Expected milieu, original solutions

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.


AUGUST QUESTION: When you set out to write a story, do you try to be more original or do you try to give readers what they want?

MY ANSWER: In a contest between familiarity and originality I, as a writer, would always opt for originality. But of course, this statement is not absolute. If I’m working on a science fiction story, for example, I know I have to comply with the genre expectations: space travel, wormholes, aliens, or at least some super technology that doesn’t exist here and now. Not yet anyway. Even of the technology is very low key, like a hairdressing robot, it has to be there.

If I don’t do that, my readers wouldn’t recognize the genre and would drift away. Even more: if the story is included in a sci-fi magazine or anthology, the sci-fi element should appear on the first page, or better still, in the first paragraph. That’s what the readers want, and that’s what I strive to give them.

But in all my stories, the sci-fi ambience is only skin-deep – a framework, no more. All my sci-fi stories are personal stories set in a sci-fi world. My characters usually face problems that are not genre specific. Sometimes they solve those problems using the above-mentioned futuristic technology, and sometimes not. That is where I try to be original and inventive: in my characters’ problem-solving approach. Not just rushing in with laser guns, but employing a unique solution, something smart, unexpected, and with a minimum of violence.  

What about you? Where does your originality appear in your stories?


This entry was posted in Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Expected milieu, original solutions

  1. I always love your inventive take on familar problems.

  2. Sonia Dogra says:

    Hi Olga. I love what you bring to the WEP. Your characters are memorable and as you say you add the sci-fi elements to your original stories, they turn out very well.

  3. patgarcia says:

    I like to study the human soul, to get into the psyche of a person so that I can understand the why and write what I see and feel by translating it into a story.

    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  4. I agree that with certain genres, like science fiction and fantasy, there are certain expectations you need to meet while telling a unique story.

  5. That’s the thing about science fiction – it’s a setting for a very human story that could be told anywhere.

  6. Jemi Fraser says:

    I hadn’t thought of it that way before. I love the genre I write and stick with my genre conventions as well – but I like to add original elements within that framework

  7. tara tyler says:

    nice response! I too write sci fi settings but focus on the story and characters, so I don’t like to call it sci fi in hopes I won’t alienate readers looking for a space/alien saga.

  8. spunkonastick says:

    Something clever without a gadget – that’s smart thinking.

  9. cleemckenzie says:

    We all have some constraints in our chosen genres, so this is a great answer to the question. Thanks, Olga.

  10. Loni Townsend says:

    You know, I hadn’t even considered genre expectations when I answered the question, but it’s true. Is it unoriginal to meet genre expectations, because otherwise readers of that genre won’t feel it fits? Hmmm.

  11. Yes, genre consideration can’t be ignored. Your stories are always original and you are highly creative when it comes to out-of-the-box plots!

  12. Great evaluation. And you’re right. If you don’t stick to certain genre expectations, your readers will not recognize it as something they want to read.

  13. Lee Lowery says:

    Genre conventions do need to be considered, and doing so does not negate the ability to focus on originality. And you’re exactly right – genre creates ambiance. Human stories are the same, no matter where they’re set.

  14. Denise+Covey says:

    Olga. I do love that your characterisation is your strongest element. You admit the sci-fi elements are only skin deep, which is why I enjoy your stories so much.

  15. It’s the human element, those universal truths, that resonate in the stories we love no matter what genre they are.

  16. yvettecarol says:

    Yay! I would far prefer originality in a story any day. Even though we may follow accepted story formats to some extent without even knowing we are doing it, we still need to strive to stick to our unique flair.

  17. Diane Burton says:

    Great post, Olga. Readers have expectations no matter which genre the book is in. I love how you describe your sci-fi. Gene Roddenberry used current problems in a future world to entertain and to teach. While I don’t want to be preached at, there’s no reason why we can’t do the same.

  18. Your answer was perfect. Not understanding the expectations of genre readers is a bad start to a story.

  19. Widdershins says:

    On a planet of 8 billion people, give or take, 😀 there’s bound to be a few who want to read exactly what we want to write. Like you, I follow the ,very broad sometimes, expectations of a genre but that’s about it. 🙂

  20. Damyanti Biswas says:

    Great insight, I agree with you about readers drifting away. But, surprisingly, sometimes we do get new readers who like our change in direction.

  21. Lynn La Vita says:

    I loved your answer, too. You held my attention by listing traditional sci-fi elements and connecting them to human challenges we can all relate to.

  22. Jenni says:

    I love what you say here. I don’t usually read a lot of sci fi/fantasy, but the stuff I do read sounds like what you write. I’m always most interested in how a character deals with problems. Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite writers. Even though some of his stuff is set on other planets, it never feels like it’s really about that.

  23. Exactly this is one thing I like about your stories, the human element, not a deus ex machina solution, but a solution, that you can see growing organically from the persons doing it.
    I try just telling my story, as I would like to read it myself, not much thought for originallity or not, I keep on re-writing until the story sucks me in whe reading it. As I once wrote in an essay at school: If books were not invented, I would invent them in order to have something to read.

  24. Beth Camp says:

    Very helpful and focused comments, Olga. Genre-specific and yet character-driven. Originality. This is what we aspire to and what I’ll be thinking about again as I begin my new writing project. And, I will always think of waiting for you at bustling Granville Island, hoping to meet, and yet, somehow missing you. May August be a very good month for you.

  25. jlennidorner says:

    They do say that you need to establish genre on page one, as early as possible. Because yes, some readers are very “genre loyal.” Good point.

    “Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.”
    ―Anne Herbert
    My IWSG blog post discussed my love of originality. I’m looking forward to the bout of books readathon and WEP’s flash fiction later this month.
    Life threw me a curveball with a neighborhood crisis this week, but we got through it.
    Fun fact: August is the only name of a month that’s also a popular name among 👶 baby boys.

    J Lenni Dorner (he/him 👨🏽 or 🧑🏽 they/them) ~ Reference& Speculative Fiction Author, OperationAwesome6 Debut Author Interviewer, and Co-host of the #AtoZchallenge

  26. denizb33 says:

    It’s true, no matter what the genre, the problems that characters face are personal!

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