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What makes your novel stand out?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Spider, Apr 26, 2014.

  1. Spider

    Spider Sage

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    Is it the setting, the characters, the plot, and/or your writing style? Maybe something else? Lately I've been thinking about how my WIP can stand out among other books of its genre, and I was curious to know what makes yours shine. Of course, I'm not just aiming to tackle one of the aspects I listed; I do believe that focusing on all of them would help it stand out anyway. I've just noticed that some books excel in, say, character development more than an engaging storyline and are thus recognized for this facet as opposed to others.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. Malik

    Malik Archmage

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    My WIP is a portal fantasy series, in which characters from Earth find themselves in a fantasy world. This is not what makes it unique. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this makes it just about as non-unique as anything out there. The Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court trope has been done so many times that it's one of the most reviled story concepts, or so I'm told; it's right up there with "It was all just a dream!" and the one about the farm boy who discovers he's actually a prince. The fact that Harry Potter exists -- and HP came along after I'd drafted the outline for my series and banged out a few rough drafts of the first book, BTW -- doesn't help things. A whole generation who grew up on Harry Potter is now knocking out first-draft fantasy novels that are basically retellings. That's how it works, though.

    What sets my series apart -- I hope -- is the realism. Not so much the every-little-detail; GRRM has that handled. But I've done a few things in my day. I'm a former stuntman, high-rise window washer, and boxing coach. I worked in Army Special Operations where I received advanced training in hand-to-hand and hand-to-weapon combat, small unit tactics, leadership, and trauma medicine. I currently write and lecture on desert warfare for the Army, having trained with the French Foreign Legion in Africa.

    On the civilian side, I have consulted with international think tanks and geopolitical experts to aid developing nations, and recently had a chapter published in a book on the Syrian conflict. I've helped tribes become nations. I've worked and lived with people who still believe in magic, and who survive in a world made by hand and lit only by fire. I know what's missing in most fantasy worlds and I know where a modern man would really be useful and how he could make something of himself.

    I've said this before: I intend for my series to do for swords and mail what Tom Clancy did for the nuclear submarine. I intend on using all of this to do it.

    The big thing, though, that sets my series apart from most other portal fantasies (at least the ones that I've read, with a few notable exceptions) is that in most portal fantasies, it seems that the protagonist is a stoop-shouldered loser -- usually a kid -- with no redeeming qualities, who suddenly learns that he is A.) secretly a prince in another world; B.) secretly has magical powers; C.) is secretly half-angel, half-demon, half-dragon, or something else that gives him magical world-conquering powers; or D.) insert "Chosen One" cliche here.

    I think this rags-to-riches bull**** is endemic of a society that not only believes that instant gratification is somehow healthy, normal, and expected; but that also views study and mastery of anything as freakish and suspect. (There's an ironic real-world parallel to this, in the number of self-published fantasies flooding the market these days written by authors who have clearly never had so much as a 300-level English class.)

    My MC is a grown man. He's a former world saber champion, and works as a stuntman and technical consultant for fantasy and swashbuckling movies. He's one of the best in the world at what he does, and he has pretty much destroyed his life by focusing on this one thing, because when he screws up at it, his world is wrecked. This thing he does so well, though, is of inestimable value when he finds himself in a fantasy world and facing an enemy mastermind who is also from Earth, and who has risen to tremendous power using a few tricks of his own he brought over.

    That's the difference: my guys have worked for it. The magic portal to the other world is not a chrysalis transforming them from grub to monarch during the trip.

    I'm not playing on the schtick your mommy tells you, about how "everyone's special and you just haven't found your gift, yet." That's children's fantasy, and it's dishonest. I'm a realist; you can find your gift and spend your life honing it, and the world might not give two ****s. That's how it works.

    The last thing is that it's a portal fantasy aimed at grown-ups. I know grit is cliche, but I'm all about the grit. Gore, sex, horse****, saddle blisters, torture, eye-gouging fights. A beta reader called the first novel in my series "A Connecticut Yankee in Westeros." I consider that high praise.

