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How to ensure your story is original enough (and not too original)?

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AndyDibble
(@andydibble)
Posts: 90
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Topic starter
 

I came to trying to write fiction professionally because I gave up on academia and wanted to publish my ideas. All that character and plot stuff came later, and I still have a fondness for writing stories that are thin on characters and plot but have many delightful ideas glommed together. I think most come to writing because they want to tell stories. Some of these (I hope very few) believe that they can't be original because everything has already been done. And I think that's a filthy lie.

What I think is true is that it is incredibly rare for any pro-market to buy a story that is unoriginal unless its execution is brilliant (and for new writers pursuing WotF, brilliant execution is HARD). I also believe that too many ideas stuck together in a short story or novelette (or even a long series--sometimes I think the Wheel of Time suffered from this), can produce a hodgepodge that breaks the suspension of disbelief or produces an inconsistent voice.

Assuming you agree with me, how do you mediate between these poles? Do you think it's productive to consider a minimum threshold for originality? How do you tell when your story tries to achieve too much?

First Place, Q1 Vol 36
Articles Editor, Speculative North Magazine

 
Posted : January 24, 2020 11:09 pm
Dustin Adams
(@tj_knight)
Posts: 1127
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I tend think of new/original as fringe/out there. Original for its own sake, or wacky word play.

But every once in a while, something new comes along, like Groundhog Day or Inception.

Career:

1x 3rd place
2x Finalist
2x Semi
9x Silver
11x HM
7x R

 
Posted : January 25, 2020 2:42 am
AndyDibble
(@andydibble)
Posts: 90
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Let me say a bit more about what I mean by original because I don't want anyone to think they have to be original in some extravagant sense.

Looking through just the current issue of F&SF I see (i tried to avoid spoilers):
* a character faced with the dilemma of choosing to save her life and the DNA of animal species or possibly die and save the lives of mutated animals
* a metaphysics where part of each person goes to an audaciously heavenly heaven and part goes to thinly described hell
* a morphing goo space shuttle that's supposed to get us to Mars but isn't working.
* a sculptor who has to make a statue of a despot and will likely be ritually killed when she finishes.
* a authoritarian future where a virus is made to do marketing using human skin.

can i prove these ideas are entirely original? of course not and neither could the editors, but they all seem original and I think most readers will agree.

the right attitude to have is that originality is EASY. imagine your world and characters deeply enough and it will almost always happen.

what I'm trying to caution against is Medieval Euro fantasy that only has some clever terminology/place names thrown in and no novel magic system, economic/govt systems, terrain, etc.; thinly disguised fan fic; teenagers with swords; space opera we've all read before.

I've seen stories--some finalists for WotF--that are beautifully written and they succeed marvelously at what they attempt, but they aren't ambitious enough. They try to have a speculative idea that only colors the world, but it doesn't drive the conflict. They strive only to entertain in familiar ways, so the story doesn't stick with you very long.

First Place, Q1 Vol 36
Articles Editor, Speculative North Magazine

 
Posted : January 25, 2020 3:39 pm
AlexH
(@alexh)
Posts: 264
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For WotF, unless done in a unique way, I think avoiding the tropes is likely essential. And likely a cross against for the top pro magazines such as F&SF.

Too original? If the story can be understood by the general reader, can you be too original for WotF? I think other pro markets may be more open to something experimental. Otherwise, it might be a story for one of the literary markets.

The one-line summaries you've written for the F&SF stories seem a good way to judge how original a story is. You should write them for F&SF because I'm off to buy that issue right now. If you can't write a summary in one line, is your story trying to achieve too much?

35: - R R R | 36: R HM R R | 37: HM HM HM SHM | 38: HM HM HM HM | 39: HM HM HM SHM

 
Posted : January 29, 2020 7:11 am
AndyDibble
(@andydibble)
Posts: 90
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Topic starter
 

If you can't write a summary in one line, is your story trying to achieve too much?

This is good and I think the answer is yes because every story should have enough focus for you to pick out that focus. interestingly enough, today I was just asked to write a one-liner for my WotF story.

Too original? If the story can be understood by the general reader, can you be too original for WotF?

I think "too original" happens when your story begins to lack focus. Originality often comes from combining old ideas in a new way (werewolves are old and angels are old, but angel werewolves aren't!), but if you try to stick too many ideas together, you can end up with a mess (angel wizard werewolves?). it's important to either have one fresh concept or have an ensemble of ideas that resonate with one another. my stories always start with an idea that, quite possibly, no one has ever tried before (and then I have to figure out those pesky characters). sometimes I try to stuff more ideas into the story--with mixed results.

First Place, Q1 Vol 36
Articles Editor, Speculative North Magazine

 
Posted : January 29, 2020 2:57 pm
Dustin Adams
(@tj_knight)
Posts: 1127
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... my stories always start with an idea that, quite possibly, no one has ever tried before (and then I have to figure out those pesky characters). sometimes I try to stuff more ideas into the story--with mixed results.

