Thursday, March 10, 2011
Last night when I was watching American Idol with my fiance, something Randy has said repeatedly throughout this season struck me as important. Each episode he has told at least one of the contestants that "you've gotta make it your own." What he means is that when the contestants choose a song, they can't try to imitate the original artist, because they will never sound exactly like the original (which, as a result, will be disappointing to the audience). Instead of trying to imitate the original, they need to bring their own flavor.
This got me thinking about different genres of fiction and how the readers of these genres approach the works with certain expectations. For example, when reading a romance the reader expects the story to be focused primarily on the romantic conflict, and they expect a happy, emotionally satisfying ending. Likewise, with urban fantasy the reader expects a strong, female protagonist, a fantasy world hidden from the view of the real world and/or a fantasy world coexisting with the real world, first person narrative--and usually--some form of romantic element.
With all these reader expectations, it's the job of the writer to both fulfill what the reader wants and also make the story unique to their own style with a fresh plot line. Like the contestants on American Idol find week after week, this can be a hard task to accomplish. How do we become as good as the great writers who came before us, while not imitating their style or using a cliched plot?
To claim I know the answer would be completely arrogant. In no way do I know better than any other writer what the magical formula is. However, for me, I find that being conscious of the narrative decisions of the greats who came before me helps.
One author that I admire is Charlainne Harris, specifically her Southern Vampire Series. Otherwise known as the Sookie Stackhouse novels, or as the basis for the popular HBO show, Trueblood, SVS is a staple of the urban fantasy genre--the genre in which I write. So how do I go about making sure that my heroine is just as awesome as Sookie without being a cheap imitation?
Simple: I read or scan through my favorite moments with Sookie and pinpoint the writing technique Harris uses. With Sookie, Harris loves to give her larger than life character qualities. When I find what makes Sookie awesome, something such as these large qualities, I use the same technique and apply it to my novel. My heroine is also very reliant on larger than life character traits, but I make sure these qualities are very different than Sookie, and are specific to only my heroine.
What about you? Do you use the greats as a basis for your style? Or do you prefer to write what's natural without trying to achieve the greatness of your favorite authors? I'd like to hear your thoughts.
Til Friday ;-)