    Now all I have to do is find someone to publish it.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2014
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  3. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

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    I would say with my fantasy series, the setting is what set's it apart. The cover for Flank Hawk and Blood Sword hint at it (a mixture of magic/mythical creatures and technology. In Flank Hawk (see below), the WW II era aircraft sharing the sky with a dragon. In Blood Sword the attack helicopter with griffins (see below). It's not totally unique--very little out there is--but it's not 'run of the mill' either.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    The cover for the third installment in the series, Soul Forge, is being created even as I type this. I'm excited to see what the artist will come up with.
     
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  4. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I'm trying to write a simple story about a normal guy being a normal guy and not doing anything spectacular or epic - in a fantasy setting.
    I'm hoping that my story will appeal to people who have read a fair bit of fantasy and who might be a little jaded on the big adventures and epic scale of things, but who still enjoy the escapism of fantasy. I want my setting to feel like a place you'd want to be in, nice, pleasant and comfortable, but still with an air of mystery.
     
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  5. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    My goal is to be "the most something..." on the market once I put a book out there. I want it to be the weirdest, the most insane, the funniest, whatever. I want people to say "well, that was different." At the same time I obviously want it be good also. I don't know if everyone will love my writing or hate it, but I figure if I'm going to put myself out there, I want to go full-tilt with my novels. I'm a bit safer right now, but I'm pretty sure my next novel is going to be the weirdest thing I've ever written. Will it be the weirdest out there? Probably not, but I'm going to aim for the top anyway.

    Not sure how different my current novel is, but it follows a monster hunter (a theme of mine) that is also like a "pop icon" in a way. People adore her, look to her for fashion tips, etc. But she doesn't want to be perfect physically or aesthetically, but be the perfect hunter. However, when her name is smeared, she uses her skills as a hunter for different reasons.

    There's also a scene where my MC fights a demon that's like a Russian nesting doll. Probably one of the most disgusting scenes I've ever written. I'm very proud of it. :)

    My hope for my next novel is to write one that takes place almost exclusively in one house but has many of the trappings of epic fantasy. It'll be interesting for me how it turns out.
     
  6. stephenspower

    stephenspower Inkling

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    Malik, I think that's a cool idea for a series so long as the nonfiction elements don't intrude on the story the way, say, the technical chapters of Moby-Dick can drag the book down for some. My question is, what does your MC want? If he's the right guy in the right place at the right time, but he doesn't have the doubts of, say, Thomas Covenant or the angst of, say, Harry Potter, what's his conflict beyond those thrown at him he has to defeat? Your story sounds, in general, like Wizard of Oz, except the wizard is more evil and your Dorothy more bad ass. Does your MC just want to go home? I'm also curious what point of view it's told from. It sounds like a great story to be told from the sidekick's point of view.

    As for my fantasy novel, what makes it stand out for me at least is that the ruling order is an oligarchy, which lets me play off real life in more sf way than fantasy usually does.
     
  7. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    I'm not seeing a lot of American print novels right now with Japanese influences. There's all manner of manga-influenced online works, and I'm seeing some stuff on American TV with an anime influence, but novels written in America for distribution in bookstores seem to prefer to use American comics as influences. I think there's more of a market to be tapped than people realize, not by trying to draw in Japanophiles (who would rather read manga or watch anime), but by introducing ideas and themes from Japanese media to Americans who aren't necessarily familiar with them. With my current project, this means that I'm taking ideas about identity and self-delusion from Paranoia Agent and the Persona series and exploring how they would work differently in an American cultural context than a Japanese one.

