It is said that there are only seven original plotlines that can be written, and every story out there fits into one of these. It is also said that each of us has a story in us. The only way to reconcile those two statements is to conclude that there is a lot of repetition going on out there.
But what is an original story? I don’t think it is a theme or story arc, I think it is all the facets that are brought together to make the characters breathe and the world feel really tangible.
I find it can often be the difference in the development of a character that can make one story bland when I read it, but sing to you when you discover it. If we laugh or cry, or throw the book across the room or simply keep falling asleep, it is the meat of the story, not its bones, that catch our hearts (or not).
To illustrate my point have a look at the number of different versions there are of many popular fairytales; Cinderalla, Red Riding Hood, The Three Bears. Some are fantastic while some are horribly boring, even though they are telling the same tale. Deeper than that, some are terrifyingly dark, others laugh out loud funny, and more importantly some are great for sending little kids off to the land of nod, while others would have them so shocked they would not be able to sleep for a week!
So don’t knock yourself out too much on looking for the original story, many would have you believe the search if fruitless Focus instead on the original delivery, find some wonderful characters, put them in beautiful well-painted worlds and find the right language to tell your story. That is where you get to really play with your craft.
Something I’ve heard many times from new and would-be authors is the fear that if they send off their work to a publisher or magazine that work will be ‘stolen’. Obviously this fear can prove quite damaging to your writing career given that no-one will actually buy your writing if you never give them an opportunity to read it!
Before I feed any paranoid ideas around this by giving you some tips about how to protect your legally binding copyright, let me first explain why a publisher, or at least a reputable publisher, will not steal your writing.
The writing community is generally pretty tight-knit, even if they don’t physically get together and catch up (which most do, and I highly recommend) they are always connected through email, Twitter and blogs. So if any publisher were to ‘steal’ an idea or piece of work, everyone would know about it, and pretty quickly too! So do a search on your prospective publisher and see what people are saying about them online. Places like duotope and ralan also provide a commentary on what a publisher is like, so use these resources.
For major publishers I would suggest you do not even need to do such a search. There is nothing a publisher would like more than to discover the next fantastic author. A publishing house is also not looking for a great story, they are looking for an author with longevity who can provide them with many stories. So if they see merit in your work they are more likely to sign you for a three book deal than try to lift your idea.
But if this still isn’t enough to convince you, this is five years of your hard work after all, how can you protect your copyright? One of the most basic ways is to save it to a disk or flash drive, seal it in a letter (a line of continuous sticky tape across the top, but under the stamp is a good seal) and post it to yourself. The post-mark of the postal system is a legally provable date. A more modern way (which I am not sure if it has been used in court but would probably have a lot of weight) is to email the attachment to yourself, which will clearly display the date*.
I know there are a lot of places that charge you money to register your copyright, but the fact is that the moment you write your piece you are covered by copyright. All you need to do to protect that copyright is to prove you wrote it first. You don’t need to spend lots of money to register it.
One word of warning for the paranoid before they project their claims of injustice; just because the place you sent your novel to releases one with a similar theme soon after they reject yours does not mean they stole your idea. Often similar themes come through at the same time, so don’t assume they stole your idea. You probably tapped into the collective unconscious and wrote a similar story, after all, there is no such thing as an original idea.
*Please seek legal advice on this matter if you wish to use it. I do not have any legal qualifications and as such cannot give legal advice.
Who would ever have thought something so simple could work so well?!? Yes the target has only been to do 100 words per day, no that will not get a novel written by the end of the year, but YES it does get me writing, and isn’t that what this is all about?
So far the least number of words I have written in a day is 124, the most; 1,493. All up this week I have managed over 3,000 words. All this just by trying to make 100 words a day. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t tried it myself (and had the spreadsheet to track and graph it, of course).
Three days I needed to do my 100 words after climbing into bed for the end of the day. I was so determined to reach this tiny little goal that I easily motivated myself to leave the light on just ten minutes longer. Once I even had to write on the back of an envelope because I couldn’t find my pad and the enthusiasm was severely lacking to go looking for it, but at no time did I think it was too much to attempt.
100 words per day is so unbelievably doable! And more than 75% of what I have written was usable stuff. I even dusted off an old novel and managed to plough through, past my dreaded chapter 5.
If I can do this for a month I might even form the habit of a lifetime. No matter how busy life gets or how many other deadlines I have, I think I should always be able to make these 100 words; three or four paragraphs, fifteen lines on my little bedside pad. I might just get some of these novels finished yet…
The New Year is already a week old, and most of my resolutions have taken a bit of a battering. But I was prepared for that and am happy to renew them all afresh each week if needed.
Many members of my writers group are publically declaring their writing goals, so I figure I should join in. There are two popular choices at the moment, a 500 word a day challenge and a 100 word a day challenge. Last week I thought I’d go for a soft 1,000 word a week challenge, but quickly discovered my brain had translated that to ‘only sit down on Sunday and write 1,000 words.’
So I’m joining the 100 word a day challenge. The appeal of this is that even in my grumpiest, most uninspired moments I can always force out 100 words, I can’t say the same about 500 words. And if I really am going to do this thing EVERY DAY then sometimes I’ll need the safety net of just pushing out the bare minimum.
The other thing is that once I start writing I rarely stop at 100 words. So I expect that if I manage to get into the write frame of mind (ha ha, what a clever, original pun eh?) then I should be able to push out about 700-1,000 words in one sitting.
I like that there is a responsibility to sit down every day with the daily goal. It is too easy to put off until tomorrow what you really should do today when you have a weekly target. Also, if I have a good day where I do write 700 words, I won’t be able to automatically give myself the rest of the week off. I’ll have to get a pocket notebook to keep in my bag for those days I can’t get to a computer. And I’ll be good this year and not count blog words.
Okay, let the challenge begin!
Well, we have just embarked on our last year (don’t forget the end of the world come December 21st) so I think it would be a good idea to make it a great one. Now is the perfect time for setting some realistic as well as ambitious goals.
Before I went to sleep, but after I crawled into bed (midnight is not so easy to reach as I get older) I wrote down my list of ten things in 2011 for which I was grateful, and then ten things I would like to achieve in 2012. The achievement hopefuls will set my monthly and weekly goal sheets for the rest of the year.
As a goal-setting, list-writing addict the beginning of the year is like another Christmas. I’ve updated all my Excel writing plans and word count target files (and let’s not forget the associated graphs), and I’ve run all the statistics on the closed out 2011 files with all my final data (of which there was very little post-July).
While it does smack a little of procrastination, I cannot help but wonder if my change in tact midway through last year from opening my goal sheet the moment I sat down to write, to just sitting down to write might have been a mistake. Seeing what I had committed to each time I sat down reminded me of the big picture, and where I wanted to be.
This year I’m going to do better than just opening it up, I’m going to print it out and put it on the wall, so everyone who comes in here can also see what I’ve committed to. Also when it is printed out I’ll be less tempted to spend time fiddling with it.
Anyway, my word count sheet for the year is looking sadly bare today, so I’d better get back to that novel and add another five hundred words to earn myself an Escape to the Country tonight!
Happy New Year, and Happy Writing!
Word count this week; 1,500+