First, there was radio and then Mr. Farnsworth invented television. I have fond memories of listening to radio drama (The Lone Ranger, The Shadow, Amos and Andy, Tarzan). Along came TV and I planting my butt in front of the round screen in a house without air conditioning at 102-degrees outside and skipping chores. Today? Not so much. Why?
I think that in some ways TV became boring. Within the first few minutes of the setup, even a dollop knew what to expect from intro to end. The other problem? The concentration of like-type shows. If you had a successful western, along came two or three every night. Same with detective shows. Same with cop shows. Today? I’m not sure what to call “police” shows that fire more bullets and kill more people in forty-two minutes than a week in Afghanistan.
Television has a time constraint so they have a set-in-asphalt formula. There are just so many plot lines. Writing short stories comes close to formula writing. Introduce a problem/goal in the setup and quick-step through the middle toward resolution, Wrap it up either with success or not. In novels, well, that’s about the same except novelists have the opportunity to mosey through the middle slower.
In short, there is a formula to writing novels – a beginning, a middle, and an end. Within each of these are certain expectations. The beginning must have an opening paragraph to entice and draw the reader into the story. The story goal and main actors are introduced. The middle is peppered with success and failure. The end has resolution. Now, that’s not all bad. People need some structure to calm their lives.
Saddled with this structure, a writer applies a story. The problem is making the story original. Why a problem? That story has been told a hundred – no – a thousand ways over the centuries. Because everyone wants to write a story, there is little originality.
Star Trek aired on TV from 1966 to 1969, a total of seventy-nine episodes. It proclaimed in its opening of going where no man has gone before. The stories went places, explored all sorts of social topics but ran out of dilithium crystals short of the five-year mission. Much to the dismay of the high-brow critics, Star Trek became a cult classic, its re-runs and movies made millions. Tag onto this fan fiction which sprung to life and exploded mostly due to Star Trek. They had some of SS Enterprise crew going where they probably shouldn’t be trapped in a formula time warp.
Writers are in a creative box praying to breakout. Can that be done? Yes and no.
No, if a person is not willing to learn and apply the craft. As an editor, the bulk of what comes across my desk is lacking. Period. Some have potential heavily damaged by basic grammar. Nearly every response starts off by suggesting the writer use the Chicago Manual of Style and review several good eFiles on writing technique by authors who have a track record.
Yes, it is possible to break out if… . Bob Mayer wrote a book, 70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes; Writers Digest, Cincinnati, Ohio. (https://www.writersdigestshop.com/digital-download-70-solutions-common-writing-mistakes) In this valuable guide for new and old writers, he says:
“Look inside yourself and find your own passion and creativity. Apply that passion and creativity to learning the craft and then putting your own spin on things. There is no one else out there who is you. This is how you become different enough. By being you. No one else has lived your life and has had your experiences and possesses your brain.”
In short, work to make your story unique from the thousands that have plowed that road. How? Voice. Structure. Approach. That’s a start.
In 2003, my wife and I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. I love stories of pirates and tall ships. I love how swashbuckling adults swing through the rigging, the smell of gunpowder, the growls. I’m caught every so often sneaking a peek at Horatio Hornblower on YouTube or reading the Master and Commander series. Coming out of the theater, my wife said, “You could write a pirate story.”
Yes, I could but so has everyone else and their pet iguana. The story had to be unique. A Pirate’s Legacy was born. How is it different? Children were caught up in the pirate plague. The heroes are teenagers. Yes, two. One in the 1600s and one in the 2000s – paternally related. How one became a pirate and the other to save the hidden treasure and use it as his ancestor wanted. With an extensive background working with teenagers, I could negotiate that swamp.
The other thing I did to make these stories unique (and mine) – incorporate historical fact, a little less “Yo-ho-ho” and more true grit (short of outlandish gore.) In fact, all my stories have historical information or base.
Another story is about vampires. Everyone and I mean everyone writes about vampires. Totally fictional characters until considereing some history and factual science. It’s possible.
There is structure and a kind of a formula to writing. That’s a good thing. Making your story uniquely yours is the challenge. And a wonderful and fun challenge it is.