Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Fresh And Original

STATUS: Relaxed. I have just a few minutes before I pop out to meet my evening appointment—Jaime Levine at Warner Books (or should I say Hachette Books USA).

What song is playing on the iPod right now? Well, CNN Headline news is on instead.

As an agent, I’m sure that writers have heard us say many a times that we are open to any story as long as it is fresh and original. Funny enough, the editors feel the same way.

Now I’m positive that most writers do believe their novels to be fresh and original and sadly, that is the point that is most often missed (and usually the reason why queries or partials get passes).

At least once a day I receive a fantasy query letter that has a quest-oriented plot or dragons, or is a battle of good and evil and at the end of the query letter, the writer will state that his/her story is original because the focus is on character development.

Well, all good fantasy has strong, developed characters. I’m sorry to say that character development in itself cannot be the “original” aspect of your story. It’s standard and what you really need is a story approach, hook, or plot that’s revolutionary in its uniqueness.

What creates originality is taking a concept that is done to death (because there are no new stories under the sun) and envisioning and creating a whole new possibility that reinvents the known fantasy world. As a reader, it makes you gasp with a wow, what a brilliant idea. Why has no one thought of that before?

Then you have fresh and original.

Let me give you a great example. This author is not mine by the way so there is no self-interest in giving this example. Betsy over at Ballantine Del Rey gave me a teaser for HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON. She thought she had seen everything possible in dragon fantasy. What is left to invent?

Quite a lot actually as debut author Naomi Novik demonstrates.

Here we have an alternate-reality historical novel of the Napoleonic War where a 18th century naval captain captures a Chinese dragon, becomes a dragon master in the British aerial corps to defeat Napoleon in the war for the continent. Patrick O’Brian with Dragons.

If you’re thinking, “how cool is that?” then you are starting to get the idea of what I’m trying to explain. Now your work might not be an alternative reality historical novel but when you explain your concept to someone, it should incite that same reaction regardless of whether it’s epic, urban fantasy, or whatever.

Get the picture?