So I finally got around to reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I know, I know, I'm SO behind the rest of the world. But I had a feeling it was going to be a book I couldn't put down, so I wanted to make sure I had the time to dedicate before I picked it up.
Well, I was right. I couldn't put it down. I read the whole thing over a day and a half. I'm not going to review it because I know many of you have already read it, but I will say, it was a wonderful page turner. And the premise was not like anything I've read recently, which got me to thinking about what makes a story stand out.
We all know that everything has been done before. To come up with a completely original idea is next to impossible. And not always preferable--if it hasn't been done before, there was probably a reason, lol. And even The Hunger Games, which definitely feels unique, is standing on the shoulders of the dystopian novels that have come before it like 1984 and Farenheit 451. It also reminded me of a short story I read in high school called The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell where the guy goes on a hunting trip and find out the "game" are humans.
So what is it about this take that makes it resonate with so many readers? Why did the Vampire Academy series hook me so well even though I've read WAY WAY too many vampire books in my life?
With many of you writing YA, this challenge becomes even more difficult. You have to have teens, which means there is usually (not always) some kind of school involved, there is often first love, angst, casual voice, etc. If you're going the paranormal route, there are only so many mythical creatures and psychic powers out there. And romance is the same way--every story is boy meets girl (or boy meets boy in m/m) and they face some conflict, and then they end up happily ever after. So why is YOUR story so different?
If you haven't already, take a look at Agent Janet Reid's yearly stats. You have to be in the top 1% of everything that comes in her inbox to get her to consider you at all. And that's just to get an agent, that's not a guarantee of getting sold. So if a completely original idea is unattainable, what about your story is going to make you stand out and shine? Take some time and really examine that.
Ask your beta readers when they are going through your pages, "What does the story/voice/character remind you of?" It will inevitably remind them of something. Dig into those answers to make sure you're not too much like whatever they remind the readers of. And then ask them what is unique about your story, what makes it stand out. Whatever that is--voice, characterization, heart-pounding pacing--play to that strength. You can't be a one trick pony, but I think finding your strength gives you something to build on so that you can distinguish yourself from everyone else.
So what do you think is your strength? What makes your story stand out from others like it? Have you ever freaked out when you read a book that had a remarkably similar premise to what you were working on? Did you change the story or keep going with it?