    (Granted, In Persuasion Nation is already a better American Paranoia Agent than I could ever hope to write, but it was largely working with older folks, and its depiction of teens read like the author hadn't met any since the '80s. I'm working largely with young folks, modeled on the young folks around me.)
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2014
  8. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I agree that this market or idea hasn't really been tapped into. I find that my experiences here will eventually turn into a story, but may be more reality based. I feel like Japan is often seen as this wonderful, magical place, when in reality there are only pockets of that here and there. I think it would be interesting to view Japan through the lens of someone who lives daily life here and how it's actually quite normal. My perspective as a foreigner may be more skewed though. Not sure how appealing that would be, but I'm always interested in deconstructing myths. Yes, Japan does have lots of weirdness going on, but I find that I rarely see it in my everyday life (unless I go urban parts of Tokyo).
     
  9. Malik

    Malik Archmage

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    So glad you asked.

    The tagline for the first book is "I didn't come here to sell my soul. I came here to buy it back."

    The protagonist had been a media darling and Sports Illustrated cover boy -- handsome, dashing, full of wit and roguish charm -- until he killed another fencer in a duel outside a bar and ended up barred from competition forever. He evaded jail time but took a savaging in the media (think of what Nancy Grace would do with a story like that). He lost his endorsements, lost his beautiful starlet girlfriend, was shunned by Hollywood, and when a tabloid TV crew found him a year later, raving drunk at a bar in Greece working on a sword-and-sandal movie with a laughable budget, the resulting interview spawned memes for a man at rock bottom. When we meet him, he's crawling out of this hole but still immensely damaged.

    All he wants is to be great again -- and the offer he gets to travel to this other world and lend a hand to their cause promises exactly that -- except the whole prior experience left him with an aversion to fighting for his life, because he's realized that actually killing people can have world-wrecking consequences.

    He spends the first 3/4 of the book kicking ass in training but freezing up in actual fights. So on the one hand, he's working to overcome his demons and racing against the clock to do so; on the other, he's trying to redeem himself (to himself) but he keeps letting the opportunities slide. In that respect, there's also a whole subcurrent about self defense and moral relativism and another about the obsolescence of the warrior caste in modern society. (Because I'm professional military, that's why.) The short of it is, he realizes he's finally in a place where it's acceptable behavior to kill someone if the general consensus is that they had it coming. This, of course, has its ups and its downs.

    The fun part was writing the crux of the novel, when he decides **** it and digs deep into all his training and knowledge and mows his way through a platoon-sized element of badguys, and then goes full-bore Gaius Maurius on the evil mastermind. At that point, the nations of the fantasy world begin to realize that they may have more on their hands than they bargained for.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2014
  10. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    I think my combination of subject matter is what makes my stories stand out more than anything else. Not too many other writers I can name who write jungle adventures featuring dinosaurs, ancient Egyptian and other African cultures, and Nordic barbarians all in one package.
     
  11. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    @Phil: there's a lot of stuff about what it's like to live in Japan--it just happens to have been written by Japanese people. :p

    @Malik: wow. I am staying far, far away from your story, but I fully expect that you can outsell John Ringo.
     
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  12. Asterisk

    Asterisk Troubadour

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    (Wow, I was just writing about this last night!)

    I think two things make my story unique -- the setting and the protagonist. Lindmîr is a world with lands that don't just expand, but grow upwards, with layers only the mind can see. So basically, the first layer is what your eyes see, the physical land. Then your mind can enter the second layer and the layers after that. And the protagonist...well, at the start of the book, she's depressed. A little crazy from being isolated so long. She's being trained to be a killer, but hates to kill. She's obviously got a massive transformation to go through if she's going to be the hero of the story, and that's what I'm working on right now. :p
     
  13. stephenspower

    stephenspower Inkling

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    That's very interesting. It's sort of like a cross between Harry trying to decide if he can kill Voldemort crossed with Anthony Swofford's desire to actually snipe someone in Jarhead. What's the alternate universe culture like? Wouldn't they denigrate him for not being able to finish an opponent? Also, do fencers really have back alley duels the way bowlers have midnight games for money a la Kingpin? Because that would be awesome: Sword Fight Club.
     
