From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

When is repeating yourself a bad thing?

When I was brainstorming The Keeper, I started out with characters. I knew my MC, knew his situation, knew the third grade teacher in whom he was interested, and had an idea for a couple central scenes. But my outlining and story just seemed so sparse, definitely not something I thought could hold up an entire novel. Then I added a thread of magical realism and all the sudden the holes seemed filled, the story complete. Like magic.

The same thing just happened again. For novel #2. I have my main character, a stubborn 18 year old girl this time instead of a 40 year old man. She's haunting me just as much as George did, not willing to let me go on without her. Even though I've been trying. I've had the same problems. I know her, I know her family, I know where she's going and who's going to be there. Still, though, there just doesn't seem to be enough for a whole novel, and not enough uniqueness or excitement. Then a magical realism thread dropped in, and it all seems to work. And it's not about my teenager falling in love with a fantastical creature, so that's good.

But for some reason part of my brain is fighting this new development. I specifically wanted to keep things in the realm of realism for this one, not do the same thing as last time. This one will be in first person instead of third, a teenage girl instead of a middle-aged man, and a totally different story, but still, I wanted to do realism. But this story isn't letting me, and despite my hesitations I'm excited about just jumping in and going with the flow. Ah you guys, being excited about a new idea is one of the best parts of writing.

I wonder if I'm having a hard time with straight-up realism because I'm young? Maybe I just need to experience more and then I'll feel like I can write a real-life story. I'll keep trying, but for now I'm okay mixing it up with a dash of magic.

Do you find yourself coming back to a set of basic story elements time and time again? How different do you try to be with each story, and is it okay to do some things the same?

Sarah Allen


  1. I've never even considered writing anything outside of the speculative fiction umbrella, simply because those are the kind of stories I enjoy reading. Also, keep in mind that with the current ebook revolution, readers have started to read and appreciate shorter works of fiction. Most of my stories end up being novella length, and I've never felt inclined to pad them out with unnecessary subplots just to attain novel length. But that's just me. Do what is best for your book. :)

  2. I think the story is finding itself, and you should go with the flow. If you try to turn a story into something it doesn't want to be, then you'll run into problems later on.

    A lot of my characters want to die. I've tried to keep them alive, but they still keep dropping down. I suppose that's kinda the same sort of thing?

  3. I think sometimes a story needs to be told in a different way than we expect. And even though we sometimes fight against that, the story finds its' own way somehow.

  4. I agree with the previous folks. If something falls in your lap that makes the story come alive again, you can't deny it. Sure, you may tweak it as you go, if it feels too similar, but it dropped in your lap for a reason... it works.

    I would say you're probably finding some of your style, and that's OK. It's like when I starting noticing most of my stories were dark, violent, depressing, and that for some reason the least likely of characters comes along and makes an impact on the lead character in some way or another. And like you, I often get stuck and then some surrealistic element comes up and I'm happy with it again. I, too, often find myself less amused with the realism I try. But when it comes to realism, I look at it this way... I want fantastic stories, but I want them to be realistic. I want them based in some sense of reality, with themes I can grip my fingers on and say, "Yeah, I've been there, and it was hard. Keep moving, Lisbeth." Realism with a pinch of surrealism is nice, in my book/opinion.

    I don't think you have to worry about repetition until the story elements overlap. Like if you have two stories with the exact same synopsis. Like if you have a story with a plot of a man making a pact with the devil, comes back from hell and rides a motorcycle and another story that has another guy coming out of hell but this time driving a car, you might have a problem. By the way, that would be Nicholas Cage in #1 'Ghost Rider' and #2 'Drive Angry'.

  5. Hi Sarah,
    Great topic. I too have had challenges where my characters or the overall story wants to go in a certain direction. I then find myself trying to go that route, thinking that this will be great, I'm trying something new and different. And then a couple weeks later the interest dies down. I realize it's because I was forcing something that my heart and my mind weren't completely invested in.

    Not sure if this will help you, but I find giving myself time away from the piece and letting it stew will allow me additional perspective.

    Anna Soliveres

  6. I find myself repeating the twin themes of strong women and surrealism in my stories. I usually tweak them so that they stand on their own, even though the themes are basically the same.

    It works for me and makes my stories just interesting enough to not turn people off.

    To whit: upcoming novel features a bit a sci-fi/fantasy in the form of a strong female symbiont.

    And another novella I'm working on features the themes of Heaven and Hell mixing in with the real world. Again, MC is a strong female from the dark side.

  7. i don't know if i do that--but it's an interesting concept

  8. Hi, Sarah. You may not remember me, but I was in creative writing this past school year. This post was super helpful. As you may know, I've been working on my personal narrative. I got a little bored with doing that, so I started a different one and they both sound extremely similar. So what would you recommend I do?

  9. I think it would be fun to write it both ways a fully realistic version and a magical one. See what happens.

  10. Referring to G.B. above, I've noticed with myself it's a matter of tastes. There are types of characters and themes that I really like to see in movies and read in books, and that I also really like to write. Like G.B. I've found writing strong heroines is quite enjoyable, and I often have strong themes of criminal psyche, corruption or domestic violence. But I don't consider myself repetitious to a deplorable end, if I write about similar themes from time-to-time, as I think it's really the story and character that will drive whether readers find it droll or old hat. But maybe I'm wrong.

    @Haley: I feel your pain on that about the narrative bit. I honestly just kept experimenting, trying different types of stories, different ways to narrate, different perspectives to write from, different ways to tell a story (is it fluent or jumpy?), and eventually after years of messing around I found a narrative of my own that worked for me.

  11. I'd suspect if you are noting similarities, it's probably because those are the sorts of things you like to write and the sorts of stories that inspire you. I wouldn't worry about it. I am usually pleasantly surprised to find common threads in my writing. I think "Oh! I didn't realize I was so interested in weird developments in animals raised for the meat industry. Maybe I should pursue this actively."


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