Monday, February 8, 2010

Ask LiLa: Getting Points for Originality

Today our question is from the lovely Ella of Blogger Girlz fame.

Hey guys!

I was just wondering if you have any advice on writing a kick ass, original first draft. I've been having a really tough time writing my current WIP lately because I'm afraid my plot ideas aren't original enough and that they resemble the work of a YA author whose work I adore and can't seem to stop thinking about as I work on my own writing. Help!

Thanks!
Ella

Well Ella, originality is something all writers struggle with. After all, we're all pretty much retelling the same seven stories. And yet, according to our agent you must have a "stunning new idea" to be able to truly compete in publishing.

So yeah, no pressure.

Honestly, we've come to the conclusion that you've just got to write stories that you love and worry about originality later. Obviously this isn't fool proof (which may or may not explain how we've ended up with two manuscripts collecting dust on our shelves), but what else can you do? After all, some of our favorite books could be considered knock-offs. SOME GIRLS ARE was reminiscent of SPEAK, but it's still one of the best books we've read...well...ever in large part to some wicked plot twists, stomach-ache-inducing-tension and Courtney Summer's inimitable voice.

XOXO,
L&L

P.S.
Remember to e-mail us at lisa-laura(at)live.com with your questions! We love answering them. The more random the better.

P.P.S.
We've got a super exciting post going up tomorrow for all of you aspiring writers out there so be sure to check back. Trust us, you won't want to miss it!

47 comments:

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Great question Ella!

I survived watching paranormal activity this weekend ;) Ok just had to share that!

Rebecca L Sutton said...

I think this doubt is part of writing your first draft. Seriously. Great advice ladies!

Tamika: said...

I have the same insecruities about my first draft, but like you said, write what I love.

Looking forward to tomorrow...

storyqueen said...

When I am drafting, I kind of stay totally away from reading anything that might in anyway be similar. Otherwise, I'll get all depressed if I find something that is reminiscent in even the slightest way.

Shelley

Christina Lee said...

I think this is normal as well! I say just keep going. There's no way your voice or story can be exactly the same as someone else'! How we all start is that we get inspired by something or someone, but then we bring our own voice to it! Good luck!

Melissa said...

Great answer, as usual. I started a new MS this weekend and the MC won't shut up and leave me alone. It's not my normal type of story - usually I lean towards mystery or the supernatural, but this is very raw, and very real. I'm not sure whether I'm actually enjoying writing it, but it might just be cathartic :)

Little Ms J said...

Interesting question, fantastic answer.

Corey Schwartz said...

My friend wrote a PB with a totally original hook and she just got a rejection that said, "Great rhyme, but the story has been done before." Ha! I wish they had named titles, because I won't believe it till I see it!

sunna said...

Excellent advice, ladies. I've stopped worrying about how new and exciting my premise may be: it just got in the way of me enjoying the process. Write what you love, write it well, and see what comes from there.

Wine is also useful. :)

Nicole Ducleroir said...

We all strive for originality, but I find comfort in the fact that each writer has a voice as unique to her as her fingerprint. No one can write like you, Ella. So write on!

Hardygirl said...

This is great advice--especially with that first draft!

When I get to a later draft, however, I often purposefully read an author whose work I adore--hoping some of that magic mojo will rub off on me.

sf

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love these ask LiLa posts - they rock! I can't wait to see what you have cooking for us tomorrow. :-)

Heather said...

I definitely have gotten doubts when I read something that had even a single plot element similar to my WIP. I thought, "No one will ever publish this because it's JUST LIKE The Hunger Games since they're both future dystopian and both the female MC's names start with K!! Wah!!" But then I sucked it up and got over it, and started focusing on what made them different instead of what made them similar. My unique voice. My world-building and plot twists. And other things that I thought were similar (there was a little bit of "The Giver" similarity in there, too, which I read while revising, so that wasn't even intentional) I ended up combing out in revisions, not because of the similarities, but because it made the story better. The more I revise, the more I can see the WIP distancing itself from other work out there.

Sara McClung ♥ said...

What an awesome question... and an awesome answer as well! I really think EVERY author struggles with this at some point! I think you're 100% correct though, you have to write what you love and in your own voice... and everything else should work out if you stick to that :-)

Stephanie Thornton said...

I went to a writing conference once with a seminar titled, "First drafts are messy!" Since then I've given myself permission to be as messy as I want with first drafts. I'm going to revise a gazillion times before I send it out so by then I'll catch all the messes, right?

BTW- I mentioned you ladies in my post today. I couldn't help it!

Emily J. Griffin said...

I see stuff all of the time that is disturbingly similar to my own work (See today's PW deals, for example). I find myself having moments of doubt, but I like to remember that I am an individual.

Just like no one is exactly the same as me (except for maybe my sister and that's just more than a little disturbing), no story - even with many common elements - will be written quite the same as mine. Sticking true to yourself is the key to originality.

Also, I think the advice to avoid other books while drafting is a good one. Sometimes little details can sneak their way into your stor OR you can drive yourself crazy comparing and contrasting.

Tere Kirkland said...

This is a great reminder to all of us that until you have a first draft, it's not worth worrying about things like originality or grammar, lol.

The originality will come once the story and characters are fleshed out in revisions. Just make sure you're not unintentionally making a story even more like something you love but that's already been done.

Good luck!

Erica said...

Really good question Ella (great name too)

LiLa - good advice - just write first, worry later about that. I think voice has a lot to do with originality. Have a unique voice -then you don't have to worry about it :o)

Elana Johnson said...

I agree that every writer struggles with this. I sent out my latest (and greatest) MS to beta readers and they've said things like, "This reminds me of Twilight" or "This part is reminiscent of Collins's Hunger Games" or "This has elements of this cartoon on Nick..."

