You need something to bind your story together.
No I’m not talking about adding more fiber to your literary diet. What I’m talking about is the thing that makes your story stand out in a field of similar work. There are a finite number of story lines and when you filter down to stories within your particular genre, the plots become similar, or worse – routine.
Some literary geeks, claim every story line boils down to Greek Mythology, or Shakespeare, at the latest. The bottom line is, what can you do to make yours stand out in a field of nearly identical book shrubs? Sure the crispness of your characters and the flow of your prose will encourage readers to finish your book, but will that be enough to make your work more popular than a witch in Salem?
If you write in the mystery, crime or thriller vein, there are dangers in becoming stale, or too formulaic in your novel. After a while all the P.I.’s and cops start to look, sound and act the same. The criminal evil-doers do their evil-y stuff and – yawn. Fantasy writers have their own dungeons of despair when creating their new worlds. That’s part of the danger when writing in a wildly popular genre, like vampires and post-apocalyptic stories. What will make that vampire stand out in a very crowded marketplace of brooding, fanged creatures?
For me, I read within the crime genre to maintain a connection with that side of the world. It’s equally important, again, for me, to read outside that narrow genre to keep my writing from becoming stale. I guess you could say i’m easily influenced by why I read. But within all those stories, the good ones, there is something that keeps the characters and stories connected. The plot glue.
What I’ve found is that I need something for my characters to “act against” or “react toward” to play out my stories, something that makes a murder mystery, or thriller stand up. A murder mystery is scoop of vanilla ice cream, a murder mystery in a backdrop of black market organ transplants is a hot fudge sundae. That kind of backdrop, or theme changes the dynamics in a story, and influences the way a main character will respond. In Hollow Man, my current work in revision, the main character is a detective chasing a serial killer. When you drop in the organ transplant backdrop, the main character is still a detective on the trail of a serial killer, but the detective’s son needs a kidney transplant and the “bad guy” is harvesting organs from his victims. Does my main character, go after the killer, or make a deal to save his son’s life?
I tend to weave in social themes into my stories as the backdrop. Political corruption, illegal immigration, domestic terror, homelessness and prison gang drug trafficking, for example. In Little River, the backdrop is human trafficking and ruthless nature of the criminal trafficking organizations. A parent with a missing child is tragic, learning your daughter is a commodity to be bought or sold is earthshaking.
What makes a novel stand out to you? I’d love to hear your comments on the kinds of stories that get your attention as readers, and what inspires you as writers…