My family likes to stroll along the beach of Lake Huron which is just a short drive from where we live. The first time we went, we spotted thousands of tiny shells in the sand.
As we gathered them, we were amazed by their exquisite complexity. Home to snails, the narrow shells spiral to a pin point tip and are not more than half an inch long. Hues of brown swirl together forming intricate patterns.
What struck me most about these delicate shells is that we never found two that were completely identical. While they were all shaped the same, each was unique in some way.
Writer's stories are like those shells. Whether we're writing fiction or non-fiction, the basic structure remains the same. We need hooks, engaging dialogue, characters who struggle and overcome adversity, and much more. The craft elements of story-telling are the same for all of us. We must study and learn them.
But the stories themselves? Our stories must swirl together in complex patterns that are like none other. The passions that color them, the experiences that make them shine, the life we breathe into them--all come together in a way that makes our story different than any other ever written.
And yet one of the writer's greatest struggles is discovering a story that is completely unique to ourselves. With so many other shells on the shore--stories already written, how can we possibly make ours different?
James Scott Bell, in his book, Plot & Structure, outlines some questions that can help us push beyond the ordinary to find unique ideas:
1. Has this type of story been done before? He says that almost always the answer is yes. But that we should brainstorm a list of possibilities until we find something no one has seen before.
2. Is the setting ordinary? If yes, then search for a place that has not been used as frequently.
3. Are the characters you're thinking of made of old stock? How can we make them more interesting? Can we find a fresh perspective? Again he suggests brainstorming and not throwing out ideas until we have a long list.
4. Is this story "big enough" to grab a substantial number of readers? What can we do to make it bigger? How can we raise the stakes? He says that death (either physical or psychological) must almost always be a threat.
5. Is there some other element that you can add that is fascinating? He encourages us to think about our idea from every angle and to find a twist or two that will enliven the story.
Bell says: You need to come up with hundreds of ideas, then choose the best ones to develop. . . By going deep within your own heart and soul, you will find a wellspring of ideas to write about.
Each of us has a unique story to tell. Have you struggled, really struggled, to push beyond the ordinary? Is your story swirling with the complexity of your ideas? Or are your stories too much like everyone else's? What are some ways you've dug deep inside and found your unique ideas?
Join in Friday when we'll discuss the uniqueness of the writer's voice.