Friday, December 17, 2010

Some Advice From a Contest Judge, Part 2

Currently re-reading - Storm Front by Jim Butcher  (Nothing like curling up on the loveseat with a blankie, hot tea, and a favorite book!)

When I volunteer to judge an RWA contest, it's usually paranormal, the area I know the best.  But lately, there's been  a rash of. . .  Well, I can't call them mistakes.  More like adherence to what's selling in the market.  Here's the problem--you've got to stand out from what's currently selling and you've got to do it well.

Five common things I've seen this year:

1) Vampires

Let's set the record straight--I LOVE VAMPIRES!  But even I get bored when it's the same ancient warrior/innocent virgin BS over and over and over.  No wonder agents and editors are bitching if they constantly see variations of the same thing.  If you're writing a vampire story, how are you making it different from Twilight, Dark-Hunters, Love at Stake series?

2) The Chosen One/Special Child/Annointed Hero

There's a reason Hermione whacked Harry with a book when he said, "I am the Chosen One," during Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  This story is as old as Horus seeking revenge on Set for stealing the throne of Egypt.  Except most of us can't write it with J. K. Rowling's charm.   Try the story from a different angle like Jim Butcher did.  His Harry is your average wizard.  He just happens to advertise in Chicago's Yellow Pages.

3) World Building in Classic Fantasy

Great world building seems so simple, doesn't it?  J.R.R.Tolkien made us believe the Shire really existed.  How?  He took a realistic rural England and populated with small people who didn't wear shoes.  That little twist drew readers into The Fellowship of the Ring.  The really spectacular stuff comes much later in the book.  Too many new writers throw too much, too fast at the reader, leaving them very confused.  A confused reader will lay your book down and move on to something else.  Repeat after me--"This is not a good thing."

4) Names

Can you pronounce your heroine's name without spraining your tongue?  Can your reader pronounce it without a glossary appendix attached to your book?  Was your hero's name in common usage when he was born/hatched?  Seriously, folks, there's nothing wrong with naming your vampire Bill.  Go ask Charlaine Harris.

5) Explore Other Cultures

As a former English colony, our culture has a tendency to repeat the myths of the British Isles ad nauseum.  But let's face it, not all of us trace our ancestry to just one country.  Talk to the older members of your family.  Were there stories passed down?  What about family that immigrated from Asia or Africa?  Polynesia or Australia?

Someone once said, "It's not your first idea that's unique.  Or the second.  Or third.  It's generally about the twentieth when you stop writing what everyone else is."**

So keep twisting that idea until something really cool is squeezed out of your brain.

**(And I can't place the quote, so if any one knows, please leave the source in Comments.)

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