Saturday, May 2, 2009

Keeping It Fresh

Today it's my turn to post in the blog chain. Archetype started this chain with a great question:

How do you keep from telling the same story over and over? What are your tips and tricks for finding fresh ideas and adding new twists to your work?

I think what's interesting about this question is that there are certain types of stories that we are always going to be drawn towards, whether that means something we are writing ourselves, or a story that we are reading in a book, watching on television, or in a movie.

For example, the stories that I find myself drawn towards time and time again, are ones featuring strong smart female protagonists, that have a mix of both action and romance. Humor is always nice too. I also love coming of age stories.

On the other hand I have a strong bias against stories set against the background of the mob. The Sopranos never did it for me. And in film school I had a friend who literally could not comprehend my words, when in response to him asking me if I wanted to watch The Godfather trilogy with him and some friends, I told him that I, "Had no interest in seeing those movies." He acted like I had announced that I liked to comb my hair with peanut butter - my words just made no sense to him. We've also had words about The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which he has watched more times than he can count, and I... fell asleep in the movie theater during the first movie, and after that decided not to pay ten dollars a ticket for nap time.

To this day he insists I need to watch The Godfather, and to this day I just don't see any reason to fit it into my already busy schedule - especially when their are so many movies out there that I actually do want to watch.

I guess what I am saying here is that a little repetition in the stories we choose to tell might be inevitable. This isn't to say that we should write formulaic stories to the point where if someone read one of our books, they would instantly know how every other one of them ends. However, I do think we expect a little consistency from authors, and that then goes back to the whole idea of branding yourself as an author, etc. etc. etc.

Okay, so accepting the idea that to a certain extent we'll tell or be drawn to the same types of stories, how do we keep ourselves from becoming predictable, repetitive, and - dare I even say it - redundant? How do we keep things fresh?

My answer is to simply open yourself to new experiences and ideas. Some of this is going to happen naturally. I know that since having my baby, my ideas about motherhood have changed.

At other times though, it might come from just pushing ourselves outside of our natural comfort zone, like maybe one of these days I will break down, watch The Godfather, and perhaps even come away from it with new storytelling ideas.

My other answer comes from a quote that was in a weekly screenwriting email I receive.
"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."
– C.S. Lewis
This quote says better, and in fewer words, what I've spent this whole post trying to express, so I think I'll end things here.

What about you? Are there certain types of stories that you are drawn towards? And how do you keep you stories fresh?

And don't forget - to keep following the responses from the other blog chainers, head on over to Mary's blog.


  1. Great explanation ... but you should still watch "The Godfather" if you get a chance ... it is absolutely one of the best movies I've ever experienced in my life.

  2. Excellent C.S. Lewis quote. Really sums it up, doesn't it.

  3. You were pretty original with the "combing my hair with peanut butter" comment. LOL Haven't heard that one before.
    I love romances but am usually drawn to ones where there's a lot of conflict between hero and heroine. I also tend to like wounded heroes.
    Don't psychoanalyze that. I'm not. LOL

  4. KLO - Oh no - another Godfather fan. Okay, okay - I'm definitely thinking about it.

    Christine - Yeah, I thought that quote was pretty great too!

    Jessica - I also have a weakness for wounded heroes... it must be why we both like House so much.

  5. I agree with you about the new experiences. (That's what I plan to say in my post too.) Motherhood is definitely an experience that changes you!

  6. Great thoughts about originality. We do have to have a depth of life to draw from for our writing. The richer our experiences, the more we can add to our writing. And I agree that motherhood is indeed one of the richest experiences!

  7. I want my characters to be fresh. I think that's really IMPORTANT. On the other hand, story lines, I can't worry about AS much.

    I LOVE Heather Graham's Florida Series. I read a reviewer who said, they are good stories, even if they are redundant. I thought, well, when you get it right, run with it! LOL I ate those stories up! one by one!

