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Avoiding Ad Nauseum: Telling Fresh Stories

This time I am choosing the topic for the blog chain.  Be sure to check out Kate's answer after mine!
My question is:
How do you keep from telling the same story over and over? What are your tips and tricks for finding fresh ideas and adding new twists to your work?

I'm looking forward to the answers to this question, because I struggle a lot with not repeating myself.  And I do see themes that I repeat over and over, in spite of myself.  I'm fascinated by writers like Dean Koontz, who's written dozens of books and still (usually) manages to keep from rehashing the same old stuff.
At this point, if I catch myself doing something I did before, I erase, back up, and try to think of something entirely different.  That works best when I remind myself what makes the characters involved unique, and then try to find a reaction that is unique to those characters.  So maybe two characters face a similar conflict -- if they're truly unique characters, they're going to have different reactions, right?
I do have trouble not repeating larger themes and plot points.  For some bizarre reason, I really like apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stuff, so The World As We Know It is always ending in my stories.  I also like magic tossed in on top of The World As We Know It.  Problem is, I get kind of attached to my vision of societal breakdown, or my rules about how magic works, and it can be hard to come up with new ideas about how to recreate those things in different stories.
Honestly, though, the thing I do most often to keep from rewriting the same story over and over is think "I already did that" and censor myself, which keeps me from writing new material.  And that is why I need some tips and tricks from the rest of the blog chain!


  1. Eric said...
    The only thing I can tell you is that stories pop into my head from all over the place. Thats probably why I have no idea what genre I'll eventually get published in. If you're finding difficulty getting out of the genre however, try free writing. Just sit down, pick an object, a person, an idea. Then start writing about it. Don't think about things, just let your fingers (or pencil) do the walking. Not sure if any of this make any sense, but hope it helps at least a little.
    Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...
    Interesting topic! I can think of some published authors who need tips on telling new stories. ;) I'll save my ideas for my blog chain post.
    Unknown said...
    I try to keep a list of any and all ideas sitting around. Often my dreams give rise to some really different ideas. I haven't written enough fiction to start repeating myself yet, so I'm interested in the other responses.
    Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...
    Eric -- I keep seeing people talk about freewriting, so maybe I need to try it. Haven't done that since I was in school, I don't think! I was just reading an article in Scientific American's magazine Mind about creativity, and they were emphasizing how important it is to freewrite just the way you described, without censoring, just writing...

    Jamie -- I have a little notebook of ideas, but sadly, I add to it far too infrequently. Maybe trying freewriting (and the other tips and tricks I'm looking forward to from other readers of my blog & from the blog chain) will help me!
    Danyelle L. said...
    I think in some ways I do tell the same story over and over, but I tell it differently each time. ;-)

    What helps me keep things fresh? Letting the characters write it out instead of me. Honestly, whenever I try to take the reigns, things slow down and tend to be more boring. But when I let the characters take over, things get interesting fast!
    Anonymous said...
    So funny that you picked this topic. I have been thinking about this as I have two stories rattling around in my head that deal with similar themes...but in completely different ways. At least I have a couple of days to figure out how I am going to anser this question...Hmmmm
    Unknown said...
    This topic is so intriguing to me! I've been wondering as I've been writing my own novel what would make it stand out from other fantasy novels. It has its differences, but I'm not sure they're profound. As I've thought about the books I've loved in that genre, I realized that in a general sense, they do work from the same themes and it's the characters that make those themes unique. I'm okay with that. In fact, that's why I love the genre! It's somewhat dependable. I hope that makes sense. I guess what I'm trying to say is in your quest to be unique, realize that sometimes "old friends" are not a bad thing. Just my two cents.
    Kate Karyus Quinn said...
    Oooh, this is a really good question. Maybe if you are drawn to a similar world when you write, you could use it to your advantage and write a series of books, that way you come back to the same world, without feeling like you are repeating yourself.
    Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...
    Ah, I can tell you have great taste because of a particular font choice. ;p

    Great topic.
    Elana Johnson said...
    I think this is the bane of my existence. So many times I think to myself, "Sheesh, girl. You've done this already." Maybe not in the same book, but from different novels or stories I've written. I just sort of pull from all of them.... I'm going to need some tips and tricks too.

