hardly stops my own personalized redundancies from cropping up.

Behold the Dawn (Amazon affiliate link)

Without even realizing it, I’ve conjured up stories in far-flung settings with unique characters—only to discover déjà vu waiting for me on the next page. When I find a character, a setting, an interesting bit of backstory, or a turn of phrase I love, I invariably find myself unconsciously trying to recycle it. For example, in Behold the Dawn (affiliate link), my novel of the 3rd Crusade, I found myself writing a subplot for Warin the Templar, a minor character, which involved him becoming disillusioned with a beloved father figure (my antagonist). But as I delved a little deeper into this tantalizing little plot twist, realization suddenly smacked me over the head: this was the same relationship catalyst I’d used between the hero and the antagonist in A Man Called Outlaw. Whoops.

A Man Called Outlaw

A Man Called Outlaw (affiliate link)

Tempting as it was to continue writing Warin’s little drama, I made myself pull back. After all, this father-figure story was one I’d explored in depth in another book. Why dilute this new story by dragging in old material? I’ve read too many authors who tend to recycle pet themes and situations. A line from the classic musical Singin’ in the Rain rings all too true sometimes:

If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

It’s inevitable that we will repeat ourselves to some extent, but I have made it a conscious goal to strive toward originality in every one of my stories. And that’s hard.

Weeding Out the Repetitious Ideas

Despite the wide range of ideas buzzing around in my head, it’s shocking how many of them resonate on familiar themes. And so I must prune my idea collection and force my brain to come up with original characters, original scenarios, original conflicts, original dialogue–original stories. It’s one thing to come up with one brilliant story, another thing entirely to be able to produce brilliance and originality on a consistent basis.

I never want to write the same story twice.

It’s a goal I’ll never be able to completely fulfill, but in striving to never repeat story scenarios, I’ve most definitely stretched muscles and forced myself to grow as a writer.

Even within the confines of genre, the possibilities for new and different stories rings as a challenge. Not only does originality promise to make a writer stand out from a crowd of trite and hackneyed stories, it also opens a whole new world of creativity. The idea that I might be able to write a completely different story every time I type “Chapter One” is heady stuff indeed. In a lifetime that can never encompass all the stories begging to be told, why waste time retelling the old ones?

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! How have you tried to make your latest story unique from anything you’ve written before? Tell me in the comments!

how to write wildly original stories

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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.

Comments

  1. Lorna G. Poston says

    Good post. I have novels in my bookcase by one author in particular who seems to recycle her stories—especially the ones in a series. I hope I never fall into that trap.

  2. It’s a trap that’s easier to fall into than you might first think. I’m just starting what will be my eighth novel, and I’m constantly catching myself going to “Whoops! Can’t do that. I already did that in book such-and-such!” Some repetition is inevitable; but steering clear on the big things – plot, character, and theme – that’s what important.

  3. Lorna G. Poston says

    The above mentioned author has a series of 3. Standing alone, each are okay (not great), but read in order one after the other, it is obvious what the author did.

    In each novel, the MC is sent to Texas on an assignment. She meets a cowboy who is not her type but falls in love anyway. Then, the MC gets a job offer—one she has been working her whole life to achieve. Now she has to decide if she wants to take the job or stay in Texas with the man she loves.

    I understand that repetition is sometimes inevitable, especially once an author has written several books, it would be hard to remember what they’ve already said.

    But in a series, one should be more careful. Pretty lame and lazy—my opinion anyway.

  4. I think part of the problem is likely that so many genre authors are expected to churn out a book (or even two or three) a year. Those are incredibly stressful working conditions. How creativity thrive under deadlines like that?

  5. Merely being conscious of your prior works is a blessing. Enjoy it, many writers seem to not fair even notice this mistake. Therefore, they keep repeating it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s great to consciously form the goal of never writing the same story twice. It’s an impossible goal in many respects, but it helps keep our originality on its toes.

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