One blogger I read a few months ago said she reads over a hundred books a year. I thought, surely she can’t be talking about the latest bestsellers. Even if you buy paperback we’re talking about seven or eight bucks per book. Hardback? The woman obviously has a better job than I. Maybe she downloads them from Kindle or Amazon or has a library card. Maybe they’re not new books.
Lately I’ve been downloading my books to the laptop. The one I’m on now is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, published in 2002. The premise of the book is how the travelers to our shores brought gods with them only to lose them in the mists of time. Some, such as Odin and Easter, get lip service but the worship has seriously fallen off.
I couldn’t tell you how long it’s been since I read a story about the gods unless it was some made-up deity for a fantasy work. Probably you’d have to go back to my young years of digging mythology. Gaiman took a “what if” idea, brought the gods from Olympian heights and dropped them into our time. After that he used his considerable talent to create a masterpiece of fiction that’s as easy to understand as it is to read.
As writers we talk a lot about how to make our work unique. There are only so many stories to be told: war, romance, true crime, fantasy, etc. I don’t know if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the first locked room mystery but ever since Sherlock figured his out it’s been done over again and again, but with variations. And that’s all writing is anyway. It’s what you do with it that matters, how you develop a character we’ve not met before. They might be doing every day things but you can send them to a fictional town or even have them spirited away on a pirate ship.
Let’s take a young woman named Tina. She’s walking down the road. Where’s she been and where’s she going? Home? To visit Grandma? To kill her ex? Does she find an abandoned puppy in the ditch? Who’s that guy that stops to offer her a ride? A handsome stranger? Some middle-aged guy who’s looking for his long-lost daughter Tina? Or maybe she comes to the cross street and doesn’t recognize the names on the street sign. A space ship beams her up. Night falls unexpectedly and a scarecrow appears in the middle of the road. Someone left the manhole cover off and she falls but manages to catch hold of the ladder and begins to climb up before the cover slams shut.
Anything could happen to Tina, just like real life. Or maybe not so real, depending on what you like to read or write. Whatever you write about Tina has been said before countless times. It’s how you say it and the colors you paint her world. It’s all in the invitation you extend to put up our feet and enter the story. Make us want to read it.
Make us believe.