Archive for February, 2011

Writing Tip #14 — Google it

February 27, 2011

All right, this is an especially peculiar writing tip, but if your manuscript relies heavily on its unique premise, google the idea. Some plot lines have been done a million times (coming of age, implosion of a marriage, etc) because they are character based —  it’s the way in which these simple stories are told that make them stand out from one another. Which is fine.

But some storylines fall into the “that’s a new idea” or “it’s been done” catagories. Apparently, scores of people over the last decade or so have pitched the idea of cloning Jesus Christ. They probably all thought they had stumbled upon a slam dunk and completely fresh idea. I’m sure they weren’t stealing it from each other – as cloning became more popular as a topic, the concept just popped into multiple heads. But cloning Christ’s DNA is not a premise that can be repeated with much hope of success.

Here are some other “been there and done that” kind of plots:

In a new version of The Wizard of Oz the wicked witch is the good guy. (Wicked)

Two cowboys fall in love and struggle with their secret relationship. (Brokeback Mountain)

A retelling of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice with supernatural creatures inserted. (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies)

A married woman falls in love with a traveling photographer who is making a study of covered bridges. (The Bridges of Madison County)

A pig makes friends with a spider who can write words in her webs. (Charlotte’s Web)

If your plot is as unusual as the made up examples below, search the web using a few keywords.

A priest falls in love with a pregnant surrogate mother on the run from the mobster who hired her. Try keywords “novel priest romance pregnant mob”

Three sisters open a tattoo parlor on the spot where a famous silent movie star was murdered and find the actor haunts their ink and needles. Keywords “novel tattoo ghost silent movie star”

A young woman writer investigates the innocence of John Wilkes Booth’s physician who was hanged — she unexpectedly uncovers another mystery in his past. Keywords “novel Wilkes Booth doctor investigation girl writer”

You want to know if there is a recent and/or well-distributed novel with a similar premise to yours. If you find a close match, for example let’s say you’re googling the priest idea and find the following excerpt: “pastor develops inappropriate feelings for an unwed mother who is hiding from a well-known crime family” you can check out a summary of that novel, skim a few reviews, or read the whole book to see if your story is dissimilar enough. If you don’t get a hit with the keywords then you’re probably in the clear. What you don’t want to do is write an entire draft that no one will read because it’s  an unintentional copycat.

This is a good idea for titles, too. If you have an unusual title, for example “Kindly Beans and Other Emotional Veggies” you’re probably fine, but google it anyway. If you find a novel out there called “Friendly Beans and Other Greens” then you’ll want to rethink. Or if you have a plain and simple title (The Truth, Love Birds, Nowhere, Autumn . . . ) you’ll still want to google it, but just to see if there’s a very recent or bestseller book out there with the same name. If it’s been years since it came out or if the other book is relatively obscure, you can probably use the title with no confusion.


Tea & Sweethearts

February 20, 2011

Yesterday was our February Supernatural Tea Party — after a wonderful digression into the art of Storytelling vs. Reporting, we talked about paranormal love stories: different kinds of soul mates, couples who meet in magical ways, husbands/wives who continue to commune with their spouses after death, soul mate dreams, and so on. Always fascinating. A new member attended, Anne, who sailed the Atlantic with my sister last year on her “Writing the Waves” cruise.

We dined on tea sandwiches, Earl grey, heart-shaped chocolates, black and white cupcakes (Don made), chocolate shortbread (Pam made) and cinnamon cake from Anne. Afterwards we watched clips that ranged from lovers in past lives, romantic time warps, fateful meetings, and magical couplings. Characters included ghosts, mermaids, time travelers, and we touched on supernatural adventures of the dating and mating variety. We popped corn and interpreted the Rorschach-like patterns on the tops of the cupcakes (dragon, crane, Italy, accidental creations in dark chocolate and cream cheese.)

Binny had a great time as usual. He even tasted his first lemon curd sandwich (well, he licked it, anyway.) Next time we will discuss the Little People and Ireland in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

Writing Tip #13 ~ a few minutes away

February 8, 2011

Sometimes it strengthens your writing life, and your current manuscript, when you play hookie for at least a few minutes per day and write something else. And I don’t mean something businessy or home-worky. I mean a fanciful piece, maybe even a secret, guilty pleasure project.

Every night I email my sister in California and tell her about my day. At the end of each message I always say goodnight in a different way. A pun or a sentimental snippet. Here is an example from a few days ago, a silly poem that started out a spoof on a Dickinson verse and got out of control:

Because I could not stop for Sleep
He kindly stopped for me,
Tripped over the bed-clothes, spilled my milk,
Quite embarrassedly.
He blotted my damp blankets
And he deftly wrung the sheets
Then crept around my footboard
On his foggy, kitty feets.
Yes, Sleep sat up a while,
Read some comics, brushed his teeth,
Looked at his email, toe nails clipped,
My bed he checked beneath.
Having found no monsters,
Now lullaby he croons,
Puffs my pillows, jammies up
And nestles me in spoons.
“Tell me a story,” Sleep demands.
“One that ends in bliss.”
So I tell him a short one, tuck him down,
And give him a little kiss.
“Good Sleep, good fellow,
I love you,” I say as I stifle a yawn.
“Do you love me,” he asks, “as much as
You love my sister, Dawn?”
“As much as I love cousin Dreamy,” I say.
“That’s how much I love my Sleep.”
“Even when I’m fitful?” he asks.
“Even when I’m deep?”
“Even,” I say, “when you’re shallow.”
Now Sleep he smiles and thinks.
“Goodnight,” says Sleep and before he drifts off
He gives me forty winks.

Sometimes I open a new page on Word and brainstorm about a future project I want to write. Sometimes I describe a cool dream I had to my cousin or old beau in a letter. (Yes, now and then I still send snailmail.) Or I write out my hopes for the future in a stream of consciousness or a numbered list.

It feels healthy to write something “other” at least a few minutes each day. I guess it’s like having sherbet between the soup and meat of your novel to clean the creative writing palate.

February Give-Away!

February 2, 2011

The winner of the January drawing was Gwen of Belmont, California. I will be sending her the writing books: Between the Lines (Jessica Morrel), The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits (Linda Edelstein), and The Making of a Bestseller (Hill & Power) plus one copy of Writers Digest magazine.

The February Give-Away is a copy of The Writer’s Guide to Places (Prues & Heffron.)

To enter, send your name and physical address to me via the “Email Laura Whitcomb” link on my website. (If you do NOT want to get free bookmarks or postcards when I have a new novel coming out, let me know that you don’t want to be included in my snailmail group.)