…of the box.
Often times, writers fall pray to the vicious claws of formality and cliches. Why? Because, if they weren’t formal or used, we wouldn’t use them in the first place. It’s easy for us to get lazy when we write and say something like, ‘It was raining cats and dogs’, ‘love is a roller coaster’, or ‘woe is me’. We might add on our own little thing, but it dosen’t make it any better. Unless you’re some incredible writing genius who can twist ‘It was raining cats and dogs’ into some philosophical, brilliant hyperbole and metaphor, then you shouldn’t use it because,everyone knows it, and everyone is bored with it. When you sit down to write, you are not only sitting down to write a story, but you are signing a contract with Lucifer that says, ‘You will not only write a story, you will write a story that is new, you will write a story that people will enjoy, you will write a story that is not generic, you will write a NEW STORY’, or at least that is the contract that I sign when I sit down to write my latest short story or novella.
The reason why Shakespeare, Plato, Joyce, Dostoevsky, and other greats have lived through history, and why people clamor and stumble to copy their work is because they set the precedent, they invented new things: they made movements (bowel movements that is). Shakespeare is often credited with having created the human, and the same could probably said of Plato as far as human thought goes. Joyce reinvented storytelling and the structure of wring, as defined in some of his greatest works such as Uylsses and Finnegan’s Wake. Dostoevsky was a modern, Russian Plato who now has four books on the list of the most important books of all time list (of course, this is compiled by Wikipedia, yet was tallied and voted upon by the world’s greatest writers, so there). Those are the reasons why their fiction will live on for years and years, Plato and Shakespeare already have a couple of centuries under their belt, and they will gain a few more long after we all have died, and why? Because they learned to come out of the box, and again, they set a precedent; a tough act to follow.
This is what you have to do as a writer. You can’t sit in your blank room and take a bunch of sentences from the greatest books of all time and expect to come up with something great. A brilliant quote from the ghastly Stephanie Meyer is, “There are no new stories,” or something like that, but even that is a regurgitated mantra that has been looping around in history for hundreds of years, but she’s exactly right. There is no such thing as a totally new story. Vampires are a great example of this. Vampires have dominated the literary world for at least a century, and if not a century, it soon will be a century. Starting with the fanaticism of Dracula by Stoker, people have searched long and hard to create something in that genre just as great; an onset of Vampire novels began to overrun the literary world, even Stephen King got in on the fun with his horror masterpiece, ‘Salem’s Lot, which is self described by him as “What would happen if Dracula were to come to a modern city,”. Vampires have taken a strange turn of course, from horrifying, ghouls of the night, to love partners. But you see, each Vampires story has aspired to do something different, they have sought to put a new spin on an old genre, beating a horses skeleton, burning the ashes if you will.
But, still does not give you permission as a writer to simply follow everyone’s rules and fall in line with the rest. Dystopian fiction, my specialized genre, has fallen into this trap. All the time, suddenly, you’re seeing each work of dystopian fiction following one key plot point: there has to be an evil government that the main characters must overthrow. There are very few dystopian fiction works out there that do not follow this pattern, even I have fallen pray to this as I work on a duology right now. But, you see, the reason why the dystopian genre has been so successful, even though it’s the same basic story line within every trilogy (dystopians these days have stopped coming in singles, and are now a family of three strangely enough), is because the authors have found a way to make something out of nothing. As a writer, while you can follow a trope, it all comes down to not how well you can literally rewrite Shakespeare into a dystopian world, but what can you bring to the studio that will metaphorically make us big books. The literary world is just like Hollywood, only we have a distinct advantage in that we have yet to go bankrupt of ideas. We have movies coming out everyday, we’re getting paid the big ones. Anyhow, what can you bring to the table of this massive industry that is unique, what’s so great about your work that it should be noticed, what’s so great about your work that people will say, “Wow, I never thought/ saw it that way; I have to show this to someone.”
The goal of the writer is not to just write stories, but good and new stories. You’ve got to get outside of the box guys, you can’t stay inside there forever, it’s bad for you. You need sunlight sometime (coffee will only get you so far).