    Great topic, Archy!
    Scott said...
    Sometimes, a general idea will create multiple stories. Example: Cinderella. Everybody knows the story of Cinderella. What everybody doesn't know is the story of her stepsisters and stepmother. Gregory Maguire took this idea and created "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister" - a great book in case you've never read it. So, the general idea was about a girl who's father married a woman with two daughters. We all know the tale. The second idea from this story was Gregory Maguire's version. The story was still pretty much the same, only from a different perspective.

    I think the key, like the post suggests, is keeping stories fresh. The same type of story, told from a different perspective is a new story. A story about the lies a woman (women) tell in vengeance is a current theme in a manuscript, and a follow-up project, I am working on. The difference: the source of vengeance is the same, what the women did is similar, the impact is felt by another character decades later is also similar, but the stories are vastly different. The stories, because of that vast difference, even with marked similarities, are fresh.

    As long as there is some notable difference, some twist or turn that did not happen before, then I think telling the same story over and over again is fine. It's when the story becomes dull and predictable because it has been done so many times before (perhaps the catalyst for the post) that a writer/author might need to 'step away from the computer'.

    Thanks for the post.

    Michelle McLean said...
    sometimes it's very hard for me to change something. Like one of my MCs in my last book had black hair and blue eyes. I started writing my new book and the new guy has black hair and blue eyes. It's probably a small thing, but I don't want all my characters looking the same...but try as I might, it is just how he looks.

    I do try to pay attention to what is going on, though, and if I find something is turning out too similar to something I've done before, I do what I can to change it. It's definitely tougher sometimes than others :)

    I don't think having all your stories set in a similar setting is bad though. Victoria Holt wrote a ton of books, and though she explored various settings, they were almost all set, at some point in the story, in some remote castle or it in Germany, France, or England. When you write in a certain genre, sometimes it's a bit unavoidable. As long as the actual story is new, I don't see it as a problem.
    Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...
    Janyece -- You say that nicely, about "old friends" :-)

    Mary -- I knew my most dedicated fans would appreciate my discriminating font choice. ;-)

    Scott -- EXCELLENT points. I never thought about that, how shifting POV like that can make such a difference. I am intrigued by how the same event can be perceived so differently by different characters. I often try to capture those differences in the same story, but perhaps I need to start thinking more about telling stories from perspectives I might not otherwise have chosen...

    Michelle -- I usually find one or two things about each character's appearance that reflects his or her personality, and that can make THIS character's blue eyes different from THAT character's blue eyes. Speaking of patterns in stories -- do you know that up until recently, you could tell who was good and who was bad in my stories by the color of the characters' hair? I have a bias toward dark-haired characters.
    Kathryn Hupp-Harris said...
    OK, you let us in on the question a little early. I'm scheduled to post today, and I'm still freaking out about how to answer.

    This is a good one.
    Unknown said...
    I read somewhere about someone (whose name escapes me) who made it a point to write a *completely* different story every time. Her goal was to make each book so different they could almost have been written by different authors.

    That's probably a bit extreme, but it definitely inspired me to keep my horizons wide open. Similarities are inevitable, since we only have the limited field of our own experiences to draw from, but I always try to consciously suss out the recurring themes, characters, story arcs, etc., and flush them out. Life's too short to keep writing the same story over and over.
    Annie Louden said...
    I know that I've repeated the same coming-of-age story in like three of my manuscripts already. Yawn! I'm stuck in my head!

    I think reading everything could help with new ideas. Both fiction and non. I read a lot of news sites, looking for the quiry stories, and I'm amazing at the things people do that I'd never think of doing or writing about. Maybe you can freewrite off of something that grabbed your attention, whether read or overheard.

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