You've Never Seen This Before!

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Paul Whybrow

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Cornwall, UK
I was sitting here last night, writing a synopsis for my third Cornish Detective story, mulling over ways to show how unusual my protagonist is when I heard a television commercial for the crime drama series Tin Star.

The voice over narrator quoted a snippet from a newspaper review, which excitedly declared "You've not seen anything like this before."

Feeling somewhat jaded at this point of the creative process of selling my own stories, I thought "Only about a thousand times before. Angry lawman, with a drinking problem, takes on mighty baddies, incurring the mistrust of his family and townsfolk, as he seeks revenge for the death of his son."

Don't get me wrong, I've been enjoying Tin Star, even though it does have one glaring illogicality. See below. *

I glanced back down at my synopsis, then opening a folder containing a biography of my MC Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle, I wondered what it was about him that's different from other coppers—and, how I could use that to promote my novels.

I think that readers remember unusual incidents in stories and strong characters with eccentric ways, more than they do well-crafted plots, great dialogue and even the author's name!

There's only so much originality in the world, there's nothing new under the sun, so no doubt my protagonist shares characteristics with other fictional sleuths. All the same, I deliberately went against the grain by making him left-wing, with green beliefs, an interest in art, music and wild gardening and wild swimming. He's a motorcyclist who doesn't ride a respectable BMW tourer, but rather, a Big Bear chopper. He drinks little alcohol, doesn't smoke or gamble, and, up until the fifth story was celibate. Many, too many detectives are womanising gamblers who neglect their health and are frequently whacked out of their gourds on booze and drugs. My protagonist is weird rather than wrecked.

I've also attempted to make my antagonists unusual, if not unique. In the last story, an opium-smoking art dealer, who dresses like a Victorian dandy and who embalms his victims before turning them into statues by encasing them in concrete sounds like he's escaped from Hammer horror film, but that was partly the intention.

Characters with unusual traits have to stay true to themselves. Their logic is different from the reader's, but people are voyeurs and a story is a peep show into another world. They like weird, so why not serve up a few illicit thrills that revolt, delight and stimulate? Especially, if you've devised something that's so unusual, most of your legions of adoring fans :rolleyes: haven't heard of it before. Plot twists, unexpected surprises and wrong-footing the reader arouse their interest. Shock value generates word of mouth publicity...the best marketing tool available—and, it's free!

Have you come up with anything in your stories, that readers won't have seen before?

When reading a book, have you ever come across anything that took your breath away?

The last book that wrong-footed me was Patrick De Witt's French Exit whose plot takes off in such strange, unpredictable directions that I felt dizzy.

you-know-youre-a-writer-when-youd-rather-be-hiding-under-a-table-thinking-about-your-next-plot-twist-3cff1.png


* I wrote about plot holes in an old thread and Tin Star has a great one.

For those not familiar with the story, a police chief's infant son is mistakenly shot to death by a gunman who approaches the family car at a petrol station. The killer is wearing a mask, but there's no disguising his diminutive stature...in fact, it's repeatedly referred to.

What makes no sense whatsoever, is that although the gunman works for a troublesome oil company, standing out as the shortest man among the burly workers and the biker gang assisting the underhand dealings, the police chief and his officers don't put two and two together to identify him. He's the littlest guy around—it's obvious he's the gunman. Also, to add to the circumstantial evidence, he's a creepy short-arse, always in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I accept that there's a suspension of disbelief needed to enjoy any fictional story, but not a suspension of my intelligence. If I'm reading or watching something, wondering all the time "Why don't they?", "How come he hasn't?," etc, then I lose respect for the writer.
 
I was sitting here last night, writing a synopsis for my third Cornish Detective story, mulling over ways to show how unusual my protagonist is when I heard a television commercial for the crime drama series Tin Star.

The voice over narrator quoted a snippet from a newspaper review, which excitedly declared "You've not seen anything like this before."

Feeling somewhat jaded at this point of the creative process of selling my own stories, I thought "Only about a thousand times before. Angry lawman, with a drinking problem, takes on mighty baddies, incurring the mistrust of his family and townsfolk, as he seeks revenge for the death of his son."

Don't get me wrong, I've been enjoying Tin Star, even though it does have one glaring illogicality. See below. *

I glanced back down at my synopsis, then opening a folder containing a biography of my MC Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle, I wondered what it was about him that's different from other coppers—and, how I could use that to promote my novels.

I think that readers remember unusual incidents in stories and strong characters with eccentric ways, more than they do well-crafted plots, great dialogue and even the author's name!

There's only so much originality in the world, there's nothing new under the sun, so no doubt my protagonist shares characteristics with other fictional sleuths. All the same, I deliberately went against the grain by making him left-wing, with green beliefs, an interest in art, music and wild gardening and wild swimming. He's a motorcyclist who doesn't ride a respectable BMW tourer, but rather, a Big Bear chopper. He drinks little alcohol, doesn't smoke or gamble, and, up until the fifth story was celibate. Many, too many detectives are womanising gamblers who neglect their health and are frequently whacked out of their gourds on booze and drugs. My protagonist is weird rather than wrecked.

