23 April 2009

On Originality...write fresh

Recently literary agent Nathan Bransford hosted a 'Be an Agent for a Day' contest which was very interesting. He's been analyzing the results and said Tuesday "it's very nearly impossible to be wholly original". This reminds me of Robert Silverberg's excellent column in Asimov's: Reflections: Toward a Theory of Story II which said the basis of all successful and narratives is: A sympathetic and engaging character (or an unsympathetic one who is engaging nevertheless), faced with some immensely difficult problem that it is necessary for him to solve, makes a series of attempts to overcome that problem, frequently encountering challenging sub-problems and undergoing considerable hardship and anguish, and eventually, at the darkest moment of all, calls on some insight that was not accessible to him at the beginning of the story and either succeeds in his efforts or fails in a dramatically interesting and revelatory way, thereby arriving at new knowledge of some significant kind.

So there you have it: there's only one story. What's a poor author to do?

Write something original anyway. By far the most likely stories to make it out of our slush are original in some way. As Agent Nathan says "It really does need to feel fresh, but that's not the same as being completely original. The originality is all about how it's done, not what it's about." I agree.

So, how can you make your work fresh? Your story can go deep with world-building or characterization or theme or your-idea-here. You could combine two or more genres: fantasy, science fiction, macabre, your-choice-here. You could write with a unique voice. (I'm reminded of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower.) Or, your-idea-here. What you think? What makes a story fresh?

Send Electric Spec your original a.k.a. fresh stories!


Betsy Dornbusch said...

I really like it when the problem stems from the protagonist and becomes something only s/he could solve.

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