I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure out what I wanted to share with all of you. Part of that may be that I’m currently in Georgia, at my brother’s wedding. I’m always so fascinated by weddings, because everyone is so different. Do you do pictures before or after? Sit-down dinner or buffet? Big or small? Considering how long people have been getting married, you’d think it would be hard to always be original. But time after time, couple after couple finds a way to make it unique.
It’s this instinct that I look for in the books I read. Love stories have been around forever, but we keep coming back. Tristan und Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, Tony and Maria. Same basic story, told in new and interesting ways.
I guess that’s the secret, the way you can decipher that publishing code. When editors say they’re looking for “high-concept” stories, it doesn’t mean we want every theme you’ve ever heard of thrown together in a big mish-mash. It’s about bringing something special that will resonate, even if you think they’ve heard it a million times before.
Modern Family, ABC’s new sitcom, is a perfect example of this. If I just told you the plot of an episode–father buys son a bike, sees bike outside of arcade, steals it to teach son a lesson about responsibility–you can probably guess where it’s going to go. But watching it unfold, it’s like you’ve never seen it before. Something tiny, like a quirky line-reading, or an extra twist when you thought it was over, makes it special. (Also hilarious, but I could write pages and pages about Modern Family, so I’m going to hold back.) But other than just enjoying the show, I am drawn in by the sheer ingenuity that went into making it.
The creative process is always interesting to me, which is what brought me to publishing in the first place. In Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George”, a musical about painter George Seurat, this is how he describes the color “white”: ‘A blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities.’ And it’s true, the possibilities are endless–and a little bit daunting.
That’s why I always remind writers that they are the best part of their writing. Your voice, your point of view, your style–that’s what makes your work unique. Don’t let yourself get caught up in trying to create a plot that has never, ever been seen before. Trust yourself, and you’ll always be happy with the product–and so will your readers.
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