By Denise Miller Holmes, The Witty Wise Woman
Director of Words for the Journey
Many of the writers I’ve taught in the past struggle with creating things that are unique. Commonly, fiction writers who want to be published aim toward genres with certain conventions and tropes, which make the book sellable. This tendency is good for saleability, but it can make a writer afraid to be creative and unique. Writers, by aiming at getting their books published, can fall into the habit of creating cardboard or cliché characters, settings, and plots.
There is a happy medium, of course, between cardboard and completely beyond what the genre allows. There is no harm in creating characters, settings, and plots that have unique elements sprinkled in. And these elements are easily found in reference books and other resources.
Spicing up Characters
I’ve got a book called Secret Lives of the U.S. Presidents by Cormac O’Brien. In it, I found out Thomas Jefferson used to work and greet guests in his pajamas. I bought it not only to read for information, but also for entertainment. And, why not, I thought, use these historical quirks to flavor my fictional characters? Yes. Why not?
Also, the same author wrote a similar volume on the First Ladies called Secret Lives of the First Ladies.
Spicing up Setting
Create exciting settings for your characters to have their first kiss in, or even to do their homework. [Smile]
I recently saw a YouTube video that showed an exotic island that is known for its beautiful caves and, of all things, salt. The salt there is every color of the rainbow. I thought I might create a smaller version of that island in a river. Let’s say in a small town called Cupcake Falls. That’s where the characters have their first kiss—on that little island on the river, right by a mound of beautiful red salt.
Of course, the term settings includes not only locations, but historical occurrences too. Suppose the girl wants to be a comedy actress, and the guy proposes to her by taking her to the very place where Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz got married.
The point is, you take the theme of your main characters, then match it to something from history. It adds depth, without being heavy-handed.
Settings can be spiced using sources such as The Weird Travel EBook (found on Amazon); and Weird-but-True Facts about U.S. History. Another resource that looks promising to me is Don’t Go There: From Chernobyl to North Korea…the World’s Strangest Places, by Adam Fletcher.
Of course, if your story is set in a small town or in a rural place, then you can make up a weird place in the town (with ideas gleaned from a resource I’ve mentioned) or make up a history for that town that accentuates the themes and histories of the characters. Just experiment with this and see how very creative and fun it is to use strange books to add pizzazz.
Now, let’s go on to plot.
Spicing up Plots
You can use this next resource as a prompt to start a story, or to give you ideas for incidents that happen in a story you’re currently writing. There are books of collected anecdotes that are meant to be used in sermons or speeches. They’re short stories (very short) that are either humorous or illustrate a point.
The reference book I have now is based on historical people who are known public figures. I just thumb through Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes and see if there’s a little story I can use or something that gives me an idea for a scene.
One word of caution: when using these anecdotes for speeches, you are expected to openly report who said and did these things. However, when using these anecdotes in fiction, you should tweak the incidents to fit your story. This also means that you don’t copy the circumstances exactly. Women become men, theaters become gymnasiums or even a restaurant while having a quiet lunch. A walk down a pathway, where someone quips something funny, turns into two couples riding in a car together. Make it your own.
If you want more on the ethical way to borrow a plot or scene idea, buy Steal This Plot. It’s great! (P. S., borrowing ideas is not considered stealing, it’s just a sexy title.)
Go create, my pretties!