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A Setting Alone

Here’s the thing: I rock at settings.

I can come up with the absolute coolest setting for a book EVER. I can plan it down to the last detail, I can draw a map of it, I can make my reader see EXACTLY what I want them to see. I can develop a character bio in five minutes flat. I can communicate a family dynamic without explaining it to the reader, and I can get my MC’s voice to come across perfectly within the first chapter.

What I have a hard time with is the question of what, exactly, is going to happen in this awesome setting with these awesome characters?

After your thoughtful comments on the beginning of my new story, I’ve got some great ideas about the direction I’m going to head in. It’s going to be different than I originally thought, but I think it will be really cool.

The only problem is, I can’t figure out what’s going to happen, and anyone who’s ever been near a book can tell you that’s not good.

I think the reason I’m so stumped is that I’m trying to be super original. I feel like every idea I come up with has been done absolutely to death and I just can’t face sending something like that to an editor. I know there are only seven original plotlines in the world or whatever, but surely, SURELY I can put an original spin on one of them.


Do you ever feel like all your ideas are just ripoffs of somebody else’s? How do you get your brain to think outside the box? Any tricks for opening up your creativity?

23 thoughts on “A Setting Alone

  1. Thank you for posting this. I am going through the same thing right now. I wish I had some words of wisdom for you. =(

  2. Anne: Well, even if we can’t think of anything original, at least we have the coolest names in the world. 🙂

  3. Plot building for me tends to grow out of character, but it could easily grow from setting, too.

    Here’s some questions that come to mind to generate plot: What kind of character would not thrive in your cool setting? How would he/she cope?
    What activities or desires would be taboo in your setting?

    It seems to me that if one can create obstacles starting with desires, one could surely do the reverse and create desires starting with obstacles. Right?

  4. Nice post. I do have that feeling actually, but only because of comments I’ve received.

    I used a friend’ small contest on to work out some chapters for my mutant novel. Well a guess reviewer flat out called it an X-Men ripoff, as if they are the only ones allowed to have characters with genetic mutations. Sure there are some that might have been influences (fire and ice is one, single character, but he does both and it feels cool because I came up with it from a dream) but that doesn’t mean I saw X-Men and thought I should cash in on stuff like that. It’s just a way I decided would be fun to have powers but not have it be “magick”.

    I think when it comes to the plot, the big story line ideas, sure almost all are rip offs of each other but it’s the characters and how plots/subplots are combined that make it different. Like boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy loses girl cause of villain and has to fight to gain her back. That has been done a gazillion times. My version = Boy meets boy, falls in love with boy, loses boy to villain (kidnapped) and has to fight back despite his fear of his own powers or becoming a weapon in hopes of saving him. 😀

    Not sure that helps but great topic. On a different note, I need to go work on setting cause that part I don’t do well. *scurries away*

  5. I can’t remember where I heard this, but recently someone said something that really stuck with me:

    There are no new ideas, but no one has ever heard a story with your voice.

    …Something like that. Basically, it’s so true–just look at Hollywood! How many movies have been made with a small New England town as the setting? Even characters that are similar in many ways! But no one has ever heard YOUR story in YOUR voice. It can make all the difference. And I think hearing that has helped me let go of that overwhelmingly HUGE obstacle of “it’s already been done”.

  6. I know what you mean, but for me, I try to come up with one MAJOR difference between my book and the other stories, and play that up as much as you can. I’ve still had to change certain things throughout my revisions because they still reminded people of other books (I swear all the good ideas are taken sometimes) but a having the one primary difference really helps a lot. For me at least.

    Happy monday!

  7. Laurel: That is a really great way to look at it. I think I may just try to use that idea. Thanks!

  8. Dawn: Yeah, you’re right. Everything has been done a gazillion times… I just have to find my own spin to put on it. Thanks!

  9. Shannon: Yeah – I think so many books, especially YA, can be compared to Twilight now. I’m super paranoid of people seeing my book as a “Twilight ripoff” even though so many other books may begin the same way. I’m actually reading “Fallen” right now which basically started off just like Twilight, and then by the end of it it’s nothing like Twilight at all.

  10. That’s happened to me before, most definitely, where I feel like everything I come up with has been done before. I don’t always come up with my settings first–I think together we could make a great book, because I always have concept and climax when I start, but little else. So we could put my concept and climax (and usually like 2 token characters and a cool magic system) with your awesome setting, family dynamic, character bios, and fabulous talent of not having to explain things, and bam! Awesomesauce recipe!

  11. Ugh, I hate the attack of feelings like that… You know that whole 6 degrees of kevin bacon thing? I think that applies to most books too–you can find similarities in ALL of them if you look hard enough. or, at least, a connection from one to the next to the next.

    But I think you work to make your own book unique–what makes it different? Because even if foundations are similar, you can still end up in a way different place than how another book gets there–or get to a similar spot but following a WAY different path…

    (for the record:

  12. My characters and plots tend to spring up together – intertwined. Not sure why or how. I tend to see the ending first and the plot rewinds from there. Odd, but it works for me 🙂

  13. I used to have the same problem. I could devise a kick ass setting, characters, and be plugging along for 30 pages or so then bam! Brick wall. Two books helped me: “The Screenwriter’s Bible” (the simplest breakdown of storytelling I’ve read) and “Plot & Structure” by James Scott Bell. The latter even has exercises for coming up with ideas. Those two got me primed, and I haven’t had any trouble since. Now my problem is finding time to get all those ideas perfectly expressed on paper.

  14. I second Lorel, I was going to recommend James Scott Bell’s “Plot and Structure” too, which has been so helpful for coming up with interesting twists. One technique that’s really stuck with me is, when it comes to deciding what happens next in your story, stop and list 10 possibilities. Chances are the first 4 or 5 will be predictable cliches, but after that you should start getting in to some unique ideas.

    Anyway, we’ve all been there. Keep at it and good luck!

  15. Alexandra: HA! That reminds me of Seinfeld. “Maybe the two of us, working at full capacity, could do the work of one normal man.” I like it!

  16. Sara: Yeah, so true. I’ve just got to find a unique way to present my story. And I love the six degrees! I used to play that game all the time!

  17. Lorel: I will definitely have to check into those books. I think I need something like that, you know? Something to break it down for me into a manageable task. Thanks for the suggestions!

  18. Alicia: That’s a great idea. It actually reminds me of what my advertising professors used to tell me at UA, that the first good idea you come up with just means your brain has finally turned on, and that “good idea” is the worst one you’ll have in the next hour or so.

  19. I recently wrote down all of my ideas and combined some to make a more original plot and one big uber idea. That way, hopefully, the story won’t go flat. But I’m pretty good at coming up with original (at least I’ve not seen/read/heard of them) ideas. My problem is trying to rewrite a fairy tale or continue off of someone else’s idea. I was never very good at those exercises.

  20. I know how you feel, unfortunately all too well. I wrote a werewolf story because it was what was in my heart, the character that was screaming in my head. Well, it’s a trend now and my book is being submitted on the tail end (no pun intended) of that trend. This means publishers who enjoyed my book are passing because they already had a werewolf book. Ugh. Though my agent is still optimistic and submitting aggressively, this has affected the next book I wrote. I made sure to pick something I loved and felt a strong pull to, but that wasn’t a past or current trend. One never knows if their timing will be good but you can keep an eye on trends and stay away from them!

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