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Transcript for Episode 1.2

Episode Two of Writing Excuses: Blending the familiar and the original

From over at https://writingexcuses.com/

This was kind of hard to summarize – lots of great ideas and interplay. So this is rough notes, not a nice transcript or summary, but I think it gives an impression of the episode.

Key Points: First, some discussion about what is meant by combining an ordinary idea and an extraordinary idea to make something unique. Then some discussion of how this juxtaposition changes. Postponed discussion of writing the story you want to write for another time as a can of worms. Third was some talk about keeping up with trends and anticipating them.

What do we mean by wedding an ordinary idea and an extraordinary idea (or mundane and fantastic)?

It changes over time. For example, the idea of worm gate transportation connecting the galaxy was extraordinary, but now it is almost cliché. But when I thought about what would happen if the transportation copied people and someone abused that, then I had something extraordinary again.

The strange attractor: take something that is familiar, but look at it in a strange way

What do we mean by something familiar, and something strange?

Something you can relate to, like kids in high school, and then something strange, like the teacher is an alien, demon, angel, robot, monster, etc. and you get Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Does it become a cliché? When does it become familiar?

Juxtaposition is in danger of becoming cliché. When you see kids in high school, you expect to see the monsters because of Buffy.

But we need to remember that different people have different desires, so the mix that people are looking for may be different. Romance people like the same story with different names, the general reading public wants 70% old stuff and 30% new, and science fiction and fantasy right now is probably running 60 to 70% new.

Different audiences want different things.

There are risks in this. A lot of people are talking about singularity and post-singularity, where the artificial intelligence and other changes make characters not identifiable as characters. For character driven writing, this is a big problem.

When you sit down to write, you need to decide how much new stuff you’re going to put in.

Can of Worms (discuss another time): Write the story you want to read.

The bizarre does become familiar. Part of the key to finding your audience is that you have to be aware of the trends.

Sometimes the extraordinary can be something that is also mundane.

One definition of genius is combining two fields of thought that had not been combined before.

When you look at the history of fantasy, we get Tolkien, then Donaldson, then Jordan. And now we’ve got a new set of writers. Each took what was unusual before and then took a few further steps.

[We need to learn to anticipate what’s mundane and familiar.]

Parting thoughts:

Sir Isaac Newton said, “If I see far, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.” . . . The current crop of aspiring authors see a long way because of what has gone before. Don’t stand on the shoulders of giants and look around. Stand on the shoulders of giants, pick something that is out of reach, and then jump for it. Pick something that is weird, extraordinary, and from this vantage point that we have today, take a leap and take a risk.

When you are putting a book together, the book will be much better if you take one unimportant thing and explain the heck out of it; then take one important thing and don’t explain it at all.

Take a long hard look at your originality, and make sure it’s really original. Usually you can take a few more steps, if your familiar is strong enough.
Parting thoughts that were excellent: Don’t just stand on the shoulders of giants and look around at the view, look far out and take a leap! To improve a book explain the heck out of one unimportant thing, then don’t explain some important thing at all. Make sure your original is really original — if you have a strong familiar, you can probably take a few more steps with your originality.

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