Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Trends vs. Authenticity

Photo Courtesy of Halle Stoutzenberger
The first novel I wrote--the one that DIDN'T make it to publication--was written around a trend. I hate to admit it--I feel like I should be better than that--but I would be lying if I told you THE MERMAID GENE wasn't influenced in some way by the success of HARRY POTTER or TWILIGHT.

That's not to say I ripped off either of these stories. In fact, I was (and am) really proud of the unique and original way I brought a paranormal romance / urban fantasy / mystery to life. But the trend came before the story. I looked at HARRY POTTER and TWILIGHT, and I thought to myself, "What do those stories have in common? They took familiar cultural icons and completely reinvented them. Hmm, what's a cultural icon I could reinvent? I know, the mermaid!"

Perhaps that's why THE MERMAID GENE didn't make it. (That, and my rookie mistakes, and the flood of other writers who also had mermaid ideas.) I learned my lesson, and I promised myself I would never base another novel on something as fluid and fickle as a trend. Because here's the thing. I dig THE MERMAID GENE. I think it's fun and different and deep. Although the story has some structural problems and needs a good dusting, I think there's real potential there. That's why it hurts so much to be stuck at the dock, watching the mermaid ship sail away.

I heard a great quote on Twitter the other day. I can't remember the exact wording, but it said something to the effect of, Don't try to write the next FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Write what is in your heart, so others will want to become the next YOU.

Yep, I definitely scrambled that quote so much it's probably unrecognizable. But you get what I'm saying. It's wonderful to feel influenced by the work others around us are doing, but we should always try to put our stories first.

If we build a novel around a trend, it will most likely read like a novel built around a trend. If we build a novel around who we are, it will most likely resonate somewhere deeper inside our readers' hearts. And guts. And souls.

Know what I'm saying?


Bethany Myers said...

So true.

Motivation based on the need for success will lead to disappointment. But the desire to do something you love will result in magic.

Great post, Lisa. Good luck with the second book. It sounds awesome!

LTM said...

Too true, Lisa! On all points--both the "don't chase trends" and the "write what's in your heart." I've been following that "what's in your heart" tip so long, though, it's starting to be hard to believe. But I still can't give up on it! :o) <3

Kalen O'Donnell said...

Whatever Lisa, just...whatever. The Mermaid Gene was amazing, and I just, I just don't even want to hear it, okay?

So like, whatever. You go revise your new book or do whatever, I'll just, I'll just be over here sulking and boycotting all publishing in general because nobody published The Mermaid Gene. Mmkay? Is that okay?

Cuz that's what Imagonnado.

These rambles were brought to you by the letter I.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Hang on to that idea - you never know when it will be fresh again. My first book was written over thirty years ago, and then re-written when everyone said science fiction was dead. I still found a publisher. Your story might enjoy the same!

E.B. Black said...

I don't get when people say they wrote a novel based on a trend. I've never written a novel with this in mind: "Hey! That's popular, I'm going to write it!" That being said, I write what I like to READ and sometimes what I like to read is what is popular, so I do "write what is trendy" on occasion, but not on purpose.

So I get really confused. Is writing for a trend something that's done purposefully or accidently? Maybe I'm not making a lot of sense, but I've always felt like there was a fine line between the two. And that most people don't purposefully write according to a trend.

LisaAnn said...

@Bethany: You nailed it. You gotta write because you have a story burning inside you. Not because you think it will make you rich and famous.

@LTM: I hear THAT. It sucks that things we love aren't aways "sellable," and this is something I HATE about this business.

@Kalen: Lisa loves Kalen. That is all.

@Alex: Really good advice. Makes this whole thing feel less final. :)

@E.B.: Great points! For me, the difference is the order. Did I come up with a great story first, and did it just happen to fit into a trend? Or did I hone in on a trend and then try to come up with a story that would cash in on its success? So, I would say that writing for a trend is purposeful, where writing something that fits into a trend isn't.

You are right that a lot of authors don't "purposefully" do this, but I would argue that many--especially many first-timers--do. Look at the flood of paranormals that hit the market after TWILIGHT. Some of them are brilliant, but some of them "feel" like knock-offs. What are the odds that those authors DIDN'T look at the market first and then base their ideas around it?

(Again, there's nothing wrong with this if they did. Many got published, so it clearly worked for them. I have just realized this isn't my path, because I grew into really, really loving my story, and I hated having my work overlooked by publishers because they "already had a mermaid book.")

Linda Jackson said...

Don't look at it as writing to the trends, Lisa Ann. Look at it as Harry Potter and Twilight being the books that inspired your writing career. Had you not read those books and written something similar, you might not have ever known you were capable of writing a novel. :)

Emily R. King said...

Great post! We all could use more guts and soul when it comes to our writing. The publishing industry can be a fickle thing. We need to know who we are as a writer to withstand the shifting currents. Well told stories that speak to the soul are ALWAYS marketable!

ecscott said...

I vote for authenticity too. Fantastic reminder, Lisa. Thanks.

Dinda Amanda said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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