How Different Are Your Stories?

Reading while Self-Isolated

Give up your 'aul sins :)

Not open for further replies.

Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
Fashion designer Coco Chanel stated:


Stories need to stand out in some way to be marketed. Even if you accept that there are only seven types of plot, you can still write unique characters who do unusual things.

A modern way of describing this is having a Unique Selling Point (USP) which can also be an elevator pitch, a term used to describe selling an idea for a movie to a film producer you’ve trapped for a few seconds in an elevator. An extreme example of this is Snakes On A Plane whose title alone sums up the plot.

I write in the crime genre because I like it, and, as it’s the second-highest selling genre I stand more chance of success; also, crime stories allow me to tackle anything in society. I deliberately chose to conform to the conventions of a crime series—a set location, reoccurring characters and compelling antagonists who commit dreadful crimes. Cornwall and its landscape become a character. I explore the lives of my main character and his detectives to encourage the reader to bond with them.

Where my books differ from the mainstream, is that the Cornish Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle is the opposite of typical sleuths who drink, womanise, gamble, smoke and bend regulations. He’s a Green/Liberal lover of nature and the arts, who rides a 10’ long black chopper and is clean-living and faithful to his woman; I didn’t give him a love life until the fifth book. In these ways, he’s a weirdo.

Will this make him stand out enough to be successful? I’ve yet to find out. Do readers want to find a main character who’s unique, as marketers suggest?

How different is your protagonist? What idiosyncracies do they have?

Are your stories predictable or surprising in their twists and turns? They should always be plausible.


Charles Bukowski - Wikipedia
What I'm searching for is the character readers can relate to, empathise with, cheer for; someone with issues that don't bend too far to the wrong side, someone easily identifiable if they met her on the street, someone memorable but not so different from the reader. Someone they want to be, on occasion - or at least for the time they're reading her story.

That's the USP for a character. There also has to be a USP for the plot/events of the story.
Always sounds easy ...
The first book I wrote had a sweet charming main character. Actually it had 6 main characters (it was a group of heroes on a mission - all of them equally involved in the mission). It was a motley crew, but the characters I enjoyed writing the most were the damaged personalities (3 of them); the ones that weren't the obvious protagonists.

Book two had two main characters, both with issues and both 'not too far on the wrong side' to use CageSage's words. They were both flawed, yet charming in their own ways; or so I was told.

With book 3, I got hooked on an unlikable MC and now I have a fascination with writing anti-heroes, disturbed heroes, seriously damaged MCs who push the boundaries of what's acceptable to the reader. It's probably a risk, but as humans we are fascinated with the dark. I like to explore the dark side of the human mind, that side that's capable of anything if they have enough to lose and are pushed enough under bad circumstances. I shall try make that my USP. Prepare to never see a book of mine on the shelves.
Does it help to distinguish between the tropes of story-telling, the particular essential storylines that drive them, and the way that we tell these tropes. This could be the voices we find in them, the points of view adopted. This would suggest that the response to your questions (how different should we be?) is 'Very'. But this can mean assembling similar parts in a different way. Maybe its a bit like music. Loads of songs use the same four chords, but are all still classics, see here: . You can read them for their similarities, but when you want to appreciate how different they are, loads stand out.
distinguish between the tropes of story-telling
From what I've gathered and garnered from readers, they don't like things too radically different - it's always a version of: 'what if I don't like it?' They hate to waste time or money on something they didn't end up enjoying.
Tropes and plot archetypes give the reader the shape they're looking for, even if the expectations are subverted in some way (while still staying true to the overall taste of the genre, trope, archetype). They want something recognisable, but refreshed and interesting.
Not much to ask for, they think. So I try, give it the shape of expectations for the genre, for the plot archetype, and try to make it interesting and unique within that border.
A bit like a pattern for a shirt. One pattern can create millions of different shirts in colours and styles and buttons and bobs and sizes and sleeves and collars and ... Story is like a shirt, a good fit, bespoke, but familiar.
Not open for further replies.

Reading while Self-Isolated

Give up your 'aul sins :)