By Chad “Giving it a shot” Morris
Something has been on my mind. For a story to be successful I think it has to be 1) unique, 2) extremely well-written, and/or 3) blow-your-mind cool. One of these three may be enough, but two usually seals the deal. Three, and you’ve got quite the accomplishment on your hands.
One of the reasons I have been thinking about this subject is because I took five extremely excited kids and an excited wife to the drive-in on Tuesday. The movies?
It was perfect. All my kids enjoyed Pixar’s latest, then the younger ones went to sleep by the time the Hulk was crushing monsters. (One of my favorite moments was when Captain America said “No mam, there is only one God and I don’t think he dresses like that.” My son leaned over and said. “I think he’s Mormon.”)
Since Tuesday, many have asked me what I thought of Brave. In a nutshell, it’s pretty good. The animation is amazing, the story is fun, and it has some heart. But that’s it. And though the story took a twist from what I expected, it wasn’t incredibly unique, extremely well written, or blow-your-mind cool. Pixar has succeeded at each of those on other occasions (my favorites: Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc.), but this one was . . . alright. (Oh, and I do agree with Shannon Hale: "Yes, we loved #BRAVE, but I left confused by the title. Better title: AWESOME RED HAIR.”)
On the recommendation of several of you, I picked up Variant. I have to admit that the cover, including the backcover copy didn’t really grab me. It didn’t feel unique. "Trust No One?" You could write that on the cover of 80% of books or movies. However, when I started reading, I got sucked in. It did stand out as different. I’m still trying to unravel how unique it is . . . and I love it. I’ll keep you posted on my review.
The big reason this has been on my mind is because Shelly and I are trying to finish up a solid draft of a book this week. The whole amazing story is Shelly’s idea. She wrote all the awesome characters, heart, romance, and humor. She brought me in to write fight scenes and the magic system (Yeah, I’m the shallow one in our relationship).
The problem?—it is a fairy tale retelling. And if that wasn’t enough, it is a Cinderella retelling. Do you know how many times that story is redone? And redone every year? So why would anyone want to publish our version?
That is the question rolling through my mind in every chapter. It has to stand out as unique. We didn’t switch genres and make it sci-fi. We didn’t modernize it. We found others ways. But I find myself thinking about it all the time as I review. Is it unique enough? And I think that is a great question to ask.
I think this is a great question to think about for any novel. Is the premise unique? If it is another story about a girl who discovers she is a half-fairy, you probably are going to have put a lot of time and energy into making it extremely well-written and very cool. Another kid who slips into a world of dragons, satyrs, and centaurs? Yep, same thing. A vampire romance? A werewolf romance? Good luck. (A Slime Monster Romance? Maybe?)
Don’t get me wrong, Harry Potter works. So does Beyonders. But Hunger Games had a step up just on premise.
Is it well written? I mean really well written. Do the characters grab you? Does the plot pull you through? Do the details fill out a well-known world with new depth or perspective? Can you put it down?
When retelling a story everyone knows, this is extremely hard. You have to find ways of making the reader wonder how this is ever going to fit the story they know.
Is it mind-blowingly cool? Does it just plain sound awesome to kids? Does the idea, or character(s) just excite them? Frankly that is the leg the Avengers stands on. The only thing that really makes it unique is that it has so many superheroes together. The plot isn’t incredibly unique, though it is well-written (Full points for humor! I laughed out loud again when Iron Man called Hawkeye “Legolas”). But what carries the day is that the whole thing is just plain cool.
Now, I’m pretty optimistic about mine and Shelly’s story. We pitched it to an editor in the big leagues and she requested a full. But whether or not it is unique enough, well-written enough, and just plain cool enough is still untested. We’ll just have to keep asking ourselves that question, revise like crazy, and hope for the best.