  14. Malik

    Malik Archmage

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    They do. His mentor chews him out while he's convalescing after a savage ass-kicking. After the big fight where he takes out a roomful of bad guys, his mentor apologizes and tells him to dial it back a bit.

    Not to my knowledge. Another fencer came at him outside a bar because he thought his girlfriend was cheating on him with the MC. The other guy died by accident.

    Underground dueling clubs crop up across the world as a result of the media attention and the portrayal of fencers as roguish 'bad boys.' The MC crawls into a bottle after being offered a reality show about it.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2014
  15. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    okay Malik, I've never actually heard about your book before but I'd totally beta read that. I like realism and grit. Two of the things i prefer to write, actually.

    Okay, as for what makes my book unique, is that my characters. All my characters in all my novels are normal people. Whatever plot elements I throw in there, love triangles, undead, epic quests, magic that backfires, being descended form dragons, being a werewolf, WHATEVER, they're normal people. My power level is low and I like to explore those things that make us most human, our fears, love, friendship, family, heartache, loneliness, paranoia, and need. I like to break characters way down and give them a happy ending. I like to show love my own way. Interesting, difficult and unexpected. I like to write my romantic scenes the way they go in real life. Awkward, raw and sometimes funny.

    I like to explore deep into my characters and show their weaknesses, tear open the closets bursting with skeletons, and generally make them uncomfortable in every way. Why write a priestess when it's more interesting to have the MC drag a blind priestess around? Why show a dragon when you can have a dragon that emits radiation, killing everything within twenty miles of its home? I try to use those fantasy elements people are comfortable with and change them just enough to make them a little unexpected. I also love secrets and twisty plots. I never write a straightforward adventure. It's always about the chase for me and in revision I try to make sure every scene leads into something bigger later on.

    I think some of my choices are really strong, creating new elements from old concepts, but more often, I like to just make it my own. I'm hoping that even though my stories are nothing entirely unique, my style is the thing that sets my stories apart.
     
  16. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    My novel length works are either accidents or leftovers from my early years as a writer. Instead, I am writing a 'connected web' of short stories and novellas, where the protagonist of one story may or may not make an appearance in another tale.

    I decided against the epic quest format because it leaves too much out. What gets overlooked all to often is that epic quests often include a great many 'little quests', and it is these tales I write - soldiers and civilians and rogues and petty magicians, each with their own lives and goals.

    Many of my characters are or were involved in the 'Traag War', a brutal decades long conflict spanning thousands of miles. The things they saw and did in that bloody holocaust changed them.

    Then there are the things lurking in the shadows, the demons and spirits and monstrosities skulking and plotting in the weird dimensions bordering the world. Many of these entities are straight out of Lovecraft. Most of Lovecraft's protagonists did not survive encountering these entities. Many of mine, though, are just tough enough, or just lucky enough to survive their experiences. Sometimes they even 'win'.
     
  17. Compared to some of these ideas, mine is pretty simple, but I'm not saying that it is that unique to begin with.

    Anyway, with my novel (s) I'm planning on twisting the common tropes of epic fantasy.

    To begin with; the "Chosen One" though exists, but he loses a leg, suffers some nasty torture as the result of my MC who sells him to a religion who need him; they torture him to break him and allow his body and looks to be stolen by a Sidhe. Anyway, he gets out, and turns into a really screwed up evil person- he is meant to be a saviour.

    The prophecy that he belongs to is bollocks, made up by a god to further his own goals.

    My MC is nasty, vicious, and has little conscience. He is also an unashamed badass. He is offered the chance to save the world by his gods. Become a badass, with god forged armour, enhanced powers, becoming the mortal sword of his gods. He doesn't accept, instead letting the world burn whilst he pursues his own revenge.

    The setting also features heavily changed elves, dwarves and giants, has quite a bit of magic, and the setting is a mix of ancient Greek/Rome and European early modern (15-17th century).

