Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.
Don't forget - today's the last day to get your entries turned in for the "I've never been the type" contest. When the contest is over, it'll be a few days before the finalists are listed, and then another few days or week until the winners are announced. And I do my best to get results email to everyone as quick as I can.
A writer emailed me to say, "Sometimes my stories feel like they have kind of a similar... theme? plot? I'm not sure how to explain it but I don't know if it's just me or it really is kind of repetitive. What would you do if that happened to you?"
Well, this has happened to me. Late in my teens, I realized that all my main characters in all my stories were basically me, with some improvements. Me but funnier, me with better hair, me but smarter. The results were stories that read flat, that lacked oomph.
When I realized that I'd basically been writing the same character over and over, I decided to try being intentionally different with my main character. The result was the creation of Skylar Hoyt in what became my debut novel, Me, Just Different. (Ha, irony!)
|View the book on Amazon|
The result, even from the first draft was a book that had a BIGGER feel to it. A, "This is going to be the book that gets me published" kind of feel. (Even still it needed massive rewrites and a couple of book surgeries before it was publishable. But there was a quality in this manuscript that made me willing to do that, when I hadn't been willing before.)
I thought it was going to be hard to write from the perspective of someone so different from me, but instead the writing felt fun, liberating, and exciting. My experience with writing Skylar in The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series has encouraged me to continue pushing myself out of my writing comfort zone.
If you're wanting to brainstorm beyond your typical characters, plots, settings, or themes, I would make two columns. On the left, I would make a list of what you typically do. My list would have looked like this:
My main characters are always:
And then I would make a list of opposite traits, just to see what it sparks. This was tricky with Skylar, because of course a loud, outgoing, dumb, slow-witted, confident, mean person would not make for a good main character. But that list of opposites did help me come up with ideas. Skylar isn't dumb, but she's not a fan of school and is a solid C student. She's confident, but only in how she looks. Her insecurities lie in who she is in her heart. And Skylar's mistrust of others often makes her seem cold or unfriendly.
What about plots? All writers have plot devices they tend to fall back on. Consider making a list of yours, then add to it as you discover them.
In The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, I originally had Ellie having these weird visions at times, but then decided that was way too close to the dreams Skylar has throughout Out with the In Crowd. So dreams/visions are apparently a pet plot device of mine.
Jill Williamson shared in a post a few weeks ago about how a reader pointed out to her that she always has a girl sweep in and save her male main characters from their troubles.
Just knowing about your pet plot devices will help you avoid recreating them in every manuscript you write.
Now, themes are a bit trickier because we write about what's close to our heart. Honestly, I think if you work hard to create different characters, put them in different places, and have different things happen to them, the theme will take care of itself. But I'm in the camp of writers who doesn't plan out her themes, who figures them out as she writes the first draft.
Here are a few other thoughts I have on how to expand what you write:
Seek out new life experiences.
Experience stories in all genres. Watch movies and read books you wouldn't naturally choose.
Try writing a story in a different genre, even just a short story.
Have you ever purposefully written something different? How did it go?