Lesson Eighteen from a Manuscript Red Line:What makes your story Unique?

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

This one might be tough, and was the subject of a one-hour conversation between the author and I as we tried to figure out how to do it.

The Publisher said that the story reminded them of Percy Jackson, and the world seemed too much like the Lord of the Rings.  Their comment was that they understood that not all plots are unique, but they want their authors to take what is not unique, and make it unique. They wanted to know what the author could offer in this world that has not already been done, and “why were people on horses and not in cars” (since the story does not take place in the past)

Wow.  Tough one.

One of the things that initially drew me to this story was the very “typical” medieval fantasy world.  Knights on horses, Kings, Queens, a sorceress, and throw in a few faeries and a centaur for good measure.  Simplicity.  I really liked it.  I read another beta with a similar world, but he threw in these outrageous sci-fi-like creatures that they had to battle, which seemed very out-of genre to me, and ruined an otherwise GREAT story.  The Gold Mine Manuscript has a great plot and characters that I can relate to, and it is simple and enjoyable.

But… the publisher wants more.

The author has discussed a few ideas with me.  Some seem great.  Some make me cringe.  I’ve only read the “Act One” revise, so I have not seen too much of the fantasy world yet (Act One takes place in Tennessee)  I don’t know what the author is going to do.  I am holding my breath and biting my nails.  I have the utmost confidence in the author’s ability.  I just hope that the simple pure nature of the original story does not get lost in reaching for “uniqueness”

For the rest of us…

How do you know if you story is unique?  I think mine is, but I don’t really know.  I haven’t read anything like mine, but that doesn’t mean it’s not out there.

I might find a publisher who thinks my ancient flute buildings, next to old Renaissance architecture, next to newer modern buildings is weird.  Will I change it?  Dunno.  They might find it weird that my characters walk everywhere and don’t use cars, but they travel on space ships to other planets.  Will I change it?  I see no reason to.

There is nothing drastically bizarre about my setting.  Yes, it takes place in another galaxy, but the setting is not what my story is about.  It is about the characters and interpersonal relationships.  It is about a boy who has gads of magical power, but is so afraid of it, that he uses the power to erase his memory.  Unfortunately for him, he still needs to save the world.  I see no need to distract from my story by making it “freaky” so it seems “different”.

Is your story unique?

This is a tricky question.  You won’t really know until you get your manuscript into the hands of a publisher if your story is unique in their eyes.

All I can say is, good luck.

Jennifer Eaton

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9 responses to “Lesson Eighteen from a Manuscript Red Line:What makes your story Unique?

  1. Pingback: Lesson Thirty from a Manuscript Red Line: Finale! Summing it all up | Jennifer M Eaton

  2. I have to agree there is the authors own unique voice and style to a story, even if it does seem like it sounds like something else. I had that issue with one book that someone reviewed negativly saying it was “stolen from another authors work.” One I never even heard of. But it was still my style and my voice, even if it does need work. :)

    • Similarities are common. You just have to make it your own. I had a few people compare my WIP to Dune, which confused the heck out of me until all of them said it was because I referred to the families as “Houses” It’s silly how a simple word stuck with all of them.

  3. Really good informative advice.

  4. Always love the insight here, Jennifer.

    My first (unsold) ms was unique in the storyline. But, I was uneducated in the craft of novel writing. I filled reader’s heads with too much info dump on a penny stock scam. Why? Because I knew that info and wanted to share it. I also repressed my “voice” so I would sound more lyrical–like the authors I read. The first 50 garnered a request for a full. The full garnered a request that I submit elsewhere.

    I’ve since spent time learning the craft. I agree with Sherry that we bring our own unique voice and perspective to any story, make it unique enough to grab and hold a reader’s (agent’s) attention. Weave in plot threads. Create memorable characters and keep learning the craft.

  5. This is a great topic, Jennifer, and one I’ve recently been thinking about. Probably because my current WIP, a short novella, isn’t particularily unique and it’s missing that lovely twist that makes it sharp and interesting and “wow, isn’t that cool”. :)

    I do think the characters make a story unique, like your boy who uses his magic power to erase his memory, then needs his power. And I do think the characters can immerse a reader so deeply into the story, the reader forgets there is nothing else “unique” about the story. I love your idea, btw, and hope I get to read this story soon! :)

  6. Ah. Unique. But difficult? I don’t know. No one else has the same perspective, the same experiences or the same voice, so no one can tell a story the same way. Case in point: Rachel Harrie’s Campaign Challenge this fall. The first challenge, write a piece of flash fiction beginning with the phrase, The door swung open. I lost count of how many entries – well over 300 the last time I had checked. Impossible to read them all, but I did read about 20, and the different takes each author had on that one phrase was mind-boggling. Each story was unique.
    My advice to new authors, find your voice and embrace it, and don’t be afraid to put yourself on the page. No one will tell a story the way you will.
    Refreshing site. I’ll be back.