So you’ve decided on how you want to write. You’ve readied to outline or you’ve decided to wing it and start writing… except that you’re not sure on how you want your story to go. You think of your favourite stories: the westerns, the scifis, the young adult vampire romance novels but you can’t decide on how YOU want to do it. But how? How does it work? Why is your hand cramping? Why did they cancel Firefly?
Worry not, dear reader, for you have come across this blog post written by me, the Burnt Cream™, to teach you how to write. I have been writing for years and have no publications under my belt, but I can teach you a thing or two about writing from a decade of trial and error. Still reading? Not off to play INSERTGAMEHERE? Great!
- Lesson 3: Plots and Genres.
All plots can be boiled down to the monomyth or the Hero’s Journey. You know how it goes: the hero from normalcy goes on an adventure, does the thing, and returns home. You can change the details here and there but the story structure more or less remains the same.
So if everything has been done, how can you make a plot different? It’s easier than it sounds. Start a post-apocalyptic story in medias res in a fantasy land, kill off those characters in chapter 2 and reveal new characters in a sci-fi setting, kill those characters off and introduce new characters in a contemporary setting about people trying to write a novel only to be aware that they are in a novel, kill those… Bottom line is that it’s easy to be original with plotting: just be as random as you can but will it work? Not really because your reader will be so confused that they can’t invest themselves in your story. That said let’s look at at the first lesson of this series: Ideas. You don’t need a good idea to tell a good story but a good story needs a good writer so don’t be afraid of being the same.
So now you have the plot in mind, what genre should you write in? Sci-fi? Western? Fantasy? What about something truly original? Here’s a fun fact: people are bad at coming up with truly original ideas but we are pretty good at combining two things. For example:
British boarding school + Fantasy = Harry Potter
German Mythology + England = Lord of the Rings
Western + Sci-Fi = Star Wars
Lawyers + Thriller = The Firm
You’d honestly be surprised with what kind of stories you can tell by mixing two seemingly unrelated things together but what will happen if you mix too much? What you should avoid is a kitchen sink where a whole mess of ideas are blended together for the sake of variety. Why that is a problem is because it makes it hard for the ready to again invest in your story.
That said the takeaway on genres is that you the writer must understand your audience. Twilight, a young adult vampire romance novel that inspired a sizeable hate-dom on it’s debut years nonetheless made millions for Stephanie Meyer. For all of Twilight’s faults, Meyer did understand what the audience of the genre wanted and delivered. The same goes with GRRM with A Song of Ice and Fire. Yes you can argue that the man is a skilled writer but in the end, a key point to his success is that he again understood what his audience wanted.
For the students: Knowing your audience is pretty important in writing your papers. Simple but deceptively important to keep in mind.
Additional help from people smarter than me:
Want to know more about plots? Look up The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (2008). The man discusses the monomyth and other common story structures in detail and once you see it, you’ll never not see it!
LEGAL NOTICE: The writer of this article is not in any way affiliated with the Campbell foundation.
So you know what type of plot you are writing and in what genre but you’re wondering if what you’re writing is a cliche. Is it? If so what can you do about it?
See you next time!