Writing Powerful Scenes, Part 6: Novelty

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Have you ever read a novel where the entire book lacked a single element that was original? Sure you have, lots of times.

Whenever you begin to read in an established genre, you find that many novels are written as an homage to a well-known book. Thus, after Treasure Island was written as a serialized novel in 1881-1882, an entire industry was spawned, as knockoff pirate novels filled the book racks. Forty years later, when movie pictures had grown up enough to tackle books, pirate movies had their own heyday.

Over a decade ago, literally hundreds of writers were doing vampire novels or zombie novels, hoping to get in on the gold rush. Some of them were quite good, and many had their own innovative twists, but only a few of them had enough “novelty” to make you feel that they were original.

As a contest judge, I read thousands of short stories, and one of the major elements that I searched for was novelty. Far too often, I found nothing.

So as you construct a scene, you have to look at it and ask yourself, “What can I do to imbue this with some originality? Do I need to work on creating a unique world? How is my character different from every other character I’ve seen? Are there themes, images, twists of phrases, or methods of handling the story that are unique?”

In short, you need to dig deeper if you’re going to astonish your reader. As you find ways to imbue your story with uniqueness scene after scene, it gains more power, feels more original as a whole.

I’ve seen novels that start off seemingly original, but then crash halfway through. I’ve read books that seem mundane through much of the text, but then show some unique twists at the end. Ideally, you want to have a blend. You want your characters and your story to be enough like things that readers have enjoyed in the past so that they’ll become involved in your fictive universe. Yet if you look at the books that consistently get a generous push from the major publishers, you’ll see that there is also something unique in them.

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