Finding Your Unique Story in a Popular Genre

Filed in Book Writing Inspiration by on July 11, 2017 • views: 1238

by Jennifer Froelich

Finding Unique StoryBefore I ever wrote my first novel, Dream of Me, I came up with the setting concept for a futuristic society based on the idea that tolerance and intolerance would become the same thing.

I never wrote it, though.

Then a few years ago, the idea of a patriotic heist began stirring in my mind, and that futuristic setting seemed perfect. I developed the story from there.

When There are So Many Good Stories, How Do You Offer Something Unique?

So many wonderful dystopias have been written by talented writers. My biggest challenge was offering something unique while also telling the fairly straightforward story I wanted to tell.

This isn’t extreme science fiction. There’s no magic or fantasy. It’s not the shiny world of tomorrow, nor is it a future where all technology has disappeared. That was a bit tricky.

One thing I decided to focus on was a connection between the past (our present) and the future (the story’s present), because I haven’t seen that a lot. How did America turn into Panem in the Hunger Games, for example? Or what happened that made the world of Divergent possible?

I’m not being critical of those creative stories – I think they are amazing (completely mesmerizing, actually). I just wanted readers to be able to say, okay, starting in 2017, this is what would happen to get us to the world of Stealing Liberty, where America is gone and the United Democratic Republic has risen in its place.

You Can’t Allow Yourself to Wallow in the “What-Ifs” of Publication

I feared that readers would be tired of dystopian fiction by time Stealing Liberty hit the shelves.

There have been so many fantastic books released in this genre over the past decade. Writing at the right time can be almost as important as writing the right book, so that seemed like a realistic fear.

But I had to remind myself that I cannot let myself wallow in the what-ifs of publication. Writing is a lonely business. You have to do all the work up front, before you get much feedback, before you ever make a dime, all while hoping it all goes well and that people will want to read what you’ve written.

It’s really kind of nuts, isn’t it?

I mean, to become a writer, you have to be more than a little on the crazy side of persistent.

Create Characters that Feel So Real, You Worry About Them

I can’t tell you how much I love these kids in Stealing Liberty. I created them using Multiple Intelligence Theory, which suggests that people can be intelligent in seven or eight arenas, not just the math/science or language skills that are so emphasized in school.

So I gave my kids musical intelligence, spatial intelligence, kinesthetic intelligence, etc. Then I made them diverse: Hispanic, black, a girl with grandparents from Iraq, a boy with Autism and celebrity parents, another with ADD. The result was a group of kids so well-rounded, I didn’t really have to write what they did or said, so much as I had to put them in each situation and then listen to them tell me what they would do.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that these kids are in a horrible situation and they made me cry regularly. Still, that’s a wonderful feeling—to create characters that feel so real, I worry about them.

It Always Helps to See Things from Another Point of View

I started writing a blog series about media bias while I was editing Stealing Liberty, to try and experience what my character, Floodlight, went through as she started writing her blog.

In Stealing Liberty, she says: “I wrote the truth, whether I liked it or not.” That’s what I tried to do. It really cemented some things I have understood about the way propaganda is used in journalism, but also how we as viewers and readers are very willing participants in deception—and that includes me.

We tend to dismiss reporting that contradicts our worldview, and we tend to believe reporting that supports our beliefs—even before we know if it’s factual or trustworthy.

But by searching for the truth, I had to go places I wouldn’t normally go to research. I had to dig into the motivation of people who don’t think like me. That’s always humbling.

It always helps me see things from another point of view. Even when it doesn’t change my philosophies, it reminds me that we are all struggling here to find goodness in a world that is often so evil.

Being a Christian Affects How I Write

I am a Christian, and that definitely affects the way I write. All of my books have been clean—free of pornography or profanity—so that anyone can read them and share them without guilt or explanation.

But I also deal with real issues in my books: murder, hate, lust, revenge, drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution, etc. I don’t want to present a distorted view of the world where everything is solved by faith, or everyone eventually comes around to the same way of thinking. That’s not real life. People are not perfect.

Sometimes spiritual people make the wrong decisions while those with no belief system (or a belief system vastly different from mine) make the right ones. The parable of the Good Samaritan tells us that.

So I try and keep all those things in mind when I write, and I pray a lot about telling an authentic story.

Marketing Pulls Me Away from Writing, Which is Frustrating and Stressful

I am currently writing Weeping Justice, part two in the Stealing Liberty Trilogy. I’m about a third of the way through it. I’m facing two major challenges right now.

One, I’m touring to promote Stealing Liberty, which pulls me away from my desk. I’m not getting as much writing done as I want, which is frustrating and stressful. (My readers are already telling me they can’t wait to read it and it’s not done!) But this is the nature of promotion. There are thousands of books being released every week, and if I want people to find Stealing Liberty and consider reading it (and buy it so I can afford to live while I write the sequel!), I have to promote it.

I make myself feel important by comparing it to the way a rock band can’t be on tour for their first album while also recording their second one—the fans are going to have to wait! As if I have thousands of screaming fans! Ha! It’s a nice illusion, anyway.

The second challenge is in writing a sequel. This is my first sequel ever, and I’m finding it more difficult that I thought it would be. In a stand-alone novel, whenever I reached a point of contradiction with an earlier chapter, I had options. Write the new chapter to reconcile with what I have already written—or change what I’ve written to match what is new. I can’t do that with a sequel.

Stealing Liberty is now in print—no changes. I must write within the cannon, and that means all kinds of details that I have to go back and verify. What month was that? What was the weather like? Was her hair long or short? Are his parents living or dead?

There’s also the challenge of continuing the story in an engaging way—recapturing the magic that readers love in Stealing Liberty, without rehashing the same plot. (I can’t very well have them try to steal the Statue of Liberty, can I?). It’s a different kind of pressure.

* * *

jen_fJennifer Froelich published her debut novel, Dream of Me, in late 2011, which reviewers praised as “well-orchestrated with outstanding imagery.” Her second novel, A Place Between Breaths, published in 2014, was called “a roller-coaster ride with enough twists and turns to keep everyone interest-ed” and won an Honorable Mention in Writ-er’s Digest’s 23rd Annual Self Published Book competition. Jennifer is a frequent contributing author to Chicken Soup for the Soul.

A graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, Jennifer worked for many years as a freelance editor and writer before publishing her own work. She lives in beautiful Idaho with her husband, two teenage kids, and a rescue cat named Katniss.

For more information on Jennifer and her work, please see her website, or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr.

Stealing LibertyStealing Liberty: When Reed Paine is sent to a secret detention school for teens whose parents are branded enemies of the state, he doesn’t expect to find friendship—especially after coming face to face with Riley Paca, a girl who has every reason to hate him.

But when Reed, Riley and a few others start reading the old books they find in tunnels under the school, they begin to question what they are taught about the last days of America and the government that has risen in its place.

Then the government decides to sell the Liberty Bell and Reed and his friends risk everything to steal it—to take back their history and the liberty that has been stolen from them.

Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

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  1. Thank you for featuring me Colleen!