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Thursday, June 10, 2010


Twist On an Old Topic

Last time I posted, I discussed writing articles that had a different slant for topics that have been done a million times like water safety or Abraham Lincoln. That post also made me think about novels and plot lines, and I've decided that the same concepts can be applied to longer works.

At one critique group I belonged to, somebody told me there are no new stories. All plots can be categorized in to one of four categories: man vs. man, man vs. God, man vs. nature, or man vs. self. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but I do know there are some topics that have been written about time and time again, and they continue to be written about--but with a little spin.

Take for example Katherine Howe's debut novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, which centers on the Salem witch trials. There have been countless books written about this period of history. So if it interests you, how do you come up with something new? Howe did by asking an interesting question or two: "What if magic were real? What if there really were witches in the world (Salem)?" She explores these questions as she weaves together the present-day life of graduate student Connie Goodwin and the 1680s and 90s life of Deliverance Dane. She took an old topic--the Salem witch trials--and put a new twist on it--maybe some of the women really were witches.

I tried to do this myself with the middle-grade novel I wrote titled Finding My Place (which is currently under contract with White Mane Kids). My story is set during the United States Civil War, and we all know how many hundreds of books--fiction and non-fiction--have been written about this time period. I read a lot of kids books, and what I discovered is most are set in the North and most are about soldiers or a child in the army. So, I decided to do a twist or two with my story--I set mine in the South, tell the story from a Southern girl's point of view, and keep it mostly about the citizens. Hopefully, it worked--I guess it worked enough to be noticed by a publisher.

So, if you are interested in writing a book about a topic that already has several titles about it listed on Amazon, then don't give up your dream. Look for an unusual story in your research that no one knows much about and expand on it. Try writing from a point of view that most people don't. Ask questions that are unusual or not often thought about. You can still write about that common topic and write a great novel--just put a twist on it.

post written by Margo L. Dill ,

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