    The story is full of battles, death, gore and people questioning the cost of war, how men and women loose their humanity after wading through rivers of blood, what the cost of power is, and my MC, who is a great fighter, feels powerless whilst trying to negotiate being a general and political playing fields.

    My MC is also trying to deal with the knowledge that he had lead to the destruction of many cities and towns, whilst telling himself that he swore and oath to avenge himself and his family (for him, Oaths are everything, a lot like Saxon/Norse culture). So though he is a badass, he is susceptible to emotional turmoil.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2014
  18. stephenspower

    stephenspower Inkling

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    I wonder if the non-Western culture influences on Western sf/f align with which culture is currently a threat to the West. Whenever the US gets into a war or nears one, books on the enemy get popular because American readers are curious who this enemy people is perhaps knowing this before getting into a war would prevent some wars). So the Japanese-influenced books started coming out in the late-70s and 80s when Japan was becoming a greater economic force. Similarly, I would say the rise of dystopian novels is a reaction to America--thanks to Bush's wars, torture policies, all-seeing security apparatus, militarization of the police, and push for oligarchy, all of which Obama has continued--becoming its own worst enemy. One could say, Where are the Islam-influenced books? to which I would respond, Everyone knows Muslims aren't the enemy. That said, there is clearly a Middle Eastern influence in Game of Thrones, and if I were better read I'd point out where I'd bet it's elsewhere. Japan's no longer a threat, thus no books.

    In fact, given the greater cultural awareness of Western readers and the slow death of the mysterious Other, books translated from the Japanese might make a play in the West. Actually, with English becoming increasingly spoken in China, I wonder if we'll start seeing some great Chinese sf/f written in the authors second language. I bet we'll see more Cold War-like books coming soon as Putin's movements are turned by the media into existential threats to America.
     
  19. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    Malik, I like the sound of your novel. Sounds fun. I also think we kind of think along the same lines. I'm a stickler for technical details and try to make my fight scenes as realistic as possible, though my MCs are freakishly talented so they do occasionally pull off a move that probably wouldn't work in real life. Both of them are what their world calls Chosen, but whether they're chosen by gods or demons is debated. The Chosen are extremely rare. In fact, for more than one to be living in the same generation is unheard of. They're enormously gifted in a single field of talent, in the case of my MCs it's fighting, but that talent is no guarantee of anything. Many people find it suspicious and frightening and therefore hate the Chosen. The first time my protagonist fully unleashes her gift and kills eight men in defending herself and others, she's crushed by guilt. Then she's captured by slave traders and spends several months with them, soul searching, squirming under her remorse, but eventually she sees what happens when she doesn't use her gift. She sees the people the slavers victimize and realizes if she'd used her gift on the slavers and killed them, those innocent victims would still be going about their happy, normal lives. She partially blames herself, her weakness, for their fate and resolves to never fail that way again. From that point on she resolves to properly use her gift. When my antagonist first uses his gift to kill, he knows he should feel remorse, but he refuses to face exactly what he's done and burrows underneath a mound of rationalizing, justifying and excusing. And each time he kills, he burrows deeper into that mound. In short, the protagonist goes through the painful process of facing herself and becomes a stronger person as a result. The antagonist refuses to face himself and his soul rots as a result. There is, of course, a final climactic battle between the two in the midst of the antagonist's stronghold.
     
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  20. Michael J. Tobias

    Michael J. Tobias Scribe

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    My WIP isn't unique at all. It's a YA version of Game of Thrones with just a hint of Divergent and a nod to The Matrix. It deals more with spirituality than GoT or Divergent and it has a few unique creatures and plants, but that's it.

    Honestly, I have no idea if it will "stand out" or not. I hope kids who read it feel empowered and enjoy the interaction of the main group of characters. I hope they learn a little from it. I always write for me, though, so I'm writing the fantasy novel I want to read.
     
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