Excuse the split infinitive, but over the last few months, one of the most common conversations I’ve had with new writers is their desire to write something unique and different – something that nobody has ever done before – cue Star Trek and the Starship Enterprise, boldly going where no one has. But, putting my Trekkie roots to one side, it really is the major concern of new writers, and their major obstacle.
It was certainly something I obsessed about in my twenties when I began to think seriously about writing. I had visions of creating a completely new, original fantasy novel to rival fantasy authors such as: Tolkien, Anne MaCaffrey and Robin Hobb. However, I was so lost in my vision of finding that original idea that I failed to get beyond chapter 1.
It wasn’t for want of trying either. It really was because I was fixated with the idea of being original. I didn’t know then what I know now. The big secret that no one tells new writers. A secret I’m going to let you all in on: It’s all been donebefore. So, if you’re waiting for that original idea, you’ll be waiting a long time.
This is one of the main reasons that so many writers never finish their novel; some never even start, they just move on to the next idea, work it around a bit, then are bitterly disappointed when they realise that there is a similar story line out there. I don’t tell you this to put you off. I hope sharing this will save you a lot of the brain ache and angst I went through. So, here’s another secret which should bring some relief– it really doesn’t matter. If you think about the number of crime novels, romance novels and novels of every genre, including fantasy out there, you’ll find that each genre has a formula – a formula which is specific to that genre and appeals to your reader. This isn’t a licence to plagiarise, there’s a fine line between a formula and blatantly copying someone else’s work, yet there are only a finite number of storylines. However, you can always play around with them by introducing a unique narrative voice, e.g. what if a crime story was told from a perspective of someone who was deaf or someone with impaired vision? Alternatively, you could include a plot twist with a difference, have an interesting setting – the possibilities are endless.
At the same time, do remember that this, ‘writing according to a formula’ is not a licence to write by numbers. You do need to write from the heart and share the story that is there. And, you needn’t worry so much about whether your idea or story has been told before. It probably has, in different guises. However, what will be completely unique and original, is that it is a story that is written by you, with your unique voice, in your own unique way. And that is simply perfect.