Writing advice, Writing and Editing

Eight Story Ideas Editors Hate

Last week I talked about the problem with being original in our fiction (and poetry and stuff), namely that there are no more original stories, just original voices and original ways of telling the story. It should be what we are shooting for, our ultimate goal, the unique voice that only we have. Cinderella is not an original story. But the way you tell it could be.

With that as a starting point, there are still a few story ideas and plots most of us should avoid for the simple reason that they have been so overdone that most editors and publishers will not bother to even entertain your (possibly completely original) version. I’m sharing this list not to say “absolutely don’t write this story.” If it burns in your imagination, by all means, you need to write the story. We also should not be discouraged just because something has been done a lot. We just need to be aware of the difficulties. The odds against us being published are always pretty bad, trying to sell an overdone story just makes our mission even more difficult.

Keeping the above caveats in mind, I present: story plots to avoid:

Anything featuring vampires or zombies.

With the success of the Twilight series and AMC’s The Walking Dead, every writer on the planet seems to be trying their hand at some twist on the great undead invasion. Unfortunately, most editors and the like are growing tired of the subject. Many publications now say they will no longer accept any works on the subject.

Serial killers.

Again, editors have seen so many versions that it’s hard to entice them with yet another.

The small town with a terrible (paranormal) secret.

The boarding school.

Like Harry Potter and everyone else.

The apocalyptic weapon that will destroy mankind unless…

This has been done so often it really doesn’t mean anything anymore. It would be easier to create drama by having the bad guy targeting something smaller and more personal. (Not to mention more realistic)

The bad boy with a heart of gold.

He’s just misunderstood until the heroine meets him. He’s often a profligate womanizer too until he meets the heroine and then is suddenly transformed into a chaste one-woman man.

The overly demanding parents.

They expect nothing short of excellence from their children and their pressure causes all sorts of pain and anguish for the young protagonist(s).

Lovers get together at the end of one book, only to break up sometime before the sequel begins, so they can fall in love again in the sequel.

Besides being overdone, it’s kind of a cheap trick. It’s much easier than having to create an entirely new character to fall in love with. Besides, it risks just writing the same story twice.

I’m sure there are others out there, but I think these are the primary ones. If you think you have a great idea for a story of say, a serial killer, go ahead and write it. Perhaps your work will be the surprise bestseller of the year.

But go into it with your eyes open, knowing that because of the subject matter you’ve got your work cut out for you.

Will you accept the challenge?

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Writing advice

Story Ideas

This is one of the most frequent questions I’m asked, both by readers and interviewers:

Q: Where do you get your story ideas?
A: I take long walks and find them lying alongside the road.

Seriously, the world is chock full of stories and story ideas. We just need to look for them.

There are three billion people (and growing) on this planet and each of us is engaged in a daily struggle to find and make our place in the world. Each day is a story. Each day is made up of many stories, small victories and minor defeats that all tell a story. Each has a high and low point, a conflict met and overcome—or not—a problem solved, for better, or worse. We, as writers, just have to pay attention.

Listen to the stories the people around you tell about their lives. We are a species hard-wired for story-telling. We do it at the dinner table, in the break room, at the neighborhood bar. Listen. Glean them for story ideas: how does your boyfriend deal with the backstabbing rival at work? How does your little sister deal with the boy who has a crush on her at school? How does she discourage him without being out and out mean? How do you come up with the thousand dollars to replace your car’s transmission? Every one of us lives a myriad of stories every day.

Watch the news. Read the newspaper. Both mediums are based on high drama (it’s what drives the ratings), mostly tragedy, but also tales of heroism and the human spirit overcoming incredible adversity. Pay attention. Take notes. Keep a pen and paper with you, or download a note-taking app for your phone. Be ready when an idea appears.

Most important of all, every writer needs to be adept at the old childhood game of “what if?” What if an ordinary man could become invisible? What if we lived in Florida during colonial times and a hurricane came ashore? What if you woke up one morning and your entire life up to now was just a dream?

What if? The possibilities—and stories—are endless.

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