"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." - Walt Disney

Saturday, September 3, 2011

5 Ways to Make Our Stories Different & Unique

Today’s guest post is by Jody Hedlund. To learn more about Jody or to win a copy of her new release, please read the previous post. In addition, she is having a contest on her website. It's called “Be a Trailblazer Contest” and has a prize package worth $300. http://jodyhedlund.com/contest/

My family likes to stroll along the beach of Lake Huron which is just a short drive from where we live.
The first time we went, we spotted thousands of tiny shells in the sand. As we gathered them, we were amazed by their exquisite complexity. Home to snails, the narrow shells spiral to a pinpoint tip and are not more than half an inch long. Hues of brown swirl together forming intricate patterns.
What struck me most about these delicate shells is that we never found two that were completely identical. While they were all shaped the same, each was unique in some way.
Writer's stories are like those shells. Whether we're writing fiction or non-fiction, the basic structure remains the same. We need hooks, engaging dialogue, characters who struggle and overcome adversity, and much more. The craft elements of story telling are the same for all of us. We must study and learn them.
But the stories themselves? Our stories must swirl together in complex patterns that are like none other. The passions that color them, the experiences that make them shine, the life we breathe into them—all come together in a way that makes our story different than any other ever written.
And yet one of the writer's greatest struggles is discovering a story that is completely unique to ourselves. With so many other shells on the shore—stories already written, how can we possibly make ours different?
Here are several ways I work at making my stories different:
1. Keep an ideas file. I have special place for jotting down big ideas for future books as they come to me. And I also have a folder for tossing in scraps of ideas that I could incorporate into books. I keep an eye open for the unique, always asking myself, “Has this already been done?”
2. Have a plot notebook. Before I start the first draft, I narrow down the big idea for the story (from my ideas file above). Then I spend several weeks just brainstorming plot ideas for that story. I read time-period books, biographies, etc. During the reading, I make long lists of any and every idea that I could possibly use. I don’t toss anything out at this point.
3. Go beyond the ordinary. After I have notebook pages full of ideas, I go back through them and work on narrowing down the ideas that could work for my story. I try to find interesting and unique things that I haven’t seen in other books.
4. Shape unique main characters. During the process of brainstorming plot ideas, I also think long and hard about my main characters. I keep a running list of possibilities and slowly begin to shape the hero and heroine. Once I have sorted through all of the options, I start to fill out my character worksheets (for free on my blog!). And again, I’m always looking for ways to make them unique.
5. Look for interesting ways to increase the conflict & tension. Finally, after going through the above steps, I’m ready to look for ways to vamp up the conflict and tension, both in the external plot as well as the internal. For my current WIP, I called my critique partner and bounced ideas off her. Other times, I get input from my editors.
I love this quote by James Scott Bell in his book Plot & Structure: “You need to come up with hundreds of ideas, then choose the best ones to develop. . . By going deep within your own heart and soul, you will find a wellspring of ideas to write about.”
Each of us has a unique story to tell. Have you struggled, really struggled, to push beyond the ordinary? Is your story swirling with the complexity of your ideas? Or are your stories too much like everyone else's? What are some ways you've dug deep inside and found your unique ideas?

©Jody Hedlund, 2011


Laura Pauling said...

I've really taken to heart the advice of make lists and choose the best idea, not just with story ideas but i've listed out plot points and climaxes just to see where it goes. The idea I choose is usually not the first or second one. :)

Aurora Smith said...

great list. Thankyou.

Jacqvern said...

Great list.

I liked very much the shell comparison.

I'm burried so deep in lists and tables right now, that I'm rather lost. But I can't do without them. :)

Abby Fowers said...

This is wonderful advice. I know I often worry that my story isn't going to be unique. But we can be unique. I love these ideas. Thanks so much for sharing today.

Pearson Report said...

Thank you Sylvia for hosting Jody Hedlund.

These five suggestions, of hers, are great and I very helpful.
I'm a fan of reading ways to improve my storytelling, so this post is right up my writing alley.

Cheers, Jenny

Keli Gwyn said...

Thanks for hosting Jody, Sylvia. Her tips are great. I'm her CP, and I know how hard she works to create stories readers will love. She pushes herself relentlessly, and the result is gripping tales that keep readers turning pages as they race to The End.

Anonymous said...

This is a nice checklist. I often go to my crit partner to brainstorm when I need to get outside the box.

Sylvia Ney said...

If you've never read Jody's blog, I strongly encourage you to do so. She is continually sharing and helping others as she travels and learns with her own career. I wish there were more authors/writers/friends like her.