I've also attempted to make my antagonists unusual, if not unique. In the last story, an opium-smoking art dealer, who dresses like a Victorian dandy and who embalms his victims before turning them into statues by encasing them in concrete sounds like he's escaped from Hammer horror film, but that was partly the intention.

Characters with unusual traits have to stay true to themselves. Their logic is different from the reader's, but people are voyeurs and a story is a peep show into another world. They like weird, so why not serve up a few illicit thrills that revolt, delight and stimulate? Especially, if you've devised something that's so unusual, most of your legions of adoring fans :rolleyes: haven't heard of it before. Plot twists, unexpected surprises and wrong-footing the reader arouse their interest. Shock value generates word of mouth publicity...the best marketing tool available—and, it's free!

Have you come up with anything in your stories, that readers won't have seen before?

When reading a book, have you ever come across anything that took your breath away?

The last book that wrong-footed me was Patrick De Witt's French Exit whose plot takes off in such strange, unpredictable directions that I felt dizzy.

you-know-youre-a-writer-when-youd-rather-be-hiding-under-a-table-thinking-about-your-next-plot-twist-3cff1.png


* I wrote about plot holes in an old thread and Tin Star has a great one.

For those not familiar with the story, a police chief's infant son is mistakenly shot to death by a gunman who approaches the family car at a petrol station. The killer is wearing a mask, but there's no disguising his diminutive stature...in fact, it's repeatedly referred to.

What makes no sense whatsoever, is that although the gunman works for a troublesome oil company, standing out as the shortest man among the burly workers and the biker gang assisting the underhand dealings, the police chief and his officers don't put two and two together to identify him. He's the littlest guy around—it's obvious he's the gunman. Also, to add to the circumstantial evidence, he's a creepy short-arse, always in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I accept that there's a suspension of disbelief needed to enjoy any fictional story, but not a suspension of my intelligence. If I'm reading or watching something, wondering all the time "Why don't they?", "How come he hasn't?," etc, then I lose respect for the writer.
The description of your detective is good, but one thing may make him lose popularity among readers- he is left-wing- which will create an aversion in the right wingers. The world is half right and half left so I would keep politics out of novels otherwise you are needlessly cutting off half of your potential readers. If your detective must have a political label, make it extreme left or extreme right since only few people are affected negatively... and using such extremes you can guarantee yourself that others have really "not seen anything like this before."
 
The sad fact is, you can't come up with a totally original idea, you're always building on top of other concepts. However if you approach the concept differently and mash up different concepts, you can come up with something that feels fresh and original. It's important to avoid the tired cliches, but at the same time you can't conceive something that someone hasn't done a bit of before. i.e. Your detective novel may have a unique lead character (he does sound a bit out there!), but it's still a detective novel. You've got to focus on developing your craft and make your take on the concept stand out.

You also can't avoid the zeitgeist. There's a remarkable story I heard once (it's second hand, so I don't know how true it is, but): A scriptwriter once had a lightbulb moment and came up with what he was sure, was a truly unique idea for a screenplay: A man who thinks he's a shark! He wrote the script, took it to his agent and said;
"You're not going to believe what I've come up with, it's something really new and original, you'll love it."
His agent replied; "Great, as long as it's not another bloody script about a man who thinks he's a shark. I've had three in this week!"
Turns out there was a documentary about sharks that had a section that discussing the psychology of sharks. Several people who'd seen it all subliminally came up with the same idea!

We're all recycling, you can find a bit of Billy Shakespeare in everything, you've just got to present the concept in the most compelling way.

Incidentally, Tin Star was terrible! For me that was a series that really suffered, as you say, from plot holes and character motivations. I think it's representative of a wider trend of rushed script writing in modern series. Everyone is so desperate to find the next Game of Thrones that everything is getting greenlit without any tightening up on the scripts - I'm looking at you Netflix!
 
Have you come up with anything in your stories, that readers won't have seen before?
I write fantasy and SF, so I'm constantly imagining worlds and places that readers have not seen. However, every world I write is influenced in some way by what has come before. They all contain various tropes known to the genre (hopefully not too many of the overused ones), but at the end of the day, it is like @Robert M Derry said, it's how those tropes are threaded together that makes an idea/world/character feel new.

When reading a book, have you ever come across anything that took your breath away?
Embassytown by China Miéville Blew my mind with its ideas concerning language and culture. To give you an idea, the MC is a living simile in an alien language.
 
I can't help wondering....

Does the author care whether they have your respect as long as they have your dollar/your attention/your GBP ... or your £?

Probably not.

P.S. I'm very proud of being able to do this ... £££££££
 
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