So yeah. Apparently, I've put together all these ideas into one huge mess of a novel.

So chin up! Get that first draft down, and that's more than some people can do, right? Right.

And now I'm all anxious for tomorrow!!

Carolyn V. said...

It's true, everywhere I go they say, "Write what you know, write what you love, and write what you read." I totally agree.

Can't wait for tomorrows post!

Dominique said...

Good question. Good answer.

I really hope there are more then seven stories out there, but I've never stopped to count.
On the other hand, it might not matter. Some authors have gotten famous writing the same two or three stories in several different ways.

By the by, I left you an award on my blog. :)
http://mavieenviolet.blogspot.com/2010/02/to-give-and-recieve.html

Patti said...

I totally agree that you have to write what you love because you'll be with that piece of work for a long time.

Heidi Willis said...

Great advice. The creative, unique thing is kicking my butt these days.

Shannon Messenger said...

Excellent advice as always!

Personally I think a lot of it comes down to characters. Sure, you might be telling the same story, but your characters reactions, responses, decisions, and feelings should all be unique to them. When I write, I constantly ask "what would my character do" and let them tell the story, not me. I *hope* that keeps it fresh enough to stand out--but we'll have to wait and see what agents think. Can't wait for more advice!

Simon C. Larter said...

Seriously, ladies, are you sure you want me to e-mail you questions? Random ones, even? Well, if you insist... :)

As for originality, everyone's voice is different. So if Raymond Feist's Magician: Apprentice is AWFULLY like Lord of the Rings at first? Well, he makes up for it with later plot twists and his own brand of writing. Do what you love. The rest'll come. Now I'm done.

Mariah Irvin said...

*brainstorms random questions*

Wait, they won't be random if I brainstorm... crap! Must stop thinking!

Danyelle said...

Great question, and great answer. Sometimes it's important just to get it all down and worry about stuff later. :D

Marsha Sigman said...

I was worried about my current wip because at first glance it is similar to another novel that I heard about when I was more than halfway through. I researched it and realized that it was only slightly similar on the surface and then I quit stressing. YOU are what makes your work original, be true to your own voice and that will show through. Plus mine is just so much better....lol.

Nisa said...

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes. I'll just paraphrase it 'cause I'm being lazy, but C.S. Lewis says something along the lines that when we try to be original, it doesn't always work, but if we're try to be truthful, we'll end up being original without even trying. I think that's true. Though I still worry about it as well.

Great Q and A! I'm looking forward to tomorrow!

Natalie said...

Ooo, can't wait to see what you've got tomorrow!

Kitty Moore said...

It seems that publishers want 'original' but not so original that it doesn't have an established market. A writers lot is very difficult!

Solvang Sherrie said...

How funny -- I posted about almost the same thing today! Isn't that ironic? :)

Brigitte said...

originality is the biggest competition in all forms of art at the moment. On the university presentation i went to, they gave us a huge speech on how badly hollywood is trying to turn their old habits and regain the importance of originality. You could be great at what you do, but what they value most is the unique creativity you're able to project.
The writing industry is not very different from cinema.
I could write a whole essay about it but I'm too lazy and reading it on here would be hell!

I'm glad you expressed this point, though. Very important question indeed!

Christine Danek said...

Great question Ella! I have felt the same about my first draft but I must press on because I love my characters too much :)

I will check back tomorrow.

Kimberly Franklin said...

That is such a great question and I'm glad to hear it's just not something I struggle with. : )

I love ask LiLa!!!

PS: I left a little something for you two on my blog today! : )

Click here to visit Kim Franklin’s blog!

Jemi Fraser said...

I agree - write what you love - see what happens.

Can't wait to see what's up tomorrow!

Cheree said...

Great advice. This is something I'm dealing with at the moment. You just have to remember that everything's been done, just have to find an unique spin to the tale.

jessjordan said...

You gave your top-corner-of-the-shelf MS a friend? That was so nice of you. It can get kind of boring when all you have to talk to is dust. :)

You're totally right about lots of stories being derivative--whether of other books or of other media (medium? I suck at this word). But so long as they're executed well and have interesting nooks and crannies, I'll read a million Speak-alikes.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I'll be here!

Great question and a great answer!

Sarah said...

Great advice, as always! What's happening tomorrow?? Is it tomorrow yet? Do you accept bribes? What about bribes that include Twizzlers?

Well...I guess I'll come back tomorrow and find out!

Dangerous With a Pen said...

I am just getting serious with my first "real" first draft (after many beginnings and partials and who knows whats sitting in binders and computer files). I am allowing myself the freedom this time to just let the first draft be the first draft. I've been too caught up in perfection, and it's what grinded my other writing to a halt. This time, it's flowing so much more freely! Very exciting!

T. Anne said...

OK, now I'm curious about tomorrow. Great advice on this post however. I would also add listen to your characters voice and let them dominate the first draft. You can always hold them back later.

Lori W. said...

Good advice and much more practical than "troll the internet" for plot ideas which I've done a pathetic time or ten. Can't wait to see what's up tomorrow!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I just received a gift card from my son's grade four class after I did a three week session of writing fiction and what it takes to get published. I'm definitely buying Some Girls Are with it. Which I'll read right after The Naughty List. :D Wow, you two are like my "must read this" list.

Jackee said...

IS there such a thing as a smokin' first draft? It's pretty much just throwing up your grey brain matter. Still, I loved what you said about the story and making them unique. So true.

Thanks for answering this one, ladies!

Christina Farley said...

Great points. You are right about being original. The idea is half the battle. And then you've got to write beautifully.

Anonymous said...

J'ai appris des choses interessantes grace a vous, et vous m'avez aide a resoudre un probleme, merci.

- Daniel