Done Before

 

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Often when someone starts to write a story or even contemplates writing one, they worry that it has all been done before. And to an extent they are right, it has, but the thing is it hasn’t been done by you. I’m not advocating plagiarism, because that’s just plain wrong, but simply because someone else has written about a particular story does not mean you can’t as well.

This really hit home for me on Thursday when I was writing down points for my latest blog post. I should make it clear that it was going to be my latest blog post. I thought it was a nice one about the romanticism of writing compared to the harsh reality of it and I was happy working away until my dad needed my help. Before I went back to writing I decided to take a look at Facebook. Lo and behold I came across an article posted by the Australian Writers’ Centre and it was eerily similar to what I was currently writing (FYI you can find that article here). I immediately threw my hands up in the air and declared that I couldn’t write it now, someone else had beaten me to it.

After thinking about it for a few hours (and yes, cursing the person who had published it first), I realised how incredibly stupid I was being. One, I hadn’t completely read the article and was assuming it was the same as mine and two, I hadn’t written it so who was to say I didn’t have something more to add? But then it felt like I got hit like a lightening bolt and the inspiration for this post was born.

Humans have been writing for a very long time. The only way you are going to be able to write about something new is if you invent it. Good luck with that, it is much harder to do successfully than it sounds. So don’t worry about what others are doing and focus on your own work. Only you have your voice and only you can tell your story.

Have a happy and creative week everyone.

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Writing and Opinions

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No matter what you do, your writing will reflect an opinion. Now, ideally, this would be your opinion, but that is not always the case. What if you are writing about a protagonist who loathes cats, but you adore them? Their views on the little critters are certainly not your own, but here’s the deal, a lot of people will think that’s the case. They can confuse you the author with you the person. So what can you do about it?

Well you can write stories that only support your own views on the world. Not really ideal, but it is a solution. However you run the risk of writing a story where the reader feels you are simply trying to bash your ideals into them. Not what readers want. At all. Alternatively you can write a small paragraph at the beginning or end of the book explaining how your views do not correspond with that of the book’s characters. If you do this keep it concise and be aware of the fact that many people may not read it, preferring to focus on the story.

Another way to differentiate is through your own social media. You can do this by tweeting your thoughts, sharing articles that support your view and by liking posts that do the same. This is my preferred method as it leaves the story to do its thing (be a story) while making it obvious where you stand on the subject.

Now let me be perfectly clear here, there is a place for stories with an obvious point to them (Brokeback Mountain, Once were warriors are a few examples), and a great story will carry your opinion across no matter what and you need to be aware of that. Why is that? Because you wrote it! A story is an extension of self and will have an opinion in it regardless of what your actual view point is.

What you do need to be aware of though is that there are crazy people out there who will take your view and twist it to suit their own. So be clear on what you think and make sure you are reflecting it, because sure as the sun rises, your writing will have a view point, make sure it’s the one you want.

Let me know what you think in the comments and have a happy and creative week everyone.

The Benefits of Author Talks

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In the past year I’ve been to a fair number of author talks. Now I go to them for a number of reasons, to gain some insights on writing, to show support for fellow writers and because I genuinely love books and nearly everything connected to them. But what are the actual benefits of going to an author talk?

  1. They generate book sales. This is more for the publisher and author’s benefit although, I don’t know about you, but I love getting new books. Every author talk I’ve been to, without fail, has sold the author’s current book as well as any other books the author has written. Buy one, show support and get something awesome in the process.
  2. Generate interest in the book and the author. The authors, or at least the ones I’ve seen, have always talked rather eloquently about themselves, the book and their writing process. And readers love to find out little tidbits about their favourite author/book. This in turn leads them to talk to other people about the book hopefully leading to them reading it themselves.
  3. Promotes discussion. This can be about the book, as noted above, or about the themes/topic of the book in a broader sense. This was certainly the case when I went to Rusty Young’s author talk last week. His latest book Columbiano deals with child soldiers in Columbia and this led to a discussion on how the children become soldiers in the first place and the drug war in general.
  4. Friendship. This may seem like a slightly odd one, but the book world can be a small one and if you go to enough events you will end up seeing a few of the same people. Make friends with them. You already have books in common, who knows what else you might both like?
  5. Knowledge. If you have a question about the book/author here is your chance to get it answered. Don’t worry about the fact they may have been asked it before, if it is something you want to know and it’s appropriate, ask. There is nothing like finding out first hand.

In the end author talks celebrate books and authors and that’s important for without them the world would be a little bit duller. Let me know what you think and have a happy creative week everyone.

Symbiosis and Stories

I was at a writing workshop on Friday, run by the awesome Natasha Lester, when she said the word symbiotic. She was talking about the character and their relationship with their fictional world and it triggered a whole stream of thought in my mind.

You see, I passionately believe that everything in a story should be symbiotic. But what am I talking about? According to dictionary.com, symbiotic means ‘to have an interdependent relationship.‘ So this means that I believe that everything in a story relies on everything else. In other words, if it’s in your story it needs to have a reason to be there.

Its a pretty straightforward concept, not so easy in practice. Why? Because it’s tempting to put everything into your story, ensuring that the reader gets exactly what you mean. This in turn overwhelms the reader and in effect makes them want to put your story down and go for something less wordy. So how do you counteract this? Editing.

Editing is your friend. The first draft is you telling yourself the story, after that you’re telling the reader. And the reader wants it in enough detail that they can build it in their mind, but not get bogged down. Readers are great, they have an imagination that allows them to take words and picture the story in their mind. Don’t deny them that pleasure.

So after the initial writing get ruthless. You know the picture your story is painting, so try and say it with as few words as possible. It’s a fine balance and one that takes practice. But it is that missing ingredient that takes a story from good to great. To understand what I’m talking about, grab your favourite book and reread it, paying particular attention to how everything goes together.

And remember what Stephen King said.

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For great editing articles check out Natasha Lester’s  post on how she completes a second draft, Jodi Gibson’s What I’ve Learned About Editing and for fantastic hands on tips, check out 10 Steps for Editing Your Own Work By Mark Nichol.

Do you think everything in a story should have a reason to be there? Let me know what you think in the comments and have a happy and creative week everyone 🙂