Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Don't Reinvent the Wheel

I spun my wheels for a long time trying to write something that no one had ever read before. The stories never quite worked out how I wanted them to, and then I realized I was on the wrong path anyway!! The thing is, readers are creatures of habit. This is good news for the writer because it means we can use those habits to our benefit.
How do we do this? Simple really.
First, we write within an established genre.
As artists I think we want to write whatever strikes our fancy, and we can, but we'll pay a price if it's "too unique". Writing is a business, after all, and if the publisher can't find a place to market your book it will be difficult to sell. So you can write that chick lit-zombie-space epic, and it might be wonderful. But if your publisher can't find a niche to sell it in, you're not going to make much money on it. Or, you'll be working so hard at the marketing that you won't find time to write that next book.
Next, we should tell our reader's what's going to happen in the novel.
No, really. You want to lead your readers into the story with a certain expectation. Our protagonist is either going to:
a. find the love of her life. Or
b. end the book alone, feeding kibble to a dead cat
You, as the writer, should let your reader's know that these two things could happen and then give them the ending that they want the most.
No, it shouldn't be obvious (your reader loves a tease), but in the end they want the boy to win his fair maiden, or good to win over evil.
(Obviously, the reverse would be true for a tragedy, but even in a tragedy the reader should know things might end badly, even expect it.)
Give the readers what they want, and maybe save the chick lit-zombie-space epic for after you hit the best seller list.
And finally, use the three act structure.
I know, I know, some of you would like to just wing it, and maybe you're a better writer than I am, but the three act structure is a map. It is a tried and true method of story telling. It's been used everywhere from plays, to movies, to books. It works, and it's easy to use. Some people feel like this structure can stifle creativity, but when you're just starting out it's the safest route to a complete story.
Writing is difficult enough. Don't make yourself crazy trying to invent a new story structure. Use the tricks and tools that have worked for other people in the past. Once you've got your readership you can go any which way you want, but in the beginning, use the "tricks of the trade".


  1. Very true, all of this, Elle. I'm still trying to wriggle into a niche that suits me but may not exist! Wise words about structure, so hope beginner writers take time to read this post.

  2. Thanks! Yeah, I'm still muddling around with a book that I'm trying to force into YA:) A writer's work is never done!

  3. I believe structure in all its forms is no bad thing. It is especially helpful if one is starting out on the road to writing.

  4. It's funny you say that because I really like structure too. I'm wondering now why it took me so long to learn the structure for writing:)