Several years ago, I was invited to join a group of people who were working on a shared story. The characters were already created, and the basic plot had been laid out, and we were supposed to claim a character and run with his or her part of the tale. I leaped wildly into the fray, and was having a wonderful time writing my character, until one afternoon when another member posted her portion of the story, which included my character. His dialogue was all wrong, his behavior was odd and his motivations seemed to have been turned upside down. I complained, and was told that as long as another writer didn’t kill my character, everything else was fair game. I didn’t write another word in that world. Not that I was flouncing away…rather the opposite. I didn’t know my character anymore. The goals I’d had in mind for him weren’t going to jive with what the other writer was thinking, and we’d have probably spent the whole time pulling him in different directions. That was the first time I truly understood that no two writers see a story idea the same way.
Think about all the romances you’ve ever heard of. Generally they’re only interesting as stories if there’s some family issue or social problem to keep the lovers from their happiness. You won’t ever read a romance in which boy meets girl, they fall in love and get married with the happy support of everyone around them and live happily ever after. It’s lovely in real life, but boring as hell in fiction. We want a little pain and conflict so the love was earned. Just like Elizabeth and Darcy…. except Jane Austen wrote them already. So does that mean no one can ever write another romance? Of course not. The trick is doing it your way, in your voice, and remembering that your story may have similiarities, but it’s still your story.
Today I have an assignment for you all. I’m going to write a short paragraph, and I want you to come up with what you think comes next. Don’t worry about what you think I might have been thinking. Don’t try to build on other peoples’ tries. Write what comes to mind (a paragraph at most, please) and have fun. You might even find yourself coming up with a whole story out of it. Ready? Here we go.
Raymond tried to open his eyes, blinking against the shimmering brightness above him. Was he dead? The last thing he remembered was the storm, its driving wind whipping the lake into immense waves that broke over the sides of his fishing boat like the hands of some water giant, grabbing, pulling him down into the inky cold. His cheek pressed against rough sand, and he pushed his tired body to a sitting position.