Creating Variety in Stories

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    As a new and inexperienced creator, sometimes I feel like the material I work on is always very much the same. Whether it’s the tone, character models, or even just the intention of the story, it always end up being very similar. How do each of you change up your pieces and motivate yourself to keep the different personalities of different stories consistent?

    "Only a Sith deals in absolutes"
    -Quipmaster 2005

    Taylor Clogston


    I’ve struggled with this for a looong time. These have helped me:

    • Step outside your comfort zone regarding what stories you consume. I used to read books that had a very narrow set of fantasy tropes, so my stories all felt like a rehash of the same stuff. When I started reading books I didn’t think I’d like at the recommendation of people I respected, I realized that not only did I love many things that I thought would be boring or dumb, but that there was so much more to literature than what I’d been reading all my life. If you’ve only ever tasted salt and pepper, you’ll never be able to come up with a dish using ginger and chiles.
    • Put restrictions on your projects. If you always find yourself writing stories about an orphan who overcomes tremendous odds, decide that your next story (it doesn’t have to be a long story) will be about someone completely different. Restrict yourself out of the things you lean on the most, at least on occasion.
    • Deliberately combine things that don’t obviously go together. There’s a fantastic Game Design Conference session titled Practical Creativity where Ralph Koster, creative direction of Star Wars Galaxies, describes creativity as what happens when you actually mix oil and water together. Anyone can look at Lord of the Rings and ask “What if Sauron was the good guy?” but I’d say “true” creativity is asking “What if you took all the themes of hope, perseverance, corruption, and loyalty and you applied them to a Texas ranger accompanying a schoolbus of kids during the apocalypse?” Or maybe that’s also too obvious.
    • Give yourself the freedom to “doodle” and “sketch” writing. It’s okay to journal down a scene that’s completely disconnected from any story anyone will ever read just to give yourself the freedom to explore an idea or a quirky way of describing a character. Experiments that only you will ever judge can help you expand your comfort zone when it comes to writing new things.

    Last year, to give myself a break from my “serious” project, I started writing a serialized martial arts story that I intended no one to ever see. Giving myself the freedom to write dumb things and combine them in ways I’d never have allowed myself to before created the starting point for the richest worldbuilding I’ve ever made, not to mention the first proper novel I’ve ever finished.

    Consume lots of different kinds of stories, restrict yourself from the creative choices you know you overuse, and combine new things in an environment where you’re as free from judgment as possible (unless you decide to clean it up and ask for other people’s feedback). I promise you’ll discover a creative muscle that has always been there but just needed the right kind of exercise.

    "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

    R.M. Archer

    All of @taylorclogston’s advice was excellent. So ditto all of that. (I can especially attest to the value of setting limits. I once challenged myself to write a story with as little dialogue as possible because I know I tend to lean on dialogue too much and that story is now one of my favorites.)

    I would also add that there’s a lot of variety to be found if you consciously tap into your interests and values and build stories around those! Because no one has the same mix of interests and values that you do, if you weave these into your writing (especially with intention) you’ll develop a story that no one else could have developed. If community means a lot to you and you want more tight communities to show up in literature, that’s something you can write about. If you love astronomy, maybe you can build a fictional society with advanced astronomical knowledge. If you’re interested to explore the potential consequences of a philosophy like pacifism, there are ways you can do that through worldbuilding and story. If you follow what you’re already interested in, not only in writing but also outside of literature, you’ll come up with some really cool stories.

    One more thing, which is probably not particularly helpful now but might be helpful to keep in mind down the road, is that consistency isn’t necessarily bad. Once you’re writing a variety of stories, it’s okay if most of them seem to center around a particular theme or if you have a favorite archetype for your main characters or if your worlds have common threads between them. You don’t want all of these things to consistently match, but if you identify one or two elements that seem to show up in a lot of your stories, use that because it’s probably what you’re most passionate about exploring through literature, something you find important, and what you consistently explore can help identify your work as yours and help you connect with the readers who want to read what you like to write.

    Speculative fiction author. Mythology nerd. Worldbuilding enthusiast. Singer. Fan of classic literature.

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