We all want to make our books as unique as possible. It’s about grabbing the attention of that busy agent or harried editor, making it so they absolutely must stop what they’re doing and sit right down with your submission and – of course – ask for more. Through three unsold manuscripts and the sale of my series to Dorchester, I’ve developed a few techniques that help me keep my quirky paranormals fresh. Hopefully, they’ll work for you too.
The character push
In the beginning of my series, the heroine’s long-lost grandmother shows up and – whoops – locks the heroine in her bathroom with an ancient demon. I’d pushed the situation, but the grandmother was too nice. My critique partner called me on it and, blast her, she was right. I sat down and brainstormed a few pages of alternate “grandmas” before I hit on an idea I loved – a Harley biker witch grandma who hurls recycled Smuckers jars full of home brewed magic. One character change and the book became a lot more fun to write.
The unexpected additions
It’s also important to be open to unexpected characters. When I sat down to write my series, I had no notes about a sidekick for my heroine. But when Lizzie learns she’s a demon slayer and there are some very scary, very angry creatures on her tail, she takes comfort in her dog. As I was writing, I thought, ‘This is a sweet moment. Now how do I throw her off?’
I made the dog say something to her. Nothing big. After all, he’s only after the fettuccine from last week. And he knows exactly where Lizzie can find it (back of the fridge, to the left of the lettuce crisper, behind the mustard). It amused me, so I did it. Thanks to her unholy powers, Lizzie can now understand her smart-mouthed Jack Russell Terrier. I ended up having a ball with it. And as an added bonus, Pirate can say and do things that my heroine can’t.
Sometimes, the first idea isn’t the best idea. Mini-brainstorms during the writing of a chapter always help me see if where I’m going is where I want to be. Sometimes, I go back to my first idea. Other times, after I’ve forced myself to come up with a page full of alternatives, I find I like a new idea better.
It works on big plot points, but just as well on little details. For example, in A Tale of Two Demon Slayers, Lizzie finds a mysterious egg-shaped stone. I had no idea what it was, but decided to play with it. Turns out, it was a dragon egg. The egg hatches and Lizzie’s dog, Pirate, decides he has a pet. It made me smile to think of a pet owning a pet. Lizzie is not happy about that. She has enough going on and doesn’t think her dog needs to own a pet.
So she tells Pirate to find a new home for Flappy the dragon (Pirate named him, not Lizzie). So Lizzie is battling evil people and losing track of what Pirate is doing. He keeps promising to find a new home for the dragon, but instead Pirate is hiding the dragon, and loving the dragon and teaching him tricks. Every time Lizzie realizes the dragon is still there, it’s gotten bigger and bigger and, well, it’s just one more thing she can’t quite control.
The “chill out – this doesn’t have to count” brainstorm
Sometimes, when a chapter just isn’t working, I have a hard time making the (often necessary) massive changes, because I don’t know if I’m going to make things better or (gulp) worse. But one day, I borrowed a technique from my days as an advertising writer and lo and behold, it works on fiction too.
I made a duplicate copy of the impossible chapter, and then went to town on changes. By letting my brain loose on a “throw away” chapter, I freed it up to stop thinking about “How am I going to get my heroine out of the love scene and ramped up for hell?,” to “Hmm…pillow talk. This is a good time for the hero to admit he wasn’t one hundred percent honest with the heroine at the start of the book. Now the heroine can get so mad that she dumps his boxers in the ice bucket, throws his pants off the balcony and almost goes to hell without him.”
Brainstorming is all about freeing up your mind and your creative energy. You get to surprise yourself, and feel the rush of excitement as you hit upon new ideas and new places to take your story. Because when you’re fully engaged in the story, pushing your characters harder, waiting to see what’s around the next bend – chances are, your audience will feel the same way.
Angie is giving away a copy of A Tale of Two Demon Slayers right here! Just take the quiz, inspired by Pirate and his pet dragon: What supernatural pet is right for you? Post your answer in the comments and you're entered to win!