Same!
Like, literally.
Idea first, plot, beginning/ending, then characters. wotf018

Career:

1x 3rd place
2x Finalist
2x Semi
9x Silver
11x HM
7x R

 
Posted : January 30, 2020 12:04 am
AlexH
(@alexh)
Posts: 264
Silver Member
 

If you can't write a summary in one line, is your story trying to achieve too much?

This is good and I think the answer is yes because every story should have enough focus for you to pick out that focus. interestingly enough, today I was just asked to write a one-liner for my WotF story.

If I ever won, I was hoping someone else wrote those! I think it's a good exercise though - I'll try it for my existing stories.

35: - R R R | 36: R HM R R | 37: HM HM HM SHM | 38: HM HM HM HM | 39: HM HM HM SHM

 
Posted : January 30, 2020 7:53 pm
AndyDibble
(@andydibble)
Posts: 90
Bronze Star Member
Topic starter
 

If I ever won, I was hoping someone else wrote those!

Author Services did write the one line description of my story for the anthology and offered revisions of it. I'm not actually sure why I'm being asked to write one. Maybe I should ask Smile

First Place, Q1 Vol 36
Articles Editor, Speculative North Magazine

 
Posted : January 30, 2020 10:18 pm
Dustin Adams
(@tj_knight)
Posts: 1127
Platinum Member
 

Years back we did some logline swapping.
I'll create a new thread, because it's something that is always relevant.

Career:

1x 3rd place
2x Finalist
2x Semi
9x Silver
11x HM
7x R

 
Posted : January 31, 2020 4:14 am
belleriggs12
(@belleriggs12)
Posts: 3
New Member
 

... my stories always start with an idea that, quite possibly, no one has ever tried before (and then I have to figure out those pesky characters). sometimes I try to stuff more ideas into the story--with mixed results.

Same!
Like, literally.
Idea first, plot, beginning/ending, then characters. wotf018

Cliche as it seems but, yeah same. wotf010

 
Posted : February 12, 2020 3:15 pm
czing
(@czing)
Posts: 272
Silver Member
 

... my stories always start with an idea that, quite possibly, no one has ever tried before (and then I have to figure out those pesky characters). sometimes I try to stuff more ideas into the story--with mixed results.

Same!
Like, literally.
Idea first, plot, beginning/ending, then characters. wotf018

I was at a writing event with all kinds of authors giving various talks and almost all of them were "until I know my characters I can't write" and I was having this terrible time connecting with what any of them were saying. Then the author of Life of Pi talked and was like I start with an idea and have no idea who my characters are etc - and I was so happy that finally there was someone saying something that was way more my process!

And I figure if at least one multi-million sold book out there was written that way there is at least a chance for me to have a multi-thousand seller someday wotf007

v36 Q1, Q3 - HM; Q4 - R
v37 Q1 - R; Q2 - SHM; Q4 - HM
v38 Q1 - HM; Q2 - SHM; Q3 - HM; Q4 - HM
v39 Q1 - SHM; Q3 - Pending

 
Posted : February 16, 2020 2:09 am
Henckel
(@henckel)
Posts: 455
Silver Star Member
 

Hi Andy, you raise a good point that many of us lose sight of. Dave has said many times that the winning WOTF stories are ten years ahead of the curve in terms of originality. Thus, for those of us submitting, who have genuine intentions to win, why bother going to the effort if our stories weren’t original?

This shouldn’t be perceived as a downer. If anything, it should be just motivating! We aren’t writers because we understand words and grammar. We’re writers because we’re creative (and perhaps neurotic). We should have originality oozing from places that originality was never intended to ooze.

If the contest demands originality, then we should all be giddy at the opportunity to show what we can do.

WOTF Stats
(2014) V31 – R
(2018) V35 – HM
(2019) V36 – HM, SHM
(2020) V37 – R, HM, SHM, Finalist
(2021) V38 – SF, SHM, SHM, HM
(2022) V39 – HM, SHM, SHM, SHM
(2023) V40 - tba, tba, tba, tba

Other Achievements
(2019) Cowboy for a Day, published in Escape Anthology
(2020) Magician's Midlife Crisis, published by Sci-Fi Lampoon
(2020) Survived lockdown with minimal emotional scarring
(2021) Mike Resnick Memorial Award - 3rd Place winner!!!
(2022) Echoes of Gliese, published by Galaxy's Edge Magazine (January issue)
(2022) Heaven or Bust, published by Bag of Bones Press: 206 Word Stories
(2022) The Button Girl, published by The Academy of Heart and Mind
(2022) The Reaping of Blackroot Hollow will be published by Galaxy's Edge Magazine
(2022) ... another publication, but I can't disclose details quite yet

 
Posted : February 16, 2020 10:48 am
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