  8. Sandra - Yes, motherhood really makes you see life in a new way!

    Jody - Yes, I love your use of the word "richer" in terms of our experiences. That is exactly what I was trying to say.

    Bethanne - Oh, I totally agree. I would rather have fresh and interesting characters over fresh plots any day.

  9. Love the Lewis quote. I hope someday you'll give GF a chance. It is a human condition film, not just a gangster movie. :) It might surprise you.

    Excellent post.

  10. For me, it is the characters that keep things fresh. A well rounded character sells me on any book.

    I love the cats pic and the C.S. Lewis always amazes me! The man was brilliant! Thanks for the quote!

    I've never had a desire to watch "The Godfather" either...

  11. I think it's also a matter of taste, not necessarily better or worse...but preference. I've watched the Godfather movies with hubby...and fell asleep. Couldn't even sit still for the Lord of the Rings. Great post:)

  12. I think I stick to the same central themes for all my stories, but I do try to mix up the content ;) - Really, I try :)

  13. You're totally right. We are drawn to certain things--the things that entertain us. So of course, those are the things we're going to spend our time reading / writing / watching. And I've realized from the books I've been reading: It only takes one or two things that are different to make something truly unique.

    Oh, and great quote!!

  14. love the quote and the post! And I'll agree with the others, you are so right. I am usually drawn to a particular type of story and character, but as Elana said, it often doesn't take much to make it different and fresh. Just a little twist here and there. Now, finding that twist....that's another story :D

  15. My hubby is a HUGE Godfather fan. (And I have to say, even though I was totally reluctant, I did enjoy watching the first two) :)

  16. Mary - Well when you call it a human condition film that is definitely something that talks to me more. Hmm... I'm definitely feeling more convinced.

    Nisa - Yes, I agree characters can make or break a book.

    Chelle - I absolutely agree with you on it being a matter of taste. I am sure The Godfather is as great a movie as I've been told, I just don't know that it will interest me... although there are some convincing comments here pushing me towards at least giving it a chance.

    Debora - I find myself coming back to similar themes as well, and I think you do a great job of mixing it up!

    Elana - It's true sometimes just a twist is all that's needed to make an old idea fresh again.

    Michelle - I know, sometimes those unique twists can be hard to find!

    Jennifer - Is there any man who doesn't love The Godfather? LOL, although I guess if you liked it too that's another one in the "at least try it" column.

  17. I love the quote. It's very poignant.

    Honestly, I have to tell you that I, too, was a little bit bored during the first LOTR movie. HOWEVER, I rented the second and kicked myself for not seeing it in the theater. Once you get a grasp on what's going on in the story, they are great movies.

    This is a great post, and really points to the subjectivity involved in this endeavor.

  18. Kat - It is very subjective. And I think there are some movies, books, etc. (like LOTR) that just fall into that love it or hate it zone. Or in my case, love it or fall asleep;)

  19. Argh! I'm reading your post again and I feel like I ripped yours off because you talk about experiences and honesty. I didn't mean to, I swear! Maybe this is an example of reading something so true you keep running with it. Talk about less than fresh, on my part.

    Anyway, have you seen Goodfellas? I haven't see The Godfather either, and I didn't think I wanted to watch Goodfellas, but it's great. I thought it was going to be all gunfights and spaghetti, but it wasn't. Maybe The Godfather is the same way.

    I am always drawn toward the same stories, too. I really love reading and watching about dysfunctional families.

  20. Annie - LOL, don't worry - I don't think that you ripped my post of at all! And no I haven't seen Goodfellas, because I've always kind of lumped it in with "The Godfather" as something that I just won't like - maybe I'll have to also put that on my list of movies to reconsider.

    And if you like dysfunctional families then I highly recommend "Rachel Getting Married" and "The Squid and The Whale" if you haven't already seen them. Both are awesome Indie movies.

  21. Ooooooh, what a FANTASTIC QUOTE!! I should probably print that and put it up near my computer.

    I can totally relate to the Godfather thing, too. No interest. (I like LotR tho. ;-)