How to Make Your Writing Stand Out in a Crowd

Nov 8, 2010

So last week I blogged about stealing ideas and still being original with them. It got me thinking about the idea of being original. Don't we all dread being just like somebody else? We want to write something new and unique, something that stands out. But how, exactly, do we do that?


One of my crit group buddies said something to me last week that made something click in my brain. I'm submitting chapters of my rewrite of Devs, and as we left, my buddy said something along these lines: "Your first draft felt so similar to a lot of things out there, but all the details in this draft are making it stand out."

And there it is! That's what makes your book original, even when you follow the three-act structure or use one of the seven basic plots. The details. That's what makes your book yours, what makes it stand out from everything in the slush. Details like these:

Character details. We hear it all the time: make your characters real/flawed/unique. Behind all of that, I think what we really want is to make our characters memorable. We want a character that sticks out in someone's mind. It's all in the details! Why do we remember Katniss from The Hunger Games? She poaches food from the woods to survive. She kicks butt with a bow and arrow. Her dad was killed in a mine explosion. It's those kinds of details that make your character stand out in a readers mind. For more on developing this kind of character, check out this post.

Setting details. Your setting/world should NOT be ignored! It's one of the biggest ways to differentiate your book. The thing is, you can have a totally fascinating world, but nobody's going to care unless you bring out fascinating details. Think of the book Uglies, and all the details brought out about the world. Everyone has interface rings that are basically tracking devices. The pretties have crazy things like "safety fireworks" to play with. Tally eats bucketloads of reconstituted food like Spagbol. Bring out those details in your setting! What small things will make it stick in the reader's mind? For more on setting, check out this post.

Plot details. This can be a tough one. The story is the most critical element-- it's what we do, right? We're storytellers. So how do you keep your plot original, something that readers won't expect? Again, it's in the details. Look at the small (and big) turning points in your story. Usually, it hinges on the character taking some kind of action. But what action? If your character does the first thing you think of, I can just about guarantee it's unoriginal. So think of two or three or six different decisions your character could make. Which one will turn the reader's expectations on their head? The tiny moments of the plot-- the details-- can be great places to make your story stand out.

So, friends, go forth and be original! And please share-- what do you do to make your writing stand out? How do you create uniqueness in your writing?

10 comments:

Melissa said...

It's can be hard to take ideas that have elements from other stories and make them your own, but not impossible. I start with the basic idea and ask myself how I can twist it into something unique. It takes a lot of "what ifs" but before too long I have something to work with. And it's a great reminder to make sure to pay attention to the details. They can make or break your story.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I know my first book had elements from many other stories. I like to think I made it original by focusing on the main characters' friendship.
And several of my characters weren't just flawed - they were 'messed up!'

Michelle said...

While I'm nowhere close to being literary, I like to emphasize color in the setting, and also in objects and people.

Christ is Write. said...

Many writers say that there is not one story line that isn't similar to another. In other words, it's not easy coming up with a completely original book idea. But, as you said, the details are what makes a story stand out - what makes your book memorable to a reader. It's all about the uniqueness. =)

I love this post, thanks for sharing!

Tessa

Milo James Fowler said...

Life is in the details, is it not? Guess it makes sense that our fictional lives should be as well. I try my darndest to be original --only to see my ideas appear on TV shows like Fringe...

Emy Shin said...

It is definitely all in the details -- especially character and plot details for me. I tend to fiddle around with the plot and insert twists where I can. But mostly, I've found that books that become "original" in my mind are books with characters that come alive for me. :)

Jennifer Hoffine said...

Nice post! I love it when I come up with just the right small detail that says it all.

When writing contemporary, I like to do twists on common sayings and slang. It's a chick lit thing, I guess. I'm not unique in doing it, but the twists I come up with are sometimes unique. It also has the benefit of feeling familiar and unique to the reader at the same time.

Nicole Zoltack said...

You're exactly right. There are no original stories left to write because they all boil down to the same plotlines but what makes the stories unique is all in the details.

Faith E. Hough said...

Very good points!
My only "secret" is that food is one of those details that can instantly give a work more color, give more personality to your characters, etc. Maybe I'm just a shameless foodie...but I've found adding more food always makes other ideas for details spring to my mind!

Abby Minard said...

I love posts like these! I think those are very big things we all need to have as writers. And it's cool, because we all focus on different things. Some focus on plot, others on characterization and still others on the world.

 
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