Over the End of the World

One of my twins loves reading pre and post apocalyptic YA novels, but even he has reached saturation point. There’s really only so many stories you can digest involving the horror, chaos and disintegration of society that comes from either impending doom or the aftermath of an end of the world scenario. In many ways, our mutual ‘apocalyptic’ fatigue (after all, I’ve read almost all the same books) is indicative of market saturation as well as stagnation. It also raises issues, to follow on from Jim’s post yesterday, about how writers nurture their ideas to execution.

I think it’s safe to say the market has pretty much covered these scenarios:

  • contagion/epidemic
  • alien invasion
  • ecological disaster
  • Impending meteor/asteroid strike
  • vampires/werewolves/demons/zombies/robots/monsters/mutations etc. taking over the world
  • government conspiracy/police state/total control/thought control/emotional control
  • evil schemes that generally involve youths in competition to kill or hunt each other down and/or destroy society

Note: Feel free to add to this list by the way…

But the key element I think (at least on the fatigue front) is that many novels now feel merely derivative of stories that have come before and which deal with the same or similar ‘apocalypse’ event. It’s hard, given what has already been written, to come up with a new idea or new way of executing that idea that doesn’t feel tired or hackneyed. It is, in some respects representative of the classic dilemma facing all writers – namely, how do you put a new/fresh/unique spin on an idea/mystery/predicament that has already been done to death? This is where I think it is critical for writers to take a step back when considering their idea for a novel (before what Jim calls the ‘green light’ stage) and evaluate the key elements of concept and premise (that my fellow blog mate Larry Brooks is so good at describing).

I jot all my ideas down in a notebook – most of which will never develop into a completed novel – either because the idea itself is to thin, or the execution/story that surrounds the idea doesn’t turn out to be novel enough, or complex enough to sustain itself. When considering any new WIP, I take my idea, produce a detailed proposal and then (because I’m an outliner) map out the plot for the story. As part of this process, it soon becomes apparent if the idea cannot sustain a novel, especially if I couldn’t answer these critical questions:

  • Why should readers care about my story/idea?
  • If it deals with well worn tropes, what makes my idea or POV unique or significantly different (I don’t count trivial distinctions)?
  • How would this story stand out from all the other novels out there?
  • Even if I think the idea is sufficiently novel to warrant a story, do I really know what the concept/premise behind this is in sufficient detail (anyone who’s read Larry Brooks knows that many stories collapse because a failure at the concept or premise stage).

At the moment (thankfully) I’m not considering any a pre or post apocalyptic story ideas. Although my son and I have reached the tipping point we could still be brought back with a unique twist/edge or story about the end of the world. The key issue I think is that, when considering a new idea, read extensively before committing to the story. In a crowded market, you have to stand out (even when you’re writing about chaos and the end of the world…)

So, are there any types of stories you are totally ‘over’? How do you approach developing your ideas when facing a a crowded/saturated corner of the market?


11 thoughts on “Over the End of the World

  1. This is a great follow-up to yesterday’s post, Clare. It touches on the “potential” aspect, i.e., is there a market for this idea? In this case, it’s whether the market has been saturated (which happens all the time … remember Chick Lit?) and whether there is still room for a fresh take? Your question is apt: If it deals with well worn tropes, what makes my idea or POV unique or significantly different?

    My view has always been that originality comes via characters (and voice). There were tons of detective stories, but only one Philip Marlowe. Sci-Fi was saturated and ghettoized in bookstores … then came all the crazy characters in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (and the laugh-out-loud voice didn’t hurt). Zombies had reached a saturation stage, but no one had thought of featuring a zombie lawyer in a series of legal thrillers until K. Bennett came along (wink wink nudge nudge).

    Look to characters and voice would be my advice.

    And now maybe it’s time for your son to get into the Chip Hilton series so the universe can balance out.

    • Will have to definitely tell my son about Chip:) I do think it’s important to ask yourself what ‘fresh take’ your idea has – especially in a crowded market. Almost every genre has it’s bottleneck areas and it’s crucial to stand out. A great unique character is one of the best ways!

  2. Echoing what James said above, for me it’s the characters. However, I have some trigger words in book descriptions that mean I’m not looking at that book. In romance, anything with “billionaire” in the title or description is an automatic pass. In other genres, “dystopian” doesn’t capture my interest, nor anything with “political” in the blurb. Have had enough of that in real life lately. And, as I write, I keep asking myself, “haven’t you already done this one?”
    So, I keep trying to make it different, which circles right around to the characters. Similar situations, but different characters will bring their own spin to the book.

    • Terry – totally agree. Characters are what make a book really stand out as unique – but it can be harder to grasp that at the idea stage for many writers, after all we tend to be a little delusional about our own amazing characters and voice – well, I can be anyway!

  3. Since I write in women’s fiction, for me it’s the “Gone Girl” books – if Gillian Flynn got a dollar for every blurb that is described as the “next Gone Girl”, she could retire. Trouble is, they never are. So I guess at this point I’m veering away from anything with “girl” in the title.

  4. I’m rather tired of vampires, sparkly or evil. That said, I agree with the other commenters that character drives story, and if a truly compelling vampire character hit the marketplace, I’d (probably) try it (assuming, of course, my TBR pile is small).

    • I think they’ll always be another vampire book (sigh) but to be fair, I did read the Twilight series as well as the first Justin Cronin vampire book so obviously I can get sucked in by the sparkly as well as the evil!

  5. Like others have said, a compelling cast of characters is a must for any story. A key protag & his world, as seen through his eyes, can become a comfort read in a good series.

    For different ideas, an open-minded author has to think out of the box, never dismiss anything as silly, and be willing to develop the craziest combos to come up with a novel idea.

    Think – serial killer who feeds his addiction by killing other serial killers while working as crime scene tech with police – DEXTER. Jim’s zombie lawyer is odd but works because of his development & execution. The best ideas are high concept & make great succinct elevator pitches. They take work to make them plausible.

    Lately I’ve grown tired of typical paranormal with vampires, werewolves & shifters & fantasy. To counter that, I’ve come back to crime fiction. That’s always been a comfort read for me. I’ve never gotten tired of mystery, suspense & thrillers with compelling protags.

    • Jordan, I think the fantasy/paranormal space got way to crowded with copycat/derivative works that weren’t up to par. A character has to be more than a cliche – luckily there are some great mysteries/thrillers that explore character with far more depth than in many